Kodak Alaris recently sent me a brick of Ektachrome E100 to play with. As someone who hasn’t shot much reversal film before, I promised a bit of a series of posts documenting my early experiences. I had it all planned out – first I was going to shoot a roll in something with a fancy evaluative meter, and then from there I would work my way up to shooting it with something a little more manual. I then got cocky, and just went straight for the Leica M3.
The outcome – partly thanks to me overthinking what I was doing, and on at least one occasion due to me forgetting to set the exposure index on my light meter – was, well, a little mixed. Fortunately, I do feel like I’ve learned a lot, and regardless of a few mistakes, I’ve still managed to achieve a few shots that I’m really happy with… and I guess that’s the main thing!
My first frame was taken out of the bathroom window of my house. I didn’t think I’d wound the film on enough, so wasn’t expecting a full frame to come out and so wasn’t really thinking about what I was doing. It was taken at f/11 and 1/500th of a second – I remember thinking I’d underexposed it after I’d taken the shot.
The underexposed shows in the result. I managed to get something out of the frame, but if I pushed it much further than this in the scan or Lightroom it started to look a little bit crappy with some murky colours and more obvious grain. Not the best start, but it’s all useful information as far as the learning curve goes.
Being aware of the fact that I’d underexposed the very first photo I’d taken with this film, I quickly decided to revert to using a light meter. My chosen light meter for this first roll was to be the Lumu app in reflected mode. I use this app a fair bit and am quite comfortable with how it works and how reliable it is. Just prior to the first outing, I opened the app, set the exposure index to 100 ISO. I then took this shot of Connie in the living room.
Unfortunately, I can’t quite remember the settings, but I remember thinking that I was probably just about exposing ok for her face, with much of background of the frame likely to be a little dark. Having no experience scanning E100 yet, I just notched the density correction down a little in the scanner interface to ensure the scanner didn’t try to correct for all of the shadow areas. The result was a frame that entered Lightroom looking fairly blue-shifted. Fortunately, it was very easy to correct for this blue-shift. Combine this correction with a scan and post-process that ensured the shadow areas remained in shadow meant that the image came out quite nicely.
I then went out shooting. Somehow, in the time between setting the meter to EI100 in the house and taking the first shots, the meter had reset to 400. The Lumu app does this sometimes – though I suspect user-error is probably at the core of the issue. Regardless, with my concentration being so focused on the fact that I was shooting this new-to-me film, I just didn’t notice. The result of this was a series of photos that were quite underexposed. More frustration!
Well, actually, it sort of turned out ok. When I came to scan these underexposed frames – combined with the shot of Hannah in the garden and Connie in the lounge – it all gave me a bit of appreciation for dealing with underexposure with Kodak E100 within my workflow. Now admittedly, some of the frames where I’d worried a little bit about losing highlights were a write-off. The combination intentional and non-intentional underexposure added up to a couple of frames that there was simply no saving. Here is a perfect example:
But, there were a couple of the frames where I’d taken a reading at EI400 and then without much further thought just taken the shot. These frames needed a little more care in the scan, and then some gentle nudging in Lightroom to correct for a bit of a colour-shift, but – like the shot of Hannah in the garden – provided I didn’t try and pull too much out of the shadows and tended toward a lower-key look – they actually came out quite nicely.
The blue shift actually worked really well with the blue car here too, so I just left it as was – it’s not accurate, but I quite like it nonetheless!
This next frame was the first I took where I had noticed that the light meter was set wrong. I set it to EI100 and then took a reading using the iPhone app with a similar framing to what you see in the photo. I’m quite pleased with how it came out. The exposure is nice and even and tonally its really nice, and importantly there was very little faffing with the colour in Lightroom to correct for anything the scanner did. In terms of colour, this is pretty much how it came out of the scanner and Lightroom.
The next two shots are of my youngest. The first I unintentionally underexposed, the second, I intentionally slightly overexposed. I’m not sure what I did in the first image in the garden, I remember I was just aiming for correct exposure, but I think I might have set it based on a part of the garden that had more light. I’m not too sure, but either way the result was an image that was a touch underexposed. Again, I still managed to pull something out in the scan and Lightroom that looks ok.
For this next shot of Norah I decided that a bit of overexposure wouldn’t go amis. The Lumu app is quite good at taking an average reading that you can judge by looking at the readout on the screen, but with all the white in the frame I decided to give it a bit more juice. I can’t remember the settings, but I think I was about 2/3rds of a stop over what the light meter told me.
What’s really interesting about this is that when looking at the film, it looked to be the best exposed shot of the lot, and I wasn’t the only person to notice this. I had this roll developed by Duncan at Silverpan Labs. I usually use AG, but on this occasion I decided I wanted a little more feedback on my exposures. Duncan prides himself of giving this level of service, so it struck me that he’d be the right guy for this particular job.
After I started scanning the roll and found this particular frame to be the best, I asked him how the exposures looked generally. He commented specifically on this frame saying that it was the best exposed with a lot of the rest of the better frames looking like they needed a tiny bit more light. When I told him that I’d overexposed this frame, he explained that quite often when he shoots this film he shoots evenly lit scenes at EI50-80 and has heard from a lot of people that do the same. He then went on to say that I shouldn’t be afraid to give Kodak E100 a bit more light in general, that obviously it doesn’t have the latitude of some negative films, but it’s better with a little more light than a little less.
This really rings true in my results. Entering this brave new world of reversal film, I think the main issue I had was with the preconception that highlights are a lot easier to lose. I suspect we’ve all heard the reversal film is harder to shoot than negative film. The reality is, like any media, for best results you just need to expose correctly for your subject. Try as I might to hammer this mantra into my head, I couldn’t help but be worried about, or at least overly conscious of highlights.
In response to this, my biggest problem – even with shots that I had the light meter set properly – was actually with slight underexposure. This whole next set of shots was taken out on a walk with the family, and in every single one of them I made the same slight mistake. I’d take a meter reading, and then I’d slightly err toward under, rather than over, or even correct exposure.
This is what I was talking about when I said at the beginning of the post that I over-thought the whole process. Rather than just do what the light meter said – and in fact what I know to be the right thing to do – I let my preconceptions about how reversal film works get in the way.
Combine this with the fact that specifically E100 apparently seems to respond ok to slight overexposure in favour of slight underexposure, and I found myself with a little more work do do in the scan/Lightroom. Actually, with these shots, there wasn’t much to do – only the shop front and the short of the Abbey were notably under. Another lesson learned for the next roll.
As I’ll come to in a second, this wasn’t to be the last lesson I’d learn from this roll either. Unfortunately, not every frame was able to teach me something. A couple I ballsed up, and just can’t remember what I did wrong. This next one is the best example of that. Beautiful sunny day, so I used the sunny-16 rule – what could go wrong?
Well, in short, I don’t know what I did wrong – the only thing I can think is that I forgot I was shooting a 100 speed film and set the camera to f/16 or f/11 and 1/500th… But really, I have no idea. It’s actually confused me so much, I have sent the M3 back to Alan Starkie to check the shutter – you know what they say about a good photographer blaming his tools and all that! One way or another, no amount of tweaking was going to make this frame any less shit.
At this stage in the roll, I was starting to feel like I knew what I was doing – daft really, in hindsight, as I’d made more mistakes than not by this point. But anyway, I decided I should experiment a bit. One of the key learnings I wanted to be able to take away from this first roll was how well this film dealt with high contrast scenes. Walking into town one day, I had the perfect opportunity to experiment.
For this first image I set the exposure by using the Lumu app and adjusting the framing on the screen until I was happy with how the image looked combined with settings that I felt made sense for the amount of light. I then transferred the exact settings to the camera. Using the Lumu app like this almost feels like cheating it makes it so easy, but I can’t think of any good reason to deny myself the technology. It turned out well too – the image on the film looked good, and it scanned without much issue too. There isn’t much to be pulled out of the shadows, without introducing grain at least, but I guess that’s what is to be expected from reversal film. And really, I do like how it came out!
This second image I was more worried about the extent of white in the frame. The sun was really glaring off the walls, so with my fear of overexposure in mind, I underexposed a bit compared to the previous shot. This was a mistake; it didn’t turn out as well as I hoped, with the scan looking quite murky. I managed to fix it up in Lightroom ok, but I’m not sure it has come out as nicely as the previous shot. Pulling anything at all out of the shadows revealed quite a bit of grain, more even than in similar levels of shadow in the the previous frame. I should have just left the settings as they were from the previous frame, in fact, I’m not sure why I didn’t… again, too much overthinking!
As an extension of this experiment, I then thought I’d take a wonder down a couple of dark alleyways. There’s one in particular that’s right by my office that I walk down most days. With the walls quite tight and at least a couple of stories high, even on a sunny day, it’s quite dark down there in places. In fact, as it turns out, it was at least a full 5ev darker than outside of the alley – know, because I actually wrote down the settings for these shots….
This first image was shot at 1/250th and f/7.1, which seeing as the sunshine was slightly muted by thin cloud would have been slightly underexposed even in the street outside of the alley. Suffice to say, it came out fairly underexposed. A shame, since the man walking toward me up the alley was quite smartly dressed – it would have made an ok photo of I’d not been fucking around.
This second shot, was exposed 5ev differently at 1/50th and f/2.8. It’s still a little underexposed for the subject, but I thought it was quite telling that the very bright area at the end of the alley was dull in the previous photo and washed out to white in this one.
This final image was another sunny 16 rule miss. Again, I’m not sure what happened, but looking at the rest of my results, I would think I was at least 2ev underexposed. Again, I can only think I had the wrong film speed in mind. That, or I’m much crapper at judging the light than I think I am. Either way, this was another frame that came out of the scanner with a blue-cast. In the end though, whilst it might not be the best frame from the roll, once tweaked I quite like how it looks!
So what have a learned? Well, first off, having not shot reversal film in any meaningful way before, I can tell you for free that it’s not a good idea to try and be clever. The first thing I would recommend any do when shooting any film is to aim to expose it properly the first time you shoot it.
That said, trying to be clever has taught me a few things here. Fortunately for me, I do at least have enough context and experience to work out where and how I went wrong. Without this experience, I would have probably been quite frustrated at the results. Instead, I’m just a little frustrated at myself.
More specifically to Kodak Ectachrome E100, I do feel like I have learned quite a lot about how this film responds to light. For a start, I’ve learned that a little bit of overexposure is probably better than a little bit of underexposure. I’ve learned that 2ev of underexposure – at least when scanning and processing the way I do – can still result in a decent image, provided that I put a bit more work into the scan and Lightroom processes. I have also learned that 5ev of underexposure will mean a well dressed man will disappear completely into shadows making me wish I hadn’t been messing about and had just taken the photo properly! I suppose that’s just part of the gamble of trying new things though…?
Since shooting this roll, I’ve shot another two rolls, both of which haven’t gone entirely to plan either. The first was in my Hexar RF which decided to fail on me half way through the roll – its now gone off to have an issue with the frame counter fixed. I shot quite a few frames on that roll metering just using the camera’s meter in a fairly point & shoot way – it will be interesting to see how those come out. I also shot a couple in very low light when I was a little inebriated, but I don’t have much hope for those, if I’m honest!
The second roll was shot in my Olympus XA4 which I dropped half way through. This resulted in the back popping open and the camera landing film up. I was in a fairly low-lit room, so I am hopeful that all is not lost. If there are some frames that remained unscathed, it will be interesting to see how well the results come out of a fairly elderly point & shoot.
I shall, of course, be back with some thoughts on those two rolls in due course! In the meanwhile any thoughts so far, please feel free to share them!
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