I am not a TikTok user myself, but as a college student I think I might be the odd man out. For those of you who are not familiar with TikTok, that’s a topic for another day, but in October of 2020 there was a trend going around where people were dressing as ghosts and taking photos. Some good friends of mine were considering doing this themselves and I promptly offered to take the photos. I thought that the classic look of black and white film would give the photos a unique look.
Instantly my mind was working out the details. “What film?” was my first question. Of course, these photos had to be taken at night to really fit the ghost theme. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any high-speed film laying around. I had loads of Ilford HP5+, my primary film stock, but 400 ISO was in my opinion too low to be used. I had never pushed film before, but I wasn’t afraid to try. I was torn. Part of me wanted to play it safe and only push to 2 stops to 1600, but I elected to push 3 stops to 3200. I certainly don’t claim to be the first person to push HP5 to 3200 and I am certainly not the most experienced with pushing film, but I am pretty satisfied with the results.
Naturally, my next question was, “What camera?” I would have loved to have used my trusty Olympus OM-1, but the meter caps out at 1600 and I don’t have the confidence or the patience to calculate the correct exposure myself. I pulled out my Nikon F3 with its motor drive. It is a real beast of a camera, but there is a certain charm to its bulkiness and weight.
The internal meter on the F3 has an ISO range from 12 to 6400. It also has an 80% center weighted meter which I am quite fond of. The heavily center weighted meter meant that most of the time I was metering for the highlights, but for these shots I don’t think shadow detail is very important.
After sunset a college campus doesn’t really get any darker because of all the lights scattered about. While it never gets pitch black, there is not always enough light to handhold. I am personally not very fond of carrying around a tripod, and I don’t own a flash units for any of my cameras. Ultimately I chose to carry a headlamp I use for backpacking with me, and I used it for roughly a third of the shots. I would like to try some flash photography some day, but I’m sure I’ll pull out my headlamp at least a few more times for some night photography. Grudgingly I still brought a tripod with me, but I used it as little as possible. I always feel slowed down by it.
I am quite satisfied with the results from this roll. The grain structure of Ilford HP5 Plus when pushed is amazing. This is certainly something I would do again, but I might invest in a dedicated flash unit. Focusing at night is something I don’t have a lot of experience with, but it is something I feel only gets easier with practice.
These photos could have easily been made on a DSLR or even an iPhone, but I think film gives these photos, and the TikTok video they were used in, a distinct look.