Flashing on Film

Flashing on Film

IlfordHP5_18-2This guy loves flash. Plain and simple.

 

Flash photography and film is no new thing. People have been doing it for a long, long time – in some cases, hundreds of years. But for those of us weaned on the digital sensor, flash and film together is as foreign as a kimchi Christmas in Times Square.

Though it need not be so.

Many people believe that flashing with film is prohibitively difficult; conventional wisdom dictates that you need an expensive light meter, powerful strobes, costly, low grain/low ISO film and a fully manual, archaic film camera to get the job done. Where’s the fun in that? After all, the strobist mantra states that the quickest, simplest solution is often the best one, and what’s so simple about doing more work and carrying more gear than you want to? And why would you want to do it, anyway? Where’s the benefit?

The answer to that one is easy. Flashing with film is all about the look. The look and feel of a film frame is unique and unmistakable and difficult to replicate with a digital camera. And I’m telling you right now, contrary to popular belief, getting the look is easier than you might think.

Using off-camera flash and digital cameras together is so easy because you can preview what you’re doing as you go – the LCD has made everyone and their uncle a professional photographer. That’s impossible to do with analogue; no one wants to waste expensive film trying to get the light right. But if you’ve already got a digital camera with a hotshoe (I’m presuming you do, since you’re reading this article) then you’re fully capable of flashing with film.

Here’s the skinny.
Compose a shot as you would normally, using your lights and your digital body. You can run all the trial and error you want here; digital frames are free. When you’ve got the photo set up the way that you want it, go ahead and switch your trigger over to your film body and fire away. Your digital body is effectively your light meter; you can use it to build up the light into your scene before you start blasting roll after roll of film.

Yes, it’s that simple. There’s no trick to this. I do it the same way all the time. No light meter, no super strobes. Just my Nikon F100, bevy of flashes and Flashwaves Triggers. Exactly the same stuff I use when shooting digital.

Take these shots.
They were taken within seconds of each other. Same light, same location, same model, same clothes, same photographer. Different camera. Unique, unmistakable looks.

Amarisse_11872-copy

The digital frame.
Nikon D90 | f/6.3 | 15mm | 1/60 sec. shutter speed | ISO 500
Flashes:
SB80 DX @ 1/4 power, shoot through, camera right
SB80 DX @ 1/16 power, gridded, camera right
Silver reflector, camera left

Clean, smooth, polished. No post work done here; this is how the digital computer renders the image. And this is, for the most part, how most digitally flashed shots “look” straight out of camera. There’s nothing wrong with it – I love it – but it’s not particularly challenging to do.

F100-224

The analogue frame.
Flashes:
SB80 DX @ 1/4 power, shoot through, camera right
SB80 DX @ 1/16 power, gridded, camera right
Silver reflector, camera left

Rough, raw, evocative. The look is wholly film, wholly unique. Amarisse changed the pose and I changed cameras. That’s it!

OK, that’s not totally it. I did have to line a few things up before taking the shot. Like shutter speed and aperture. It’s important that they stay constant from camera to camera if you’re going to do this.

Ross_12820

The digital frame.
Nikon D90 | f/10 | 16mm | 1/40 sec. shutter speed | ISO 100
Flashes:
SB 80DX @ 1/2 power, shoot through, camera right

F100-308

The analogue frame.
Nikon F100 | f/11 | 50mm | Kodak Portra 160 NC ISO
Flashes:
SB 80DX @ 1/2 power, shoot through, camera right

You’ll notice the aperture is f/10 in the digital shot and f/11 on film. Why? Because I was using a slightly faster film speed with the analogue camera, so I needed a little less light out of my strobes. And since we know that aperture controls flash exposure, I dropped down 1/3 of a stop. This is very important. This tells you that you don’t need to shoot your digital and film at the same ISO to get the results you want. You just need to understand a little light. This means that you don’t need to waste half a roll of expensive ISO 50 film if that’s what you have in your camera just because your digital body only drops as low as ISO 50. Do a little math, drop a stop, and fire away. Simple as pie.

Leave your digi in the bag.
You don’t always need to test or meter your scene with your digital body before you shoot. Sometimes, it’s better, and more rewarding the fire away on film and see what you come away with. Getting back a roll of processed flashed film is like opening up a Kinder Egg; whatever you get out of it is going to be sweet.

Quinner_9024

The digital frame.
Nikon D90 | f/7.1 | 11mm | 1/50 sec. | ISO 200
Flashes:
SB-80DX 1/4 power, high camera right, shoot through umbrella
SB-28 1/8 power, gridded, pointed at the background

A carefully thought out setup for this shot. Left nothing to chance, made all the test frames on digital when I was building our light and worked towards the finished product.

F100-60

The analogue frame.
Nikon F100 | f/2.8 | 105mm | 1/100 sec. | Fuji Superia 200 ISO
Flashes:
SB-25 @ 1/32 power, bare, pointed back at Jill

I threw a light on a stand, asked the boys in the background if we could get them into the shot and fired off a few frames on film, not knowing how they’d turn out. I metered for the light in the distance – knowing this would help silhouette the sprayers – and lit up the rest of the scene with flash. I knew through trial and error (mostly error. A lot of error) that a wide aperture, like f/2.8, doesn’t require a lot of light from the flash to exposure the scene, so I dropped the SB-25 way down to 1/32 and popped off. Same goes for this shots.

S200_24-2

Use the cheap stuff.
Want a really different look? Pick up a few canisters of cheap film from the corner store and get to work. The imperfections in the film will give your frames a distinct look and feel.

Amarisse_14770-2

The digital frame.
Nikon D90 | f/1.8 | 35mm | 1/200 sec. | ISO 125
Flashes:
SB80DX @ 1/64 power, small softbox, high camera right
SB80DX @ 1/128 power, shoot through umbrella, high camera left
SB28 @ 1/64 power, reflective umbrella, hair light

Clean, light, airy, bright. I love the high key, and I used it for a very polished look here. When I went analogue, the story read very differently.

Unknown_28-2

The analogue frame.
Nikon F100 | f/2.5 | 50mm | 1/125 sec. | $2.00 corner store BW film ISO 100
Flashes:
SB80DX @ 1/64 power, small softbox, high camera right
SB80DX @ 1/128 power, shoot through umbrella, high camera left
SB28 @ 1/64 power, reflective umbrella, hair light

Is it better? No, not in this case. But it’s different. Very different. All because of the film. I didn’t know how this shot was going to play out using the crummy film, and it came out a little underexposed for my tastes, but that’s half the fun of not being able to see your shot on the back of the camera after you’ve taken it. But it was easy to do. And it was fun. So go dust off that film camera that’s lodged behind your guitar and cowboy boots in the hobby closet and get to work. Make a little light, get down tonight.

– flash

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