A major business goal of mine this year is to be able to photograph family sessions with film 100% of the time this Fall. I am so completely hooked on everything about film photography – from the tonal range, the luminosity, the depth of field, the highlight retention, to the creamy skin tones!
A huge part of getting a consistent ‘look’ with film, besides picking one lab to work with, is choosing your go-to film. Different films render colors, highlights, and shadows in different ways.
I’ve narrowed down my favorite outdoor film for shooting in Seattle (which tends to have blue/green light almost all the time) as gorgeous Kodak Portra 800 medium-format film. I had been asking around how I should rate this in a full-sun situation. Some film photographers said box speed, some said 640, some swore by 400, and a few even said 200! Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I decided to do my own test. I recruited my amazing, beautiful friend to be my model one sunny day at noon.
I shot five rolls of Kodak Portra 800 film rated at 800, 640, 400, 200; and Kodak Portra 160 rated at 160. I shot part of the roll in full-sun and the second part in
This first comparison also shows how color and skin tones rendered in full sun with p800 and the last roll – Portra 160:
Comparison of Portra 800 only:
Look at how forgiving Kodak Portra 800 is! I was blown away when I saw the results. I really thought I would see more differences since rating the film at 200 is already two stops over box speed. I am also amazed at how well a good photo lab can make your film scans look consistent, even when rated differently. There is a 4-stop difference between the p800 rated at 800, shot at f2.8 @ 1000 vs. p800 rated at 200, shot at f2.8 @ 250!
Comparison of Kodak Portra 800 only:
Edited to add:
I found out RPL tried to match up scans from the Kodak Portra 800 film rolls into one cohesive set since all rolls were submitted in one order. I asked them to re-scan one image from each roll and do a straight scan since I was testing exposure. A straight scan means that the photo lab doesn’t do any adjusting. Here are the results:
I’m still quite surprised to see there is not much difference in exposure, colors, or contrast. I can see a difference in skin tone but that may be attributed to the difference in the color of the field. The Kodak Portra 800 rated 640
What differences do you see? Which is your favorite?
I also love to rate Ilford HP5 several different ways depending on lighting conditions and you can check out the versatility of this film by clicking the link. It’s my go-to b/w film, in 35mm or 120
Feel free to check out other film-related tutorials and articles like:
Film Camp – a retreat where you can learn how to shoot film for family photography
The Zone System