on film and being fearless in 2017

{Kodak Portra400, Canon EOS 1-n, f/2.5}

Decades ago when I fell in love with photography (yes, decades, I’m 34 but look like a fatigued 12 year old – and that’s on a good day lol) we didn’t have digital. My father had a “really nice” camera, a Minolta X-370 (which I eventually claimed as my own) with a 50mm lens and some zoom lens that I never bothered to use even once that I can recall. Come to think of it, there was a flash with it as well, some sort of a Sunpak speed light that I also left untouched. At the time he purchased that he put a good chunk of change into it and it served as our family camera until he handed it down to me in high school for my first ever photography course. It was in Intro to Photography with Mr. Wheeler (not somebody I enjoyed spending time with, but I learned some pretty invaluable information from him that I carry with me to this day). It was there that I learned about the history of photography, how to make a pinhole camera, and how much I HATE sepia tone. Like really, really hate it. If you ask me you may as well throw your print in a muddy puddle and run it over a few times because you’ll have about the same effect, an ugly muddy print (my apologies to those of you who just adore the “antique” look of the sepia tone filters, it is my personal bête noire). Aside from my distaste for sepia tone, I forgot most of the other stuff. The things I do remember are the basic skills that allow anyone to capture an image on any camera that allows you to manually choose your exposure. I also remember how much I LOVED spending time in that darkroom. It was the one place in the school I actually felt at peace – until Jed would sneak up on us (If you’re a Seinfeld fan you may recall the episode where Elaine used wrestling shoes to sidle up on a coworker – that was this kid. You would be working away in there just minding your own when all of the sudden you’d feel breath on your shoulder or you would turn around and immediately bump into him. Other than that the darkroom was great.). We processed our own black and white film which was so much fun. My buddy Liz and I would chat while our hands worked away in those changing bags – and OH! every time the film fell off the damn reel you knew immediately before the other person even said anything because the look on their face said it all. Developing day was always the best – or the worst if something went wrong, but usually it was a great day. It was Christmas, New Years, and every good birthday all in one. The only downfall was that the class was only so long so you didn’t have much time to check out your negatives before you had to head off to something silly like algebra or US history (neither of which was my idea of a good time). Thankfully we didn’t have block scheduling so you only had to wait until the next day to mess around in the darkroom. It was a magical time and place, but it was also about the same time that digital cameras started to arrive on the scene. We didn’t know much about them and they weren’t the digital cameras of today by any stretch of the imagination. I remember how much Liz and I loathed the idea of shooting digital because it was “so pixely”. The only plans we ever talked about (while drooling over issues of Shutterbug) were buying medium format cameras (Mamiyas, of course) and building darkrooms.

{Kodak Portra400, Canon EOS 1-n, f/2.5}

At the risk of having already bored you to the point where you don’t ever want to read another word I have to write, I will fast forward to last year (and bore you some more…). I purchased a cheap 35mm film camera (a Canon EOS 650) and a few dozen rolls of film (kodak and fuji portra400) and imagined I was going to have all sorts of time to go and practice shooting film again. My friend Brittany came over one day after work to model for me (because the thought of my daughter sitting patiently for 36 exposures or my son sitting still for even one, was laughable). I had no idea if the camera functioned properly and no idea how to use my light meter (and that manual is BORING, which is why I didn’t bother to make it past the first page before I misplaced it all together) so in a moment of need I used the in-camera meter and hoped for the best. I took a few shots with my 5d Mark III for Brittany to have just in case this didn’t work out. At first I would look at the non-existent LCD on the back of the film camera after almost every shot and we’d laugh every time I did it. So if nothing else, we did get a good laugh out of the experience. I didn’t realize I had grown so attached to the instantaneous confirmation of a correct exposure (as far as the LCD tells us, which isn’t always an accurate depiction of what you see on the computer anyway). For those of you that don’t know me, I’m a rather anxious person. I can confidently spend a wedding day with a bunch of strangers and do my job well, but in every day life, I worry about a lot of silly things. I was terrified to send that film to any lab. It sat in my office for about six months before I tested out another film camera I had snagged on the cheap during the year, my Canon EOS 1-n (I find this much easier to navigate than the 650, it feels a little more like my digital camera in terms of the actual setup of controls so it just feels a little more natural in my hands). I shot this roll inside attempting to once again figure out my “easy-to-use” light meter without reading the manual wishing I could set it up for aperture priority (which you simply cannot) and once again getting frustrated and ditching it only to use the in-camera light meter. I photographed the most mundane of subjects and a few shots of Johnathan and our pup Findlay (and when I shot both rolls I didn’t care at all that my kids were filthy, so I’m sure they guy scanning had fun with that one. I expect child services to show up at any time now). They were by no means earth-shattering images or anything I was composing carefully, but they happened. The next day in a moment of unprecedented bravery, I quickly printed off an order form from Indie Film Lab, filled it out, packaged the film up, and ran to the post office to ship it out. I did it. There was no turning back. Bad idea. Surely these were going to be awful if the camera even functioned at all and the people at Indie are going to have a good laugh at my expense (I am sure they are much nicer than that, but this is the way my strange little mind operates). {Kodak Portra400, Canon EOS 1-n, f/2.5}

Yesterday afternoon I received the email that my film scans were ready. The minute or so that it took to download those files felt more like hours, days, weeks. Cringing, I double-clicked on the file with one eye shut (because that will obviously make it go away if they were awful). Much to my surprise, you could tell right away that they were decent exposures. Upon further inspection many of them were pretty good and several were even focused properly (I went against all advice and used the camera’s autofocus on many of them – which for the portraits proved to be more accurate than my 20/20 vision – or maybe I simply need to adjust the viewfinder… maybe). So even though I said I wouldn’t share anything from these first rolls I totally put a few on Instagram right away. Today I thought it would be fun to share a little blog post about the experience also leaving a bit of a “take chances” sort of moral to the story. Even if I had failed, I shouldn’t have been afraid to send those. Right now, film is just something for me. I want to shoot it in an effort to teach myself to slow down and pay attention. I want to cut down the number of digital images I take by simply caring more about what is in the frame before I press that shutter release. I want to know I got the exposure without double-checking. I want to have fun and I want my kids to learn how to shoot film someday.

{Kodak Portra400, Canon EOS 1-n, f/2.5}

I have some other plans too, and that’s something I’ll be able to share with everyone at a later date, but for now, I’m just happy that I finally did something I said I was going to do. I’m a dreamer for sure and make a lot of plans for myself but rarely follow through because I get busy with work, chores, family, etc. I needed to do this to know that I can follow through with my own personal plans. So, whatever it is you keep saying you want to do, would like to try, or wish you could learn, just go do it. I am a creature of comfort and if something is uncomfortable in any way, shape, or form I tend to put it on the back burner or just plain write it off all together. No more. So get ready to hear about some fun new adventures for me this coming year, but for now, here are a few images from those first two rolls of Kodak Portra400, one shot on the 650 and the other on the 1-n. 

{above and below: kodak Portra400, Canon EOS 650 f/2}

{My friend Brittany is awesome. She hangs/puts up with me, LOVES my kids and pup, shares some common interests, AND is on the fire department with my husband}

We thought it would be fun to do some comparisons last night when she came over to check out the scans with me. We decided the film shot was the best, and I thought it would be fun to see what a few light touch-ups looked like on it (never in my life have I edited an image shot on film on the computer, so strange). The first images are shot on Kodak Portra400 with the Canon EOS 650, the original scan on the left and the retouched image on the right. Just below is the side-by-side of the image taken with the Canon 5d Mark III using the same lens (the 50mm f/1.2) RAW image on the left and retouched on the right. For the most part with digital I shoot in auto white balance because I shoot RAW. Once in a blue moon when I have time to spare I will mess around with WB settings, but would rather not. The beauty of film is not worrying about that as much. Here are a few others that came out ok (below images all on the 1-n at f/2.5)

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