Vive la Paris

After all these years, I finally got to visit Paris … for the first time in my life … and it was amazing ! Taking photos only with my 35mm film cameras helped make it even more memorable πŸ€©πŸ‡«πŸ‡·πŸ“Έ

Only 2.5 Days – What To See ?

There’s so much to see & do in Paris – and while it’s important to grab as many sights as you can, it’s also equally important to simply enjoy the ‘experience’ of this beautiful city … coffee along the river Seine, crepes in the Latin Quarter, and a visit to an art gallery or two πŸ–Ό

What to see in 2.5 days !

I found the book ‘Top 10 Paris‘ by EyeWitness publications super helpful. I was able to quickly understand what was possible, what wasn’t, what could wait until the next time, and how much walking was required vs. time on the metro.

What to pack ?

I learnt from my road-trip around Connemara and Sligo last year, that having a few rolls of both colour and black & white film is absolutely necessary. That said, when flying and travelling light, you’ve really got to make tough decisions about film ISO, camera and lens combinations !

I ended up settling on the following … after a lot of internal debate πŸ€ͺ

  • Film – Colour: 2 x FujiColor C200 and 1 x FujiFilm Superia 400
  • Film – Black & White: 2 x Ilford Delta 400
  • Camera: 2 x Nikon F80 / N80 (one for colour, and the other for black & white)
  • Lenses: 18-35mm f3.5-4.5, 24mm f2.8, 35mm f2, 28-80mm f3.3-5.6, and 80-200mm f4.5-5.6

Make no mistake, I wasn’t carrying all these items simultaneously as I rambled about Paris … instead I would cherry-pick which lens I needed before heading out, depending on the lighting conditions.

Being Street Smart

When going to a new city / new country / new environment, etc. with treasured camera equipment you really need to use common sense, and intentionally avoid situations & places that could put you at unnecessary risk.

So it was reasonable to assume that I would be walking around Paris with two 35mm film cameras, a couple of lenses, my phone and wallet … and juggling between each of these, sometimes simultaneously …

Consequently I deliberately didn’t draw attention to myself … a tripod was simply not an option, meanwhile I used a small, secure shoulder camera bag, and I kept my phone, wallet & keys deep in the front pockets of my jeans. As I say, simply using common sense when rambling around a bustling city taking photographs.

Make The Effort

Before I dig into the photography, I do want to mention that I found the Parisians to be charming, laugh-out-loud witty, very helpful and accommodating πŸ€©πŸ‡«πŸ‡·

A big reason for this wonderful positive experience was that I did some helpful homework in advance …

  • I learnt some basic French phrases – super important !!
  • Researched about ‘a day in the life’ for Parisians – when & where it was chaotic vs relaxed
  • Determined where not to go walking
  • Figured out where I was going to be (approximately) and how I was going to get there

Let me expand upon that 1st bullet point … learning to say a few simple French words like ‘merci’, ‘bonjour’, ‘excusez-moi’, etc. improved the customer experience substantially πŸ˜‡

Ok, that’s enough tour-guide information, let’s get back to the photography !

Light & Shadows

From the research I conducted online, it became clear that Paris is decidedly monochrome, with an abundance of geometry and leading lines. best suited to black & white.

I can confirm this is mostly true – with the obvious exceptions being the pop of colour from flowers, signage, food, etc., sunset/sunrise along the Seine, and of course the night lights.

For black and white film, it’s a joy … especially if you like architecture, leading lines, shapes & texture, and street-photography !

The long, wide streets and uniformity of the building architecture made for wonderful images on my Ilford Delta 400. Don’t forget to visit the roof-top terraced buildings too, for those amazing panoramic skylines.

I noticed that the metering on my Nikon while pretty reliable 80% of the time, still gets fooled with very bright or dark scenes. So I found myself regularly switching between metering modes, and adding / subtracting exposure as required.

Splashes of colour

When it came to colour, there were surprising elements to be had – I found the architecture, flora & art to be absolutely stunning !πŸ†

I was extremely lucky in that the weather was glorious blue skies 🌀 It meant that I was 100% good-to-go with my FujiColor C200 for the day, and FujiFilm Superia (400) for the evening.

The simple ‘tourist’ shots were a breeze, requiring very little effort, at most just a matter of being patient, and waiting for the light to be in the right place.

However there were a number of tricky locations, with deep-shadows or high vaulted, decorative roof spaces, which required some mental gymnastics to work out the optimal exposure settings … and prior experience of how far I could push the film stock.

That ‘famous’ framed entrance to the Louvre was so difficult to capture !! Do I expose for the highly reflective glass, or do I expose for the ridiculously dark shadows, there’s no ‘easy’ mid-tones, etc.

As it turned out, FujiColor C200 has a surprisingly good dynamic range and I shouldn’t have worried – it handled extremes of shadows and bright reflections reasonably well, with only the extremes of whites being lost.

I had a number of situations where I had to improvise, using a street lamp or railing as an impromptu tripod … slow my breathing, and wait just between exhaling & inhaling to click the shutter release, for a steady shot.

Final Thoughts

In summary, the weekend trip to Paris was amazing and unforgettable !

As I say, if you want a weekend city-break to be a ’35mm film success’, you really do need to do some planning:

  • Learn as much as you can about the city before-hand. Think through what can be visited – realistically, determine what places to avoid, and learn some useful language phrases πŸ›
  • Make your best choice of camera(s), film & lenses that will help you get those shots with the minimum of fuss βš–οΈ
  • Finally, make sure you get time to ENJOY the experience of BEING in the city πŸ€©πŸ˜‡

I hope this blog post of my experiences, approach and lessons learnt help in some way. Until next time, keep shooting film !

Paul

Instagram :: #irishanalogadventures

Don’t Make These Mistakes

I like to think that over the last 4-6 months I’ve got a pretty good handle on my film photography technique, but that’s only because I must have made EVERY MISTAKE in the book over the last 3-4 years !! πŸ€ͺ

So allow me to share some of these mistakes with you, so you don’t have to experience the same amount of wasted money & occasional anguish !

This is a LONG read with plenty of my film camera disasters for you to gasp at, however I’ve tried my best to make it speed-readable … so please bookmark this page, dip in & out of it, and come back to it at later stages in your film journey.

New Equipment = New Tests

One thing I’ve slowly discovered with film photography, is that buying more expensive gear doesn’t necessarily produce images any better than cheaper ‘plastic’ versions, in fact, some of my more expensive ‘collector’ items have failed more when least expected and require more maintenance !

So I’ve learnt the hard way, that whenever I get a ‘new’ camera (or lens) the 1st film roll MUST be used for sanity checks … the ‘wasted’ money in doing this exercise, is better than the emotional hurt & pain of defective / blank photos of a beautiful landscape !

Camera Test Frames …
  1. Leave the lens cap on, go outside where it’s bright, and take 2 photographs with the shutter set to 1 sec and the aperture to f5.6 – one held horizontal the other held vertical. This will test for light leaks the foam seals around the shutter box being defective, causing aurora style red/yellow swooshes to appear on your developed film)
  2. Focus on a object in your kitchen, leave the aperture at f5.6 and take photos at 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, and 1/2 – your developed film should show 5 photographs getting progressively brighter by the same amount, i.e. the shutter timing is reliable
  3. To test your exposure meter, take 2 test shots of : a) something bright white, ensuring you get your exposure needle/meter in the middle, and b) something dark black, again with your exposure needle/meter in the middle. If you get back two developed photos with the brightness quite dull & boring, it means your exposure meter is working, as it’s pushing you to middle-grey.
  4. The above 9 photographs will inadvertently prove that the film advance mechanism is actually working too … and that you’re not shooting photographs on the same single frame over & over
  5. If you’ve got a ‘new’ lens, then test your lens – take test photos of a close-up object with the aperture wide open (e.g. f1.8) to closed down (e.g f22) through all it’s full f-stops (f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16 and f22). This is to help you see where the lens is soft in the corners vs. when it’s finally sharp edge-to-edge. It will also highlight whether you’ve got a wonderful film camera with a badly defective lens, which is very soft all along one side of the frame … been there. done that, not a very nice experience !! πŸ₯Ί
  6. Finally, if you’re using a flash-gun, take 4 test shots indoors at f5.6 with: a) the flash on manual 1/2 power, b) the flash on TTL mode, c) flash with the shutter speed at 1/60, and d) flash with the shutter speed at 1/250. This will test that the hot-shoe is actually working, the shutter plane movement, and whether your camera needs more manual assistance with TTL vs it being fully automated.

Camera Calamities

Even when you have a fully-functioning film camera, there’s plenty of things that can catch you out, and leaving you cursing at your newly developed film frames !

Opening the back accidentally (left), rewinding the film too forcefully (right)

Here’s some of the horrible mistakes things I’ve experienced:

Winding on FilmOlder non-motorised film advancing cameras, require you to physically wind the film forward after releasing the shutter. This is where things can go horribly wrong … the dreaded blank film frames !
I once missed an entire sequence of wonderful shots at sun-set because my film wasn’t actually advancing at all … the film had slipped off the spool … entirely my fault ! 😩

TIP #1 : Do yourself a big favour and watch a YouTube video of how to insert the leader of the film roll correctly onto the spool of your camera. Some cameras require ninja-style loop-backs through narrow slots. You’ll be surprised how a quick 10 sec instructional video clears things up.

TIP #2 : Don’t be fooled by the shutter counter increasing as you wind the film … pay close attention to the take-up dial on the other side of your camera, and ensure it’s rotating too. You should always feel tension in the film advance lever too.

TIP #3 : Make sure that you haven’t left the multi-exposure mode on … sometimes I’ve forgotten I had this mode on, or sometimes forgotten how to actually switch it off ! Urrrgh
Set the ISO correctlySome old cameras don’t automatically read the film speed (the DX code) … I’ve been caught out, to my horror, taking out a roll of ISO 800 film, hastily switching in a roll of ISO 200 film, and not changing the ISO speed ! Urrrrggggh = frames which are a dark, muddy mess ! πŸ˜–

TIP #4 : Remember the phrase “before changing lanes, check your speed” … πŸ˜‰ Get into the habit of checking your film speed setting no matter when you insert a new roll of film.
Make sure your shutter box is clean I once had an entire roll of film get developed and scanned, only to show a thin horizontal streak/scratch across every single frame in the roll !

TIP #5 : Get yourself a small rubber air blower, and regularly turn your camera upside down, and gently blow upwards into the shutter box (do NOT touch the delicate shutter blades). This will help ensure no debris trapped inside, which can scratch your film.
BatteriesOlder 60-70’s film cameras may use LR44 watch cell batteries, while cameras from the 80-90’s may use CR123 & CR2 batteries. However, I’ve been sabotaged by an old battery suddenly dropping voltage in cold weather, causing my cameras’ exposure meter to behave erratically, and not only that but on a separate occasion, cause the lens aperture to become inoperable.

TIP #6 : Always, always bring 2 sets of spare batteries in your camera bag / pouch (keep one set warm in your pocket if you’re out in the cold).

TIP #7 : Always take the batteries out of the camera if you’re not going to use it for a few days, as sometimes they drain away slowly.
Removing FilmSometimes your camera, if it’s automatic film advance, may have speed options for film rewind … sometimes the ‘fast’ mode can damage the film !
I once had a roll of film show strange vertical lines on the last 3 frames, these are film ‘stretch marks’ which appear when too much tension is being applied to film when rewinding 😳

TIP #8 : Rewind your film back slowly where possible, especially with certain higher ISO films

TIP #9 : I once received a roll that was 90% blank frames from the film lab …. why ? Because I accidentally opened the back of the film camera, without checking if there was film already in the camera first ! Remember the phrase: “Before opening the oven, check if there’s already a cake in there”
Camera Calamities

Technique Tackles

The amount of time I’ve made stupid mistakes, wasting film frames, because I wasn’t taking photographs properly … you’ll see what I mean below:

Exposure meteringWhen I got my very first film camera, it was 95% mechanical – only the little light meter required power from a little A76 watch-battery.
However, I must have had half of my first 4 rolls wasted because I didn’t fully grasp how to meter light correctly. Old film cameras don’t auto-magically nail exposure like digital cameras ! πŸ’»

TIP #10 : If you’ve got an old-school camera, learn the Sunny 16 rule … it’s a great yardstick for understanding whether you’re in the right ball-park with your aperture choice when shooting outdoors

TIP #11 : Please read my blog post “Getting Centered” it will give you lots of helpful advice, tips and examples on how use 60-80’s center-weighted metering with confidence.
Film loves lightSurprise surprise, film is the opposite of digital – film loves lots of light, easily handles over-exposure and hates being under-exposed (caveat: expect for slide film) !
The minute you start seeing developed frames that are murky, muddy, indistinct … that’s usually a sign of your shutter speed being too fast / your aperture not open wide enough

TIP #12 : if in doubt, point the center of your camera to the area in your photo which has shadows, and lock your exposure on that !
Getting focusA lot of the older cameras will either have no auto-focus, or maybe 1-3 auto-focus points if you’re lucky. The amount of photographs I took which were blurry at the wrong place, drove me nuts, especially at longer focal lengths !

TIP #13 : Practice manual focus technique, rocking the focus forwards, back and then splitting the difference to land somewhere in between. Don’t forget f4 – f8 is your friend !
Technique Tackles

Film Foibles

The final area where I made silly mistakes was not fully appreciating that not every film stock is made equal, that they behave differently.

Know your film stockThere’s essentially 3 film types: slide, c41 colour and black & white. For anybody getting into film photography, just stick to c41 colour and black & white, as they’re more forgiving of technique errors.

Secondly film comes in different sizes … be careful !! If you’ve got a 35mm film camera you need to order film that is ‘135’ / ’35mm’. I’ve had birthday presents that had to be send back to the shop as I received 2 rolls of medium-format 120 film instead of smaller 135 film 🎁
Get to know your filmThe next surprise with film photography is that different film stock can make dramatic differences to the end result … smooth, low contrast vs highly detailed and punchy.

TIP #14 : When you’re first starting out, just try two rolls of Kodak Gold initially – get to know how it behaves, on cold overcast days, warm sunny days, inside your kitchen using flash, and at night. That will help you build up experience, before you try more expensive specialised stock.
Get your negatives backAs I mentioned in my blog post “Negative Experience” the rolls of film are your RAW files, if you ever want to get the highest quality print or scan, you must have the negative frame to work with …

TIP #15 : Always pay the extra little bit of money, to get your negatives sent back to you. You’ll be thankful in the future.
Use a trusted film labPlease, please, please send your film to be developed & scanned at a reliable & trustworthy film lab. How do you know you can trust them ?

Here’s a few quick check-list items to help you decide:

1. Can you get your film negatives back via registered post / courier ?
2. Can they can push / pull film ?
3. Are different scanning sizes on offer, and do they have samples for you to download and inspect ?
4. Will the scans they provide get stored on a proper cloud service, so you can still get access to scans from last year or the year prior if your laptop decides to quit !
5. Finally, do they provide some form of online customer chat channel, where you can contact them, ask questions, and they can offer answers & advice ?

I’m not getting paid for saying this, so I’ll just say it, I’ve been hitting printpoint.ie with rolls of film almost every two months for the last 2-3 years, and they tick ‘yes’ to everything I listed above. The quality of their film dev & scan work is simply jaw-dropping at times ! πŸ†
Yes, I know there are other film labs out there too, but I’m just saying – get a lab you can trust πŸ‘
Film Foibles

Conclusion

The journey into film can be both joyous and frustrating at times, however ultimately it’s enriching & rewarding, gaining you hard-won fundamental skills that digital photography can’t offer to the same extent.

As I say, I know this was a long post, crammed with a lot of content, but I do hope it helps you on your film journey πŸ˜€ Bookmark it, and revisit it time and again, when you’re getting strange issues, or if you’re about to put new film into a new camera ! πŸ˜‰

Until next time, keep shooting film !

Paul

Instagram :: #irishanalogadventures