My scanning project continues with over 1,700 scans of photographs from the film photography days. Many are processed in Photoshop, and the originals are kept intact. That is over 3,500 new files and even more memories. As I scan, clean, process, and in many ways relive the moments, I have been thinking about how different it was when we used film.
Film photography was done one roll at a time, each roll having a maximum capacity of 36 shots. After a roll was fully exposed, we rewound it to the cartridge if using 35mm, took it out, put a new roll in, and continued shooting. The limited “storage” capacity made photographers more careful not only with what they photographed but also how many frames they shot of each.
With film photography, there was no instant feedback on the rear display panel. You did your best to get the exposure right relying on your previsualization skills and hoping for the best. We would wait to see the results days after we sent them for processing. Sending the rolls would typically happen after we returned home if on a shooting trip.
Getting the slides or prints back would be an exciting moment with some good ones to enjoy and some poor photographs to ditch. That was as instant feedback as we had! Now, we can view each shot on the camera and even view them on a laptop that we carry with us on every trip. The final editing may wait, but we know what we harvested.
Uniform Film Attributes
Each roll of film had certain characteristics. We carefully selected the film, color or black-and-white, ISO speed, film brand, film model for the shooting occasion. But, once a roll was loaded, all the frames were exposed at suitable settings for the type of film in the camera. If we wanted both color and black-and-white, we usually carried two cameras with appropriate film loaded in each. You may remember some of the photographs in the collection below from an earlier post with their B&W versions.
Uniform Film Development
When a roll of film was developed, all the frames got the same treatment. All were, say, Ektachrome 100, Fuji Superia 200, or Panatomic X 32. In film photography days, we could not change the ISO speed from one frame to the next, and all remained in color or monochrome.
The development did not vary from frame to frame unless you were using sheet film on a view camera; a rare occasion for many. Almost all color film was developed in a lab, and most photographers even had their B&W film developed the same way with 4 x 6 prints to preview.
After the film was developed, we enjoyed viewing slides by setting up a projector and loading trays. One tray often would prove to be insufficient, and the show continued with the second tray. When it came to printing from color negatives most were done at a lab after carefully selecting the frames from the small prints made at the beginning. I did some Cibachrome color film developing and printing. Although the results were very good, the process and the longevity of the chemicals made it not worthwhile for the occasional printer.
Intimate Black and White
Black-and-white film and prints were the most intimate we could get with the process. I did my share of developing B&W films and printing those images. There was certainly some magic in the entire film photography process, starting with loading the film on reels in a changing bag and stuffing them in the tank; all that with the feel of your fingers.
Pour in the developer, start the timer, and follow the ritual of turning the tank at set intervals. Ding! Pour the developer out, add the stop bath, and follow it with the hypo solution. After the film was developed and washed, we peered into the frames to get a glimpse of their contents and the tonal structure of the frames.
Printing Black and White
Printing B&W was also highly enjoyable and magical, which I first witnessed as a ten-year child watching a friend of my father in the darkroom. It was truly magic, especially at that age. There was certainly a similar feeling even in my later years when I did the printing. Moving from a test print to the final, with dodging and burning while mumbling some counts, and putting the paper in the developer remained a ritual. A very pleasurable one at that!
Scanning Film and Memories Now
As I go through hundreds of frames now, loading them on the film holders of the scanner, there is a sense of anticipation since I do not have small prints for all the frames. I do the initial preview scan so that I can view the positive versions to select what to scan and what to skip. I pick the film type in the scanner software if there is a setting for it. SilverFast software I use on my Epson V850 scanner has settings for quite a few film types.
Now I have the luxury of treating each frame separately as I adjust the exposure, the curve, the histogram, color balance, and so on. There are some similarities between scanning and printing in many ways, except for the lack of the typical darkroom smell! Flexible film photography, but still excites!
One added benefit of having done film photography for so many years is that as I scan the images, I scan the memories as well. That retains the magic and mystery of film days, this time by developing the memories along with the images. Finding more than several sets of frames shot for panoramic stitching was a big surprise! What was I thinking back in 1987, shooting multiple frames on color film?
Below are some moments I relived, and images I saved. They are from separate times, different visits, various places but from the same mental database!
Share your thoughts, questions, comments about the faces, places, and other matters. Anything goes!