Beginner's Guide to Film Pt2
Part 2: Film Terminology. What does all the jargon mean?
In analogue photography the photographer's choice of film will decide the final image. Unlike with digital these choices cannot be made before each individual image or automatically fixed by software. This means that you need to understand a little bit more about the different effects that each film delivers - but it also allows for much greater creative control!
Colour Negative and Slide
There are two types of colour analogue photograph: colour negative and slide.
The best-known and most common is "colour negative" where development produces a strip of film that is reddish-tint and is a negative i.e. bright areas are coloured dark and vice versa. To create accurate reproductions of the original scene you need to make prints or scans that reverse this back to "positive" colours and contrast. The type of processing needed to develop colour negative film is called C-41.
You may recognise slide films from old family albums or maybe slideshows in school. This type of film produces "positive" images directly from the lab so you can hold them in front of a light source to immediately see the right colours and contrast of the photo you took. This type of processing is called E-6.
Cross-processing is the name of the creative technique of developing slide film in C-41 chemicals! The result is a strip of negative images with colour shifts and contrast changes that are unpredictable, vivid and beautiful. Different slide films respond differently to this process so we would encourage you to experiment and see what final result you most enjoy. It is also possible to cross-process negative film in E-6 but the results are usually not as impactful - you tend to get muted colours and darker images.
Black and White
Does what it says on the tin! This type of film can only record light as shades of grey, ranging from black to white. Because of its relative simplicity it was the first type of photography to be widely available. It has been responsible for iconic images throughout the 20th century and many photographers continue to prefer it today for situations where colours would detract from the strength of the image.
Redscale film is simply colour negative film that has been turned round before spooling into cartridges so that when you take a photo the light travels through the plastic backing of the emulsion before interacting with the chemicals. This means that when the photos are developed they return fantastic reds and yellow tints across your images.
Infrared film is film that has been made chemically sensitive to the infrared light spectrum. This results in the film "seeing" differently to our eyes. Skies come out dark black and trees and vegetation will shine white.
ISO (sometimes called ASA) describes the film's light sensitivity. A high number (like 800 or 1600) means that the film is very sensitive to light and it will be able to take photographs in low-light situations without having to use slow shutter speeds or flash. These films will produce a more visible grain which tends to give the final images the authentic analogue look. A low number (50 or 100) will often deliver vivid colours and high levels of detail, but you will need bright sunlight or studio lights to bring out their best! A film of ISO 400 is the best carry-around film for the UK as it will work well in sunlight, shadows and cloud.
Grain is used to describe the visual impact of small silver residues that form whenever you use analogue photography processes. Certain films have larger or brighter grain structures - this provides the visual interest that film photography is well-known for and choosing different films to provide different final looks is all part of the fun!
Contrast tells you how big the difference will be between the brightest and the darkest parts of the image. Some films have very strong contrast so the shadows will be jet black and the highlights will be pure white; others will be more moderate and the image will look more balanced and natural. Choosing the right contrast and colour saturation (how vivid the colours are) will have the biggest impact on how your final image looks.
Resolution refers to the amount of detail contained in a photograph. Generally speaking in film photography the larger the format, the better the resolution. However different films will also deliver slightly different levels of detail. Films marketed as "Professional" will tend to have greater resolution as one of their benefits versus the creative or consumer films.