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  1. #1

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    Do Materials Matter?

    I've used specific films over the years because of how they look, how they render color, or their grain. I've used papers for print color and surface. In some recent threads I've expressed my disappointment that several films and papers that I use have been discontinued and gotten a surprising amount of grief for stating that simply switching to another film didn't work for me.

    So, do the materials matter? Is any color film just as good as any other? Is any B&W paper just as good as any other? And why?

  2. #2

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    In short: Yes, no, no.

    Materials do matter for what you are shooting for. If there is a specific look that say, Fuji 800Z delivers to you, it matters. Some people are more open to changing brands and emulsions (myself included) than others. Those that are more open will simply switch to Portra 800 rather than stop shooting. However, there are people that it does not work for, and while I respect them, I encourage them to try out similar films or papers from other brands to see whether any of them work for what you are looking for.

    On the topic of "just as good" there are two fields. Technically, some papers and films are superior to others, but this is usually on the lower end of the spectrum (Lucky, Shanghai, Era). On the higher end, most papers/films are similar quality, but deliver different artistic characteristics.

  3. #3
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    I think it depends a great deal on who is using the materials - and specifically on the skill level of the practitioner. I have seen the work of some very skilled individuals who are seemingly able to produce whatever "look" they want using only their chosen single film & developer combination. These folks often limit themselves to just one or two printing papers as well.

    I really do believe that if one has the skills (and assuming that you're working with high quality materials) one can produce a multitude of "looks" form a very limited range of materials. The trick for me has always been to have the discipline to stick with one thing long enough to really get to know how to use it to its fullest.

    (So, in a nutshell, As long as the materials are of high quality, what materials are used matters much less than the skills of the practitioner using them).

  4. #4
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    Materials do matter, but having a broad range should also be considered as a luxury. Sometimes it might even be a restriction!

    With some skill, you can alter the way different materials behave. You cannot perfectly simulate some other material, but that's not the point; instead, you might be able to do even more.

    What is your goal, what is the specific look you are after? It's probably not a "Fuji look" or "Kodak look"; they just happened to be close enough for you. But, using alternative methods to reach the same goal, it may be possible to get even closer to the original goal, before you chose "Fuji look".

    I think the best way is to keep your eyes open and experiment different materials and how to use them. This way you can even make new discoveries in your style.

  5. #5
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    Yes. Every material change changes the final result. If it is critical that the results be the same, material changes are bad. Yet at the same time, all Kodak films (or nearly all) produced today produce amazing results in their own way. If you work to the strengths of each material you'll do well for yourself.
    --Nicholas Andre

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by sepiareverb View Post
    So, do the materials matter? Is any color film just as good as any other? Is any B&W paper just as good as any other? And why?
    Yes, the materials can matter immensely to a desired look of a photo.

    David Hamilton used a particular film for the look of his colour work (Gaf 800 I think). If he used Velvia (if it was available at the time) for those pictures the results would have been very different and perhaps not the look hew was after.

    Joel Meyerowitz shot a series of dusk/early night shots of America on C41 neg film for the way it reacted to the light levels/reciprocity, I amagine that would have looked very different on another film stock.

    On a much much much smaller scale I have been shooting a series that is printed on warmtone paper with a strong selenium tone - for the colour shifts. Using "standard" paper with the same strength of toner, this goes a different colour. If warmtone paper was withdrawn this series would look different. Perhaps better, perhaps worse.

    When at the press agency we hated when we had to shoot colour neg instead of velvia in the sunshine as we had immense difficulty getting the deep dark backgrounds that were a sort of trademark.

    Materials do matter. But if/when they are not around, we adapt the process or shoot to suit the materials. Not all things are the same!

    Sim2.

  7. #7

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    I think materials and equipment is super important, but equally important is taking tons of pictures and continually making them better. I'm not generally excited about perfectly developed pictures of flowers, or garbage (generally), now would I be excited about terrible pictures of something really interesting. Well...I'd be more interested in the latter. Photography is so damn easy compared to other art forms, I think it really necessitates you learning your craft and doing the best job technically that you can. But you also have to get the meaning thing down too.

  8. #8

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    Glad to see there is some agreement with my take on this. I've always been one who spent the time to really learn a particular paper/developer combo or learn just what a film can do and then use that in an appropriate (to my eye) fashion. The looking and seeing certainly should be a part of this- choosing the material that gives the result one wants seems like a big part of the 'game' for me.

    You've given two excellent examples of this Sim2- in both cases shooting on a different stock would surely have impacted the final results in a huge way. I can't imagine the Meyerowitz beach images on Velvia having anywhere near the mood they do on the film he chose.

    Hrst- the prints I've been making are on Fuji Film and Kodak paper- and they certainly do look a lot different when I swap the two. And consistency does matter to me- I've also always been one to work in series and keep the look and feel the same through the set so that the images don't stand out for differences in the materials.

  9. #9

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    Materials are King. Materials in any craft define the borders of what can and cannot be achieved.

    I have been fortunate enough to watch master craftmen at work. The way a chef regards a fresh egg, or the way a luthier handles a sliver of wood, or a shoemaker massaging a rare piece of leather.

  10. #10

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    of course materials matter,
    but it is possible to "get by" with other-stuff

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