Colour Negative Film and Filters
In the recent discussion about Kodak Ektar vs the Portras, the focus very quickly changed from the difference between these two films into a discussion about using a filter on your camera when taking pictures using colour negative film. Of Ektar, Mr 2F/2F said this:
Proper exposure of all the color layers is very important with this film. That means you will have the easiest time printing if you filter it:
- any time it is cloudy
- any time it is overcast
- any time your subject is primarily in the shade or in window light
- any time it is more than a few hours either side of noon.
- any time you shoot under artificial light that is not daylight balanced (i.e. most artificial light in our day-to-day lives)
Given what many people tend to shoot, this means that most people should filter this film a good deal of the time. The same is true of any color neg material, but especially important with this film due to the fact that it's contrast lowers it's latitude for imbalanced color.
There then followed a discussion about when and with what to filter colour neg film.
And it's all left me rather baffled.
I've used colour negative film for the last three or four years now and never used a colour correction filter. In all that time, I have never thought that the colours in the final photograph were 'off', whether shot in daylight or with a flash.
I have had many minilab prints made and recently started to make optical RA4 prints.
This makes me think that one of these two conclusions may be valid. Which do you think is more likely:
a. the need for filters (80, 81, 82 etc) has been overstated by people in the Ektar v new Portras thread; or
b. some of my pictures would have turned out with far better colour (noticeable to the man on the street) if I had used the relevant filter in open shade or under a cloudy sky etc.
Many thanks for any contributions!
I had exactly the same thought, that those statements warrant a separate thread. I just paste my question here:
Just been rereading this thread. Very interesting. But somehow I can't believe shooting daylight negative film in overcast/cloudy/shadow conditions outdoors will cause any problems. Has anyone here done any testing or seen results of such tests that show necessity of in-camera filtering for colour negative film? It sounds very strange to me that any of the above conditions will cause loss of density in any of the layers so severe that filtering during printing won't be able to restore without introducing color shifts. I've never seen in-camera filtering for negative film recommended in any of the colour photography books either. So, i'd be very grateful if any of you can quote from any reference, books, articles, tests, etc that prove your point.
As stated in the other thread.
I could colour balance easily an unfiltered shot as well as one with a Tiffen 85 series filter. Identically. The filtered shot (being overcast as well as under a forest canopy type thing) had richer colour with the same balance and contrast.
I shot Ektar 100 in my Rollei with the R5 filter with a subject in full open shade, and it turned out excellent. It's probably easier to correct colours thus than to fiddle with Y+M at the printing stage.
Using film since before it was hip.
"One of the most singular characters of the hyposulphites, is the property their solutions possess of dissolving muriate of silver and retaining it in considerable quantity in permanent solution" — Sir John Frederick William Herschel, "On the Hyposulphurous Acid and its Compounds." The Edinburgh Philosophical Journal
, Vol. 1 (8 Jan. 1819): 8-29. p. 11
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If you're getting the results you want, I guess that's all that matters. But I'm fairly amazed to see the
actual images of people who wing it with color neg film, or who brag how they can correct anything in
Photoshop, well, except this or that, so it must be the film's fault, and Kodak is really dumb. To me their
wonderful images look very off and fall far short of the real potential of the film. We all probably do things deliberately creative with our favorite films; but a lot of these folks are defaulting through ignorance of technique. My darkroom prints from Ektar, and to a lesser extent, the older Portras, look
very clean, vibrant, and rich by comparison. I've learned all this the hard way; and when one shoots 8X10, there's a real financial sting to an unbalanced exposure. When you don't filter and expose as needed, you've not only got a color balance problem, but are effectively altering the geometry of the three dye curves relative to one another. I don't know how much detail I want to get into, if folks are unfamiliar with the sensitometery of color films; but this is something which CANNOT be post-corrected. All three color layers are affected in a variety of ways, depending on the specific film, and some of this
turn into what I call "mud".
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1. Let me ask again for recommendations on a consensus, authoritative book or web book on use of color filtration on color film. Someone suggested Horenstein. Any others? I need a basic primer, with reference to these weird filter numbers that you guys are tossing around.
And it would be very nice to see comparisons of with and without filtration in some of these problem situations.
I've also been winging it but have definitely been dissatisfied with results in some mixed lighting, mixed sun/shade situtations.
2. what filtration would you experts use in a situation involving deep-ish shade (forest?) with bright sun shafting through and the subject in the sun?
First of all, in terms of specifics, we're talking about a fairly new set of Kodak films. So don't expect some book to be available. And in terms of "authoritative" or "consensus" on the web, well, good luck. The web is loaded with BS, and you have to do some sifting. If you want to understand the real nature of the problem you have to study basic sensitometery and learn how to interpret the published curves etc thoughtfully. Books on this subject are available. But just try taking my word for this, and experiment. Mixed lighting will always be a challenge because you are dealing with more than one set of
circumstances in the same scene. You can compromise filter, or not filter at all, and just let the chips fall where they will. In a film like Ektar the deep shadows under an open blue skies will tend to go an
uncorrectable blue, while the rest of the scene will fall into place. Ektar doesn't have the warming "mud"
of overlapping film curves to the extent of traditional portrait neg films. Each new film entails its own
learning curve to recognize its particular signature. But if the overall scene is in deep shade under
blue sky, I'd recommend an 81C. A lower-contrast film like Portra 400 might be slightly more forgiving in
mixed lighting. Color transparency films aren't wholly immune from analogous problems - the difference is,
we can just slap them on a lightbox and immediately recognize the idiosyncrasies. Reading color negs takes a lot more experience and generally actual printing too. And after awhile, people tend to accept
those idiosyncrasies as representing something real. Just thumb through some of the shots in something
like Natl Geographic and see how many published images reflect the color bias of some film rather than
anything real, especially in night shots. Lots of blue that was never there in the original. Call it creativity
or call it cliche, it simply proves no film is perfect, and maybe shouldn't be.
People go too far when they say the film cannot be colour balanced the same when you're simply shooting the shade let alone overcast situations. I've had no problem colour balancing Ektar unfiltered shot inside a forest.
Conversely the Konica Centuria Super 100 (120) I shot unfiltered vs filtered in heavy overcast under a forest canopy, as I stated before, it colour balances identically filtered vs unfiltered, obviously different values for each balance. It has a richer look to the colour filtered though. This is the filtered shot, it may look too warm to some, but this was my chosen colour balance, saturation has been slightly increased by a small amount over what the scanner's response is to the film (which is typically lower saturation than RA-4 printing to begin with) as I play to the strengths of the image.
Marysville Ranges? by athiril, on Flickr
This is the only recentish comparison I have done. I'll try to dig out the neg sheet at some point to find the unfiltered shot which I didn't use again for comparison purposes.
The problem is with MIXED lighting. I've shot Ektar and Portra many times in deep shade in the redwoods
or under our frequently overcast skies. Might do more of that tomorrow, though the sun is likely to come
out in the afternoon and result in mixed light. Easy to filter for. The difference is, that if I don't, and just
expect to correct the color balance with the colorhead afterwards, the exposure level of the different
dye spikes will be out of syn, therefore unmatched in intended geometry, so certain things just can't be corrected that easily could be in the first place (unless you're breaking the rules on purpose). When
in doubt, it's safer to overfilter for the blue cast a little than under filter it. I really hesitate to outright
argue with people who haven't actually done such filter corrections, especially the "I can do anything in Photoshop" geek mentality who have no higher expectations than what they see on the web. Minor
changes in photo habits can indeed result in significant cumulative improvements in print quality. This
is one of those relevant factors.
I'd love to see some real comparison prints, not scans of prints or, even less useful, scans of negatives, done by a really experienced color printer like Drew, of unfiltered versus filtered shots. I've never filtered it either, and aside from something extreme like indoor incandescent or, worse, fluorescent, I've never felt it was uncorrectable in printing or really all that difficult to correct. Granted it's been over a decade since I was doing color printing, and I also point out that I make no claims that I could make them look identical or even "just as good" since I didn't do side by side comparisons. I just got results, without too much trouble, that were fine to me. I'm perfectly willing to consider that my standards might just not be what they could be.
Comparison scans with no or at least the same post-scan corrections, to make them look as similar as possible to the originals in the eye of the person who did the original printing, would be interesting but maybe not as telling as viewing the actual prints. Unfortunately we don't have an easy way to directly view the comparison prints themselves across the Internet.