I am Hans ter Horst and this is why I shoot film
“No more chimping” – Hans ter Horst isn’t the first person to have said that and her certainly won’t be the last. But, as advice from a veteran photographer who came from film, went to digital and came back, it’s advice to listen to.
In context, “Cover the screen at the back of your DSLR with some sticky tape is a recommendation that I can make to any digital shooter looking for better photos. No more chimping and you’ll be amazed by the difference.”
His output is prolific and the equipment he has at his disposal seems like it might be in danger of finally filling Mary Poppins’ bag. That said, it’s an active collection and one that he puts to beautiful use.
Over to you, Hans.
Hi Hans, what’s this picture, then?
This is a photo that I have a lot of affinity for just because it is so different from what I would normally shoot. It reminds me to keep changing and moving my photography forward.
The story of the photo is that I happened to be on an overpass in Shibuya, Tokyo. My Pentax 645NII camera had one exposure left on a roll of Velvia 5o that I had been using the previous day for landscapes. I really wanted to change the Velvia for a roll of B&W film, as that suited my tastes better for the areas of Tokyo that we intended to visit.
So, I’m on this overpass and I just noticed this taxi stopped while waiting for a red light. I leant over to avoid including the overpass in the photo and took the shot pointing straight down.
I had completely forgotten about it, but I was very pleased with this unexpected result when I had the film developed.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m currently based in Luxembourg after having lived in Stockholm, Paris and London. I love shooting film and listening to free jazz and none of my friends or family understand either passion, and I don’t care ☺
When did you start shooting film?
I’m 54 years old and started off on film when I was in my early teens. My father taught me how to use his Pentacon F camera and how to experiment in the dark room. I actually adopted to DSLR cameras pretty early on and upgraded yearly to the latest and the best. Then I realized that I came home with tons of images and only a few, if any, that I liked.
I started to post process to see if that could rescue a mediocre photo (it didn’t!) but never knew when to call it finished. I was not happy with my photography at all. Then, on a trip to Iceland in 2006 I brought along my old 35mm film camera and some Ilford FP4+ film on a whim (together with my DSLR). I liked the results on film infinitely better.
It became clear to me that my approach was completely different when shooting film, so I did the obvious thing and went back. First to 35 mm, as I was used to that, and now mostly medium and large format. People might not agree with my decision, but I’m much happier with the results.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
Since 2006 all my photography has been done on film. Sometimes I pick up the DSLR and shoot a few shots of my wife but that is never anything serious. So then the question turns into why I do keep on photographing? The reason, really, is to keep me sane.
I’m head of software development for a company and luckily I can get completely absorbed in my photography. It is the perfect escape, even when I do not have a camera on me. For example, when an online meeting drags on, all of a sudden I can notice the light striking an area outside the office in a way that I haven’t noticed before and I visualize the shot.
Any favorite subject matter?
I guess it is landscapes but I’m playing around with other areas as well. Lately I have been experimenting with portrait and still life photography and setting up lighting to get the best out of these subjects. I’m not too happy with the results, which means that I need to work harder. I also started a series about water towers.
Come to think of it, I think my favourite subject really is anything that doesn’t move so I have the time to set up the shot and check the composition, as I work pretty slow.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
Probably a very old roll of ADOX CHS 25 ART that I have been saving for the right subject and I’ll stand develop it to get the best out of it. I love these very slow films and how they behave.
It is pity that the contracting market leaves us mostly with ISO 100 and 400 films, I would love to see slow film and IR film make a comeback.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What to you take with you and why?
I’ll probably bring a roll of Kodak TRI-X as it really a workhorse for me. I can rate it at ISO 800 or ISO 1600 and get some great contrast if that suits the subject, or pull the film and go the other way. I’d also take a roll of Fuji Velvia, in case the subject is suited for colour photography.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
I still have the crazy plan to visit Torres del Paine National Park in Chile one day. Don’t ask me why, it might be the greatest disappointment ever but from what I’ve seen from the empty space, the mountains…I think it really would suit what I like to achieve.
On that occasion I would be shooting Fuji Velvia 50 instead of the B&W films I normally use.
I’m a strong believer that locations must be visited many times, over periods of time to get the best photos. I’ve learned that walking around a location and shooting left and right can give you some good ideas but only when visiting that same location again, can you expect to get the shots you want.
Of course this wouldn’t work with a location in Chile for me!
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
One misconception that I see in online forums, Facebook, etc., is that some people think that film photos should not be processed when working in the dark room.
I would select the paper to correspond to the contrast I desire and dodge and burn like the best of them to get the best possible result. If you look at very well-known photos, you’ll find that there are print instructions detailing what parts must be burned and what parts must be dodged and by how much.
If people decide not to do this, that’s absolutely fine, but it is not a reflection upon the ones who do and, frankly, if you are serious about the results, most photos usually need a bit of dodging, burning or a few contrast adjustments.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
First of all, there is the question about the availability of film: even though some of the larger players like Fuji Film are losing interest, I think there will be film to be had for many years to come. Maybe we’ll be looking back at Velvia fondly in a few short years to come, but especially in B&W the commitment is strong.
Then there is the question whether film photography in the future will still have the buzz that is growing now. I do think that this is a possibility as I see more and more mention of people not only using film for fun, but also using film to get the results they want. I’m keeping my fingers crossed, but I’m optimistic.
If someone with Hans’ background tells me that it’s ok to do a bit of post production on my images, then I’m taking that as gospel (yes, I know he’s talking about the dark room). As he rightly points out, there seems to be a “purist” movement in some on- and off-line arenas, who tell us that we shouldn’t mess with our negatives and simply print them without further meddling of the result already captured in camera.
Truth be told, the film photography process/movement/ethic has never been so rigid and never will be. We manipulate our images through every aspect of the way we shoot, our decision on developer temperatures, the developer itself and the development method. They all effect our final negatives, so what’s the harm of a little further manipulation in the physical (or digital) darkroom?
Now, I’m not suggesting we go crazy with our post-production (and on a personal level, I really dislike overly “produced” images), but a contrast bump here and there won’t hurt; in fact, these light touches can help us realise our vision and help inform us of how to go about capturing the same result, or one closer to it in-camera in the future.
The above flame war bait aside, I love Hans’ work and what he’s chosen to share here today is only a tiny, tiny fraction of the work available on his website. Take a few minutes and head over, you’ll find galleries of images captured on his many and varied travels, as well as useful advice on film development. Take care, it’s easy to lose track of time once you get stuck in.
We’ll back again soon with another film photographer, in the meantime please get in touch if you’d like to get featured, or know of someone you think might like to. See below.
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