I think there’s a pretty big misconception about shooting slide film. We’ve all heard the stories about how slide film is ridiculously hard to shoot, that if you’re off on your exposure by just a small amount that your highlights will either be blown away or everything will be a murky detail void shadow.
Maybe those stories come from older film stocks that aren’t around anymore but for today’s slide film emulsions, they are decently forgiving. Don’t get me wrong, they won’t give you anywhere near the exposure latitude of say Fujifilm Pro 400H or Kodak Portra 400, but they aren’t nearly as difficult to shoot as some people would lead you to believe they are.
I say this, of course, after shooting several rolls of slide film, mainly Fujifilm Velvia 50 and finding out for myself that the risk is most certainly worth the reward. I’ve got several rolls shot under my belt and the results have been stunning, albeit there have been a few bad exposures here and there.
I’m going to show you that someone with virtually zero experience can properly expose and develop slide film, even the infamously unruly Velvia 50.
A little background, I started my photography in High School like many others. My photography addiction started with digital photography, as that’s what my school offered. Years later I was shooting digital Nikons and really enjoying it but I wanted to become a “better” photographer. In my mind, digital photography was a bit too easy — not to discount any digital shooters, I still shoot digital — but being able to check focus and exposure right after you take the photo left me spending more time looking at the screen after every shot than I did actually shooting.
I was looking for a bit of a “challenge”. I say that because, at the time, shooting film seemed like a very difficult thing. Sure, I had shot film when I was a kid, but it was always in point and shoots or disposables. How it had that stigma to me then I don’t really know, but when a friend turned me onto the idea, I excitedly and nervously decided to hop on the train.
Fast forward a few months and I had gotten comfortable shooting film and even started processing my C-41 at home. As many people do, I read lots of reviews of film cameras and film stocks online. While reading about Velvia 50, I came across a picture of a neon sign that was on Ken Rockwell’s website.
It was bursting with color and almost seemed to glow itself. In my photography, I love bright bold colors and this picture checked all my boxes. I had to figure out how he made this fantastic picture. The secret, it turned out, was a certain Fujifilm slide film by the name of Fujifilm FUJICHROME Velvia 50 (RVP 50).
Lights bulbs went off in my head and I knew I had to buy some. I impulsively ordered some online and then got to reading about the best ways to shoot it. That’s the first time I came across the people that were warning all to stay away unless you knew exactly what you were doing. I read to the point where I got nervous that shooting it might be a waste of money as I was not a very experienced film photographer.
After reading enough warnings, I decided the only way to know for sure was to shoot it myself and see what the results were. So, I grabbed my first roll of Velvia 50, my Fuji GW690III Professional and a tripod and I went out for a walk with my wife on a warm June night.
The GW690III may have been a mistake because it has no light meter, so I had to resort to a free phone light meter app. Surely this would be a mistake, who uses a cellphone light meter to meter scenes when shooting the most temperamental of films? It was absolutely a recipe for disaster, but I set up shop at certain locations and fired away the eight shots that the 6×9 format gets from a single roll of 120 film.
After all eight shots were done I felt more nervous than excited about what the results would hold. I sent it off to a film lab and got the results back in about a week. I wasn’t prepared for what I was going to see when I downloaded the files and opened them up on my computer. To my shock, the pictures turned out and they popped with this rich vivid color that I had never seen before from any film I had previously shot.
It goes without saying that an ISO 50 slide film will have an extremely fine grain, but I wasn’t able to see any grain at all. The images popped with so much color and vibrance I couldn’t believe it. It made my amateur photos look to me, like something I was never able to create before: they almost seemed to come alive. About a week later I got my slides back from the lab, this sealed the deal. I was hooked. I immediately knew I couldn’t not have this film in my fridge, so I ordered up a box and some E6 chemistry to go with it.
If you’ve never viewed slides on a light table or held them up to the light, you honestly don’t know what you are missing. If I didn’t know it was film, I would say it was magic. The images pop and come to life like you wouldn’t believe, with such radiance and color.
As you’ll see, none of these images are portraits because Velvia 50 wasn’t made for portraits. Velvia was made for those who shoot landscapes primarily and it excels at it. It was made to be the most color rich and saturated film that Fujifilm could make. It exaggerates and accentuates every color and brings the scene to life.
It produces the most vivid and glowing sunsets, and if you like shooting during golden hour, you couldn’t ask for a better emulsion. The pop of the colors, the contrast, the sharpness, the grain or lack there-of, all add up to make this an unbeatable stock. There really is no equal from Kodak. New EKTACHROME E100 comes close but is more of a Provia 100F (RDP III) or Velvia 100 (RVP 100) competitor.
Since my first outing with the GW690III, I’ve shot this film with my Nikon F5 (which has one of the best meters for slide film) and with my Mamiya RB67 Professional using a Minolta Spot Meter F. The results have always been fantastic when shot at ISO 50 but you wouldn’t be wrong to shoot it with maybe a 1/3 stop of overexposure as this film is pretty hungry for light.
That being said, it is absolutely not a film for all occasions and if you aren’t shooting with a fast lens during golden hour, f/1.8 or in the neighborhood, you’re going to want to bring along a tripod. The film also suffers from pretty harsh reciprocity failure, but people have already done the hard work of finding out what settings work best above a one-second exposure.
Most of these pictures were from film that I processed at home. I’ve actually only ever had that single roll processed at a lab. At the time of writing this, I’ve been shooting film for about a year and had only been developing my own film for about six months. I bought the Arista Rapid E-6 kit from the Film Photography Project and followed the instructions in the kit.
What’s my point? My point is don’t be scared to shoot Velvia or slide film in general, if I can do it, you can do it. Grab a roll at your local store or favorite online retailer and give it a shot, literally.
You won’t be disappointed.
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