Long exposure film photography is a technique central to my currently ongoing photography project, Where We Meet.
Capturing the smooth extensions of water movement, contrasted with static elements of the shoreline is the key to this visual narrative. Of course, technical challenges and possibilities abound when it comes to using film for long exposure.
First, there is the concept of reciprocity failure, something that to the outsider may seem like another black magic aspect of our craft. Then, the film, as it usually does, offers a wide range of creative options, going well beyond the crisp and predictable realm of digital photography.
Realizing that mastering the long exposure technique would be the key for my project, I endeavoured on a comprehensive test of various films with longer exposure, trying to evaluate what exact method is the best suited to way I see the world. This series documents the process and findings, hopefully useful for the broader film shooters community.
The idea is not to create a recipe as much as discover different creative possibilities of long exposure with film.
So with your permission, let’s dive in to part one of these long exposure film tests with an overview of the methodology I used.
The methodology I am going to deploy will be based on varying only the films used, as much as possible:
All test images were shot on 120 format film using a Soviet-made Lomo Lubitel 166B camera. This camera s simple, fully mechanical, light and resilient.
Absence of electronics and it’s oft-criticized plastic feeling is an actual advantage – it is lightweight and can take the abuse. A built in 75mm lens performs reasonably well at medium-to-infinity focussing distance when stopped-down to f/11.
To accomplish a sufficiently long exposure in some of the tests, I used an affordable Polaroid Variable ND filter set to its highest ND value, approximately a 7-stop light reduction.
The developer used for the black and white films here is a 1+25 dilution of Blazinal, a Rodinal clone readily available here in Canada. Development times are all based on nominal EI, as per film manufacturer’s labels.
Light metering was performed using my iPhone 6 and the Pocket Light Meter app. While perhaps unusual, I have found this application to be adequate for most uses, including digital imaging.
Exposures and reciprocity failure
For each film evaluation test, three exposures are made. The first exposure is made at 2x the metered value, the second at 3x the metered value and the third at 5x the metered value.
This is a crude method that roughly brackets most typical reciprocity adjustment curves – something the app does not do. It is a handy way to quickly estimate exposure when in the field. The reasoning behind this is requirement for speed is the criticality of timing during the blue hour.
The light shifts in minutes and simplifying as much of this process as possible leads to more opportunities for actual exposures during this precious period.
All exposures will be made between the start of Civil Twilight and ten minutes after Sunrise, most of them were taken in Toronto, Canada between November 2016 and January 2017.
These tests are split into three parts. For this first part, we start with low speed black and white films: ILFORD Pan F+, ILFORD Delta 100 Professional and Ilford FP4+.
Part two will cover the following high speed black and white films: ILFORD SFX200, ILFORD HP5+, ILFORD Delta 400 Professional and ILFORD Delta 3200 Professional.
Part three will make a departure from typical long exposure articles and cover the results of long exposure with the following color films: Kodak Ektar 100, Kodak Portra 160, Kodak Portra 800 and Fuji 400H.
There is also a potential part four but details are as yet, under wraps.
Long exposure results: ILFORD PAN F+, ILFORD FP4+, ILFORD Delta 100 Professional
Testing ILFORD PAN F+
This film has a very enigmatic look, at least to me. The slowest labeled emulsion from ILFORD, PAN F tends to give away a darker rendering of the scene, overall. With the long exposure tests, the most dramatic change appears in highlight areas, while shadows change only slightly with each new adjustment.
To this end, PAN F seems to be well suited for affecting a higher contrast between shadows and highlights with a more substantive long exposure adjustment.
ILFORD PAN F+ test 01
ILFORD PAN F+ test 02
ILFORD PAN F+ test 03
Testing ILFORD FP4+
FP4 is truly a good utility film. From all black and white emulsions that I tested, it provides the most even look, delivering negatives/scans that can easily be manipulated in post.
With long exposures, more adjustment is made to metered values, the exposure becomes flatter, muddier. Unlike PAN F, FP4+ appears to deliver less contrast between shadows and highlights longer the adjustment becomes.
ILFORD FP4+ test 01
ILFORD FP4+ test 02
ILFORD FP4+ test 03
Testing ILFORD Delta 100 Professional
This is my go-to black and white film, so logical to start at this point. Long exposure bracketing shows most of the difference in shadows. Changes from one adjustment factor to another are rather subtle and smooth. The contrast between shadows and highlights remains in the same range throughout the bracketing range. This is in line with general tonal properties I find pleasing with Delta 100.
ILFORD Delta 100 Professional test 01
ILFORD Delta 100 Professional test 02
ILFORD Delta 100 Professional test 03
You may draw your own conclusions as to which, if any, of the exposures in the tests above suit your own photographic taste. As noted above, the purpose of these tests was to “evaluate what exact method is the best suited to way I see the world”, in the context of my ongoing project Where We Meet.
It is also worth noting that there are still eight films left to share as part of these tests. Each of these films has it’s own characteristics, strengths and weaknesses; and deals with my approach to compensating for reciprocity failure in a different manner.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and look forward to hearing your thoughts below.
~ Toni Skokovic
Share your knowledge, story or project
At the heart of EMULSIVE is the concept of helping promote the transfer of knowledge across the film photography community. You can support this goal by contributing your thoughts, work, experiences and ideas to inspire the hundreds of thousands of people who read these pages each month. Check out the submission guide here.
If you like what you're reading you can also help this personal passion project by heading on over to the EMULSIVE Patreon page and giving as little as a dollar a month. There's also print and apparel over at Society 6, currently showcasing over two dozen t-shirt designs and over a dozen unique photographs available for purchase.