My First Black And White Film Foray

Streets of Downtown
Downtown Fort Worth carriage driver
Way back in February of this year, during the dead of Winter, I decided to try shooting some black and white film. A friend and I got some Ilford HP5 Plus film at a camera store and spent an afternoon in downtown Fort Worth Texas shooting. I had been experimenting with b&w using my digital camera but had been convinced to give real b&w film a try! With digital, you can tweak the contrast, etc., but you are still limited to only a few colors (the shades of gray), and so it just doesn’t look quite the same. It was fun using my old Pentax ME-Super again too. Everything is manual and mechanical with my film camera except the good electronic light meter that it has. I had shot some color film recently, but for the most part had been shooting only digital as of late due to convenience. Since we were out in public and there were other photographers out that afternoon, our retro gear drew some inquiries and complements!
Streets of DowntownYou can develop some habits shooting digital that will not serve you well while using film. First of all there is the tendency to “shoot first and think about it (composition and subject matter) later”. It’s so easy to quickly take several dozen photos and then delete all but the best ones of each scene, often while on-location. With film, it’s more important to make each shutter release count since each will cost you several order of magnitude more to actually see. You find yourself debating within yourself whether or not a shot is worth taking before you take it. I also found myself fussing more over the composition of each shot, which was especially challenging since we were shooting ever-changing street scenes and not pre-composed portraits or still landscape shots where you often have more time to prepare. Second, your ISO is fixed – so no more “cheating” by simply raising the sensitivity when you need more light for an indoor shot! Shooting outdoors was a breeze, but indoors was a bit tricky when you quickly realize that your ISO is fixed and your shutter speed is limited to about 1/30″ instead of about 1/8″ due to a total lack of modern image-stabilization. On the other hand, there’s no worry about “white-balance” when shooting film! I guess I have shot enough pictures with my film camera that I still had the reflexive habit of hitting the film-advance lever immediately after each shot, so I did not notice myself having to stop and do that before each shot. Who knows, I may still be flicking my right thumb on my digital camera too and not even knowing it, lol! Another thing is minding that little mechanical exposure counter on your camera that enables you to tell how many exposures you have left before either you’re done (in our case) or must reload with a new film cartridge (unlike your digicam that rarely fills up in a single session). Mine happens to be broken, so I have to maintain the count in my head, which I failed miserably to do and my film suddenly and unexpectedly stopped advancing before we had finished our tour. I had to stop and rewind the film thinking it had somehow come off the sprockets and that nearly half the roll ended up unused until I had it processed and was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had indeed captured 37 exposures on a 36-exposure roll (which is pretty typical). Having a broken exposure counter is akin to having a broken gas gauge on your car.
Streets of Downtown Norris Center Streets of Downtown
Anyway, after a fun and successful day shooting I attempted to drop off the film at the one-hour photo booth at the drug store near where I live, where I’ve had several rolls of color film developed very quickly and inexpensively before without fuss only to find out that they are not equipped to process black and white film. I learned that this film requires something completely different than the “C41” processing they use on color film, and that that is the only type of processing that they can do. After checking around with some photography friends, I found that I was faced with having to Google around and find some place to send it off to or else take it to some place that was way out of the way for me. I got busy doing other things and kind of forgot about it for a while. Then a couple of weeks ago, I decided that I was going to find someone locally that could do it. I found a lab in Fort Worth that I could take it to that could do it and that was open on Saturdays and dropped it off there. It cost an arm and a leg to get it processed and put on a CD, but it was worth it since they did do a good job and I was pleased with most of the photos. It was also worth it to have someone local do it as opposed to sending it off somewhere far away where it could get lost or destroyed or come back awful after you’ve already paid for it. Another thing about film is the anticipation and joy of first seeing your finished photos some time later after you are no longer at the actual scene!

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