The Photography Business has Changed

An assortment of film: 35mm, 35mm tungsten light balanced, black and white medium format, and color cut sheet film for 4x5 cameras.
An assortment of film: 35mm, 35mm tungsten light balanced, black and white medium format, and color cut sheet film for 4×5 cameras.

Before I was a programmer, food server, or a bar tender, I was a photographer.  My first business (ever) was a Photography studio in the Lo-do (Lower Downtown) Arts District of Denver.  Most of my client work was interior architecture, product, portraits, and fashion photography. 

After a very long, circuitous route, I am now back in the photography business.

Back in the late 90’s, all of my images were created on film.  I was using the full spectrum of small, medium, and large-format cameras—switching to use the best camera and format for each job.  The fashion work was done using 35mm cameras and sometimes medium format because we needed the speed and were shooting a lot of frames.  The product work and portraiture was done using the Medium Format cameras because we needed the resolution.  And, the Interior Architecture images were created on my 4×5 view camera because we needed the tilt/shift properties and precision control of the cone of focus. 

Regardless of the format, creating photographs with film was much, much slower.  Problems that we can easily solve now with digital photo manipulation and non-destructive editing used to require enormous amounts of effort—like White Balance, for example.

You probably know this . . . but, light actually has a color temperature to it.  Different light sources have different colors.  Daylight from the sun is actually in the blue portion of the color spectrum.  Regular lamps in your home were in the red, and fluorescent bulbs emit light in the green part of the spectrum (now, you can get warm fluorescent, tinted LED lights, and all other sorts of options).   

Special film was created to be automatically balanced for Tungsten lights, for example, if that was appropriate for your lighting—but, the majority of film was balanced for daylight, and you had to grossly color correct using filters on your lens. 

To add even more complexity to the problem, professional film was produced in large batches.  The bulk of each batch of film was cut and rolled for professionals, then aged for a couple of years so the chemicals could mature and the color would stabilize (the ends were cut off, rolled and sold immediately to consumers—because they guessed your film would sit in your camera bag for a couple of years before your next vacation).  While that film was aging, the colors would actually shift slightly—and, it would vary from batch to batch.  So, even if your studio lighting work was absolutely perfect—the color temperatures could still vary slightly if you shot one roll of film from one batch, and a second roll of film from another batch. 

To compensate for this, the standard practice amongst professionals was to purchase a block of film from a single batch (100 rolls at a time), shoot a roll of it with a color scale in each frame, and then process it—and, measure the color shift.  When you processed the images later, you would inform the processors of your known, tested color-shift, and then they would apply the color shift information to your final prints.

We did that with every roll/batch of film. 

Today, with digital photography, I carry a white card in my camera bag.  In the room/location where I am shooting, I point my camera at the white card, tell my camera to take a reading, and the camera makes all of the adjustments internally—immediately.  It is a 5-second process. 

Even more amazing is the fact that I can open the images on my computer after a photo-shoot.  Because I am shooting in RAW, I can adjust the color temperatures on my computer (it is usually one of the first things I do when processing images).  I can even adjust the White Balance to something that it wasn’t because it will make it a better image, or convey a mood. 

Twenty years ago, I could not imagine how easy solving White Balance would be—though I am certainly delighted that is the case . . . .

Do any of you have fond or not-so-fond memories of shooting on film?  Tell us about them in the comments!

If you have a story that you would like to tell (about your products, services, yourself, or your properties), contact me—I’d love to take the images and create the video to tell your story.

1 Comment
  1. A

    It was very interesting to learn about rolls of film and how they needed to be aged before used. Very complicated and different process from digital imaging.

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