Shooting Slide Film

This month I got a hold of my first roll of slide film. Well, that’s an utter lie. Three years ago someone gave me a roll of E6 120 which I had no idea how to shoot - and ended up doing 10 shots at 3 stops over. Needless to say, I had nothing to show for my effort. E6 hates that. So, I’ll correct my opening statement and say this is my first roll of slide where I knew how to expose it properly.

Since the time of my first (botched) roll, I have had a fear of shooting slide film. A fear I need to tackle. It’s a different beast than most stocks you may be used to. For those that may be new to it, stocks like Kodak Portra 400, Fujipro 400H (C-41 stocks), and Kodak Tri-X produce a negative which needs to be printed or scanned to show the proper image. On the negative, dark areas are light, colors are inverted, and so forth. These are great films to use as there is a ton of latitude in these stocks and quite a bit of room for error - meaning you can go many stops over or under and still get a quality print or scan. I know exactly how these films behave and can achieve a consistent look across all my images.

On the other hand, slide film (E6 or color reversal film) like the iconic Kodachrome, the re-released Ektachrome, Fuji Velvia and Provia produce positive rather than negative images which allow very little room for error. The developed film is WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get). The film can be cut, mounted into cardboard slides, and projected onto a screen without ever being scanned or printed. If you didn’t expose the film perfect, it’ll be obvious.

My favorite photographer, Fred Herzog, was a master of this film - specifically Kodachrome. I’ve been really getting into his work the past year and even created an Adobe Lightroom preset to honor his look. But I knew I needed to do it right, so I grabbed a few rolls of Fuji’s Provia 100F and headed off to Manhattan to learn this film once and for all.

Shooting Color Reversal Film

I am not going to claim an expert level of this film. Let’s say a hack at best right now. A roll under my belt is hardly cracking the surface of this film type. But I do want to share what I learned while doing this, and exactly how I shot it all. As I said above, E6 behaves quite a bit different than C-41 stocks when it comes to exposure times. When I shoot C-41, I tend to give it 2-4 stops of extra exposure to give that light, airy, and warm feel to my photos. With an ISO 400 film, I will meter the shadows between ISO 100 and 200.

The highlights and shadows are controlled so well and the scanner at my lab can give me a consistent look to every image on the roll. Most of the time I do not even bother to meter C-41 stocks as I know +/- 4 stops will be just fine and dandy.

On the other hand, I metered very carefully with Provia - only at box speed. In my short experience, I’ve seen that shadows go to black - quick - with slide film. Metering for highlights (as in the photo at the top of this post) gives very deep black shadows with little detail. Metering for shadows (as in the photo just above here of Jakob) preserves the shadows nice, but can blow out the highlights. The sky and the hot spot at the edge of the waffle cart contain little to no detail. It’s a fine line. C-41 would have held onto this fine - but with E6, they are all but gone.

I found myself trying to go middle of the road with all of my exposures. I wanted some shadow detail, but no blown highlights. If I had to sacrifice some highlights or shadows, I didn’t want that to take away from the overall aesthetic of the photo. The majority of the time, I was metering my subject while keeping in mind the percentage of shadow and/or highlight in the scene. If I knew one or the other was an important part of the scene, I’d adjust accordingly.

I used the internal meter on my Voigtlander Bessa R3M for all of these shots. I set the ISO to 100 and only took the shot when the meter read perfect. (Yes, I did a couple experiments with under/over - but nothing worth sharing here).

In this shot above, I had a lot to consider. It was dusk in Manhattan, so light was pretty varied. I wanted the buildings at the top of the scene to not blow out, but I also wanted the front of the food carts to have some shadow detail. The star of this exposure was the fruit, so that was what I metered on. I checked the highlights and shadows with my meter and had a good idea that I’d preserve more highlight detail. It was close, though you can again see the sky in the top right was blown. But even with that, I am really happy with how this came out. The story is there and I feel like the photo works.

Contrast that to another photo (below) of veggies in a much brighter light. You can see for yourself where highlights and shadows fell on this exposure. But also note above and below, how true to life the colors are of the fruits and veggies. This film reproduces color just how I see it.

Scanning E6 Film

I sent my NYC experimental rolls off to Northeast Photographic up in Maine for development and scanning. I instructed Mark (the owner) to let the E6 scans be true - meaning no scanner adjustments. As it was my first look into this, I wanted the scans to be exact representations of the negatives, as if I mounted them and projected them onto a screen. I had no desire to make my slide film look like my C-41 film or to emulate the look and feel of any other photographer. He did just that and I was blown away.

So, what you see on this page are unadjusted scans from Mark and they represent the exposed film, exactly as it sits on the roll.

All in all, I am really happy with my first roll of slide film. I think I will make the jump to Ektachrome soon and see what I can do with that. I also want to grab some Velvia 50 for landscape work. Maybe a little street. You might say I am in love with the “raw” look of E6. I can’t believe I waited so long to give it a go. It’s a whole new exciting world.

If you shoot slide film - would love to hear any tips and tricks in the comments below. Things like pushing the film dev, shooting in various lights or what have you.