The Imperfection of Film

There's always some light at the end of the tunnel, just don't let it hit your film.  Many of us have a love-hate relationship with film - though the only hate I run into is on the expense side, and really, I don't even mind that.  The medium may not be perfect, but there is some amazing beauty to be found in the "flaws" we all run into: light leaks, over/under exposure, double-exposure, dust, grain and so forth. I'd much rather call these characteristics than flaws for the most part. Below I want to share some samples of what I have run into over the past few years - some interesting characteristics of how film can behave.

Note: Under/over exposure will be handled in a later post.

Imperfection of Film - Grain
Imperfection of Film - Grain

Grain

Grain at 100%
Grain at 100%

Take the above example and check out the grain at full size (either click above or just see to the right). Grain isn't a flaw at all, rather a true quality of film - at least in my book. There is so much character added by choosing a film with fine to medium grain like this (in this case, Kodak Portra 400). You can really choose how much grain you want in an image by how fast a film you select - with the faster the film, the noisier. This is probably my favorite characteristic of film and use this to my advantage and whole-heartily embrace it.

Look at all the emulators on the internet that promise to add the look and feel of film grain and tones. People are shooting perfectly sharp, perfectly clean digital images, yet many choose to add the look of film by adding specific grains to emulate their favorite looks from years gone past.  I see presets out there like Portra 400, Tri-X 1600 and so forth - all adjust tone and grain to really look like their namesakes.

Hell, I am guilty of that as well - when I look at my digital files, they just seem too clean, too sterile and lacking life - that is why I have the custom Rebecca Patience plugins as well as the one I created last month.  They put some character back into the images that my clean digital images just lack.  No, digital noise is nowhere as nice as real film grain, but it's getting more difficult to tell.

In that same breath, I am still of the thought, if you want your image to look like film, then shoot damned film.  Yeah, I am in both camps here, but I just love grain. That could be why my Portra 160 just sits in the fridge. Too clean, especially on the Blad.

Imperfections of Film - End of Roll
Imperfections of Film - End of Roll

End / Start of Roll

This is a true flaw caused by pilot error. This occurs when shooting past the last bit of treated paper on your roll or when you don't wind it far enough onto the spool - and only effects your first or last image.  I don't do this often, but will once in a while get an image like this when I'm just not paying attention. Though the shot I was going for was somewhat ruined, artistically I can still do something with this - like write an article about the end of a digital era...or about flaws in film! ;)

Imperfections of Film - Double Exposure
Imperfections of Film - Double Exposure

Double Exposure

Another pilot error...sometimes. This is caused by half-cocking the winder. What happens is the film only advances a half or partial frame and that section of the frame is exposed twice. I've never done this on purpose - but there are photographers that purposely do this for artistic and creative effect. When done right, there can be some really breathtaking shots taken in this method. Just Google it and you'll see what I mean.

With the Leica M2, this is nearly impossible to do.  You can't release the shutter until you've fully advanced the film. To back it up (as some do) you need to hold in the button release and rewind the film an estimated frame. Haven't tried as I am sure to ruin a roll doing it.

On the Zeiss Ikon, it was pretty easy to half wind or rewind to double-expose a shot.  Again, never did it on purpose, but have several examples. Ha ha ha.

On the Hasselblad, even easier.  Just pop off the back before you re-cock the shutter, then pop it back on.  Perfect double-exposure every time.

Imperfections of Film - Dust
Imperfections of Film - Dust

Dust

This flaw is caused by poor handling of negatives by you or your lab. I've had dust, dirt, fingerprints, cotton fibers and other ridiculous crap on my scans from poor labs (and from my shotty attempts at scanning myself). No matter how clean I think I have the negative, there's always some kind of garbage that makes it way onto the negative or scanner when I click the button.  And honestly, before moving all my work to Richard Photo Lab, I just assumed it was what to expect on film.  But I've yet to see any evidence of this from RPL - their scanned files are absolutely spotless.  All the scans on this page are from RPL - other than this B&W above, which is from a local lab.  You get what you pay for.

Imperfections of Film - Light Leaks
Imperfections of Film - Light Leaks

Light Leaks

Finally, we get to light leaks (above and top of page). Sometimes your issue, sometimes the camera, sometimes the lab. Film hates unintentional light and has no issue with ruining your hard earned shots if you're a moron - or if your camera is broken.  The example above is a moron issue.  Opened the door on the Rollei before I rewound the film. Have to say though, the effect was pretty neat!  I did lose the image that was fully exposed - but most of the roll was saved with these crazy light lines. Not magazine quality shots - but still fun to look at.  The one at the top is a poor seal between the Hasselblad and the A12 back that I just got back. I am investigating to see if it's the back with the issue or the body itself.  The whole roll had that light glow you see to the left and center.

The purpose of the post was to point you towards celebrating some of the flaws, issues and "features" you get while shooting film. Yes, these things can and will happen, but you can always use them to your advantage.