Black & White Film Exposure Comparisons | Kodak TRI-X 400

Following on from our film stock and exposure comparison of the major Kodak and Fuji film stocks we have produced a guide showing you the difference that exposure makes to Kodak TRI-X 400 black and white film. Just as before, for the full details on how we carried out the test please see the end of the blog post, and to see larger versions of any of the images, just click on them. After the images you’ll find our detailed and comprehensive recommendations for exposing black and white film, based on the results of this test.

This first trio of images compares three stops of underexposure (left hand image*) to box speed (middle image) to three stops of overexposure (right hand image). As you can see, compared to the underexposed image, the box speed image shows much better tonal transition; softer, more detailed shadows; and smoother grain. These characteristics are also displayed in the image overexposed three stops, but as you will read later, there are detrimental effects if viewing the image larger/more closely.

Kodak TRI-X 400 -3 stops underexposed with +4 stops overexposed_003

*The difference in appearance between these images is also associated with the narrower aperture of the underexposed image.

The differences between this next pair are more subtle. The left-hand image is underexposed by one stop and the right hand image is overexposed by one stop. Both images are acceptable but the overexposed image has a smoother, more pleasing appearance overall, with better tonal transition and shadow detail:

Kodak TRI-X 400 -1 stop underexposed with +1 stop oveexposed_004

The differences in this next pair are more subtle still, with both the box speed and 1 stop overexposed images producing pleasing results. The one stop overexposed image wins out due to its improved tonal transitions and shadow detail, with the grain still smooth and pleasing:

Kodak TRI-X 400 at box speed and +1 overexposed_001

These images below demonstrate that at more significant levels, both underexposure and overexposure produce detrimental effects and are not recommended. The image on the left is underexposed by three stops and the image on the right is overexposed by three stops. Both show intrusive grain. It is also worth noting that the scanner also has more trouble processing the images at this degree of both underexposure or overexposure, and artefacts – though not obvious here – can easily start to appear:

Kodak TRI-X 400 -3 stops underexposed with +3 stops overexposed_002

These close-up details show the effect of exposure on the appearance of black & white film in terms of shadow detail and grain. Note that the box speed image is the most acceptable overall: not quite as much shadow detail as the very overexposed image but a much more pleasing appearance of grain. The very underexposed image has poor shadow detail and unpleasant grain.

The image below is box speed:

TRI-X box speed crop

 The image below is underexposed by 3 stops:

TRI-X -3 crop

 The image below is overexposed by 4 stops:

TRI-X +3 crop

And here is the full range of exposures we tested, from 3 stops underexposed up to 4 stops overexposed. Please click on the image to see a larger version:

Kodak-TRI-X-400-exposure-test-complete

So, how did we do it?

Once again, we wanted the comparison to be as direct as possible so we shot on a fairly settled weather day, setting a Contax 645 up on a tripod.  The sun was to the front and side of the subject, a little hazy with light dappled tree shade and open light behind. Where possible we kept our aperture at f/2.8 although for the underexposed shots we had to narrow this.  We spot metered using an external light meter and an 18% grey card. Box speed for this black & white film exposure test was 1/4000 sec at f/2.8. For those without a spot meter and grey card, the equivalent method of metering to give the same reading for box speed was by metering bulb in and meter perpendicular to the ground. Metering bulb in and meter 45 degrees to the ground gave the same reading as spot metering grey card for around 1 stop of over-exposure. Film was developed in Kodak xtol, for ISO 400 (i.e. no push or pull), and scanned on a Fuji Frontier SP3000.

We replicated the steps we would naturally take in our b&w scanning and editing process at UK Film Lab, working sympathetically to obtain good results from each exposure and maintain as much detail as possible. We think this is the best way to show exposure comparisons, because as photographers we are most interested in what we can achieve as a final result – not that of an ‘uncorrected’ and unedited scan.

Our recommendations for exposing black & white film

C41 film generally has better latitude than black & white film, and therefore more careful metering and exposure is needed to get optimum results from black & white film. At first glance though, many of the images in our exposure test appear acceptable – even when underexposed or overexposed – and this is quite surprising given what we expect from the latitude of black & white film. However, a more careful examination of the images reveals the problems that underexposure and overexposure cause.

Throughout the range of exposures we tested (from three stops underexposed to four stops overexposed) adding exposure enabled the shadows to be brightened more, bringing out more detail. However, with anything more than 1 stop of overexposure, grain started to become more intrusive, however whether this is too much grain for you depends on your own personal ‘appetite’ for grain. At the higher end of overexposure the effect on appearance of grain was highly detrimental, and to our tastes certainly outweighed the benefits in terms of enhanced shadow detail. At the other end of the scale, the main effect of increasing underexposure was reduced shadow detail, producing a ‘muddy’ and much less pleasing final result. Grain wasn’t a particular issue at 1 stop of underexposure, but it was by 3 stops of exposure, as the close-up crops demonstrate clearly. Different lighting scenarios – particularly those with harsher contrast intrinsic to the scene – would show more obvious detrimental effects of underexposure and overexposure, for example with the risk of blowing out highlights at the higher levels of overexposure.

To strike the best balance between shadow detail and grain, create good contrast and a pleasing appearance overall, the optimum exposure for Kodak TRI-X 400 in this test was 1 stop of overexposure. Here we metered with a grey card and added one stop of overexposure, which in this scenario was the equivalent of metering for shadows at ‘box speed’.

Why Kodak TRI-X 400?

We’ve carried out this exposure comparison with Kodak TRI-X 400 because it’s the most popular black and white film stock that we receive at the lab, and indeed one of the most popular b&w films in the world. Kodak state that TRI-X 400 can be underexposed by one stop without the need for push development. The results of this test bear that out, with good results being obtained with one stop of underexposure, although better results come from more exposure, as described above, so it is not wise to underexpose your film through choice. How much you can take advantage of this latitude is also highly dependent on the quality and nature of the light in your scene, so we would not anticipate one stop of underexposure to look good in all scenarios.

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UKFL Image of the Day Round-Up!

Continuing with our Image of the Day round-ups and here is the first of our collections looking back to Summer 2015, featuring an incredibly beautiful array of film photography from so many talented photographers. Thank you all for allowing us to share these amazing images!

Dan Rubin:

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Melissa Beattie:

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Phil Kneen:

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Chris Henderson:

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Che Birch Hayes:

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Emre Ibrahim:

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Erica Ward:

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Werner Stadler:

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Victoria Lamburn:

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Johnny Corcoran:

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Alex Yates:

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Christian Ward:

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Christian Ward:

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Samantha Ward:

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Glenn Weaver:

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Dmitry Serostanov:

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Wilfried Claire:

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Therese Winberg:

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Motoki Tonn:

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Ricardo Aguiar: 

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Altogether, it was a very beautiful summer!

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UKFL Image of the Day Round-Up

We’re going back in time today, catching up with our Image of the Day round-ups. And what a lot of catching up we have to do! We’re happy to report that 2015 was our BUSIEST year ever and although we love sharing work on social media, we prioritised working on film for our customers….which is why we are confident in saying that we have always delivered film early or on time as many have noticed! But on with the photographs…We have an absolutely gorgeous selection from last April and May to share with you, full of beautiful colour and light. Thank you to all of the talented photographers who have taken part in our Image of the Day feature…you can check out more of their work by following the weblinks in each name. Please enjoy and feel free to share and watch out for more to come over the next few weeks.

Paula O’Hara:

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Alex Bonney:

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Mark Henson:

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Joakim Hertze:

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Chloe Browne:

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Caroline Cherrill:

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Karol Tracz:

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Faye Cornhill:

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Melanie Nedelko:

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Tereza Lee:

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Erica Ward:

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Christian Ward:

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Alex Bonney:

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Karen Wright:

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Christian Ward:

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Gareth Morton:

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Lukasz Baszko:

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Mark Lim:

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Christian Ward:

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And of all the beautiful images together!

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UK Film Lab Spotlight – Rikard Lindby

It’s been waaaaay too long since we published one of our Spotlight features, but we’re back and we’re here with Rikard Lindby, a Swedish photographer based in Switzerland. Rikard’s work focuses on mountain biking and the outdoors and you can always be sure of perfectly executed photographs in impressive locations! We love Rikard’s unique use of film, incorporating people into his landscapes in striking ways through the use of unusual compositions and beautiful, often dramatic light. You can follow Rikard here on Instagram and he also has a Tumblr site here.

As always we start off the feature with a Q&A and then move on to a selection of photographs. Let’s kick off with the Q&A:

Q: Why do you take photographs? What inspires you?

A: It’s really hard for me to describe why. All I can say is that I don’t feel well inside if I don’t make things. Photographs are some of the things I need to make. That sounded pretentious. I should say – I take photographs because it makes me happier than if I don’t.Sometimes I get ‘directly’ inspired by what I see. Like a mountain and a lake- something pretty which will also look nice as a photograph. Other times I simply wonder how something might look as a photograph. This might be something not obviously beautiful, but which has something else, like a pattern or surface. Currently I’m very interested in how things look when they are only partly revealed or when there is something not quite right with the composition. So I’m experimenting with that and mostly end up with a pile of crap. Haha. But I do like the outdoors and doing sports, so a lot of my photography end up being about that.Real life friends who shoot inspire me as well. Oskar Enander, Stefan Hellberg and Johan Axelsson are such people. I just wish we got to do more stuff together. Maybe this coming winter will see that happen! I also follow the work of a few contemporary photographers. I find people who work on and finish different personal projects inspiring; Thomas Prior and Cole Barash are two solid artists worth checking out. Lastly I can’t help being inspired by some of the giants of photography. Like Sebastio Salgado and W. Eugene Smith. Maybe not for any specific images, but for their pure raw dedication and for producing some of the most monumental work which will ever see the light of day.

Q: Tell us a little about why you shoot film.

A: There are so many aspects of shooting film that I enjoy; I love that I get a tangible result, a negative which I can hold up against the light and look at and not just a file on a computer but something real that exists in the physical world. I love that I don’t get to see the images immediately; I like that there is a delay between capturing and viewing the result and it somehow allows me to look at the images for what they are, more free from the expectations I had when I pressed the shutter. A lot of ‘mistakes’ which I probably would have deleted or ignored had I seen the result right away end up being the real keepers. Results that do not match the original vision exactly are not ignored,  instead they help me find new ways in composing and seeing things. Finally I love the look of medium format colour film and grainy 35mm black and white. It’s just perfect right from the box.

Q: Why do you use UK Film Lab?

A: I have tried a few different labs, but UK Film Lab delivers the best result consistently and on time. Also the feedback and communication are excellent.

Q: Do you have any tips for your fellow film photographers?

A: Just one, not specifically for film shooters though: Photograph your friends and family members. These images will probably be the most important ones you will ever make. Take every chance you get and put your heart into it. There will always be another sunset, but you never know for how long the people you love will be around.

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UK Film Lab at the Illuminated workshop in Spain, September 2015

We’re so excited to announce our involvement in the next Illuminated Collective event, a 2 day fine art film wedding photography workshop to be held in Spain on 14th & 15th September 2015. The event is the creation of leading UK fine art photographers Ashlee Taylor of Taylor Barnes Photography and Katie Julia, together with award winning wedding planner Jessie Thomson and luxury floral designer Bo Boutique. The second workshop from the Illuminated Collective will be bringing even more ethereal, organic and inspiring styling, whilst also offering expert guidance on shooting film photography.

Christian and Erica from UK Film Lab will be taking part to share a wealth of helpful, practical information on film shooting techniques and how to work with your lab to help you get the very best from your film shooting.

We can’t wait – it’s going to be a wonderful, inspiring event! For more details please visit http://www.illuminatedcollective.co.uk

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