Welcome to the forum!

As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

flash photography and 35mm negative color film: tips or books?

marcel_filmmarcel_film Member
edited April 2015 in flash & lighting
thanks to Neil for fantastic articles and to all for constructive discussion. I would like to ask those of you who shoot or used to shoot on film for tips on indoor shooting with flash, mostly family snapshots. I have a problem to achieve crips and nicely lit photos in the relatively low ambient light. Imagine a typical evening home interior - about EV 5-7? (not metered, just guessing from literature). With ISO 100 color film slowly dying away, how would you shot on-camera flash from short distances and get sharp and well-lit snaps? I shoot color negative films ISO 200 or 400, I have tried Kodak Portra 160 with flash in the interior - looked awful. I have not yet tried Ektar 100 in the interior.

I would appreciate tips, links, or book suggestions or just any hint. Many thanks!

My system is Nikon F100, Nikon SB-25 speedlight, i made a BFT, too!


  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    First step - you will have to explain to us what the images look like that makes them "awful". 

    Then, give us a range of your typical settings on your camera.
    And maybe, show us a scanned photo or two. 
  • Thank you Neil
    I attach a couple of photos.

    This would a typical snap where I am unhappy with the result: the settings will have been around: Manual f 1.8, 1/80, bounced TTL with BFT, FEC minus3, this is ISO 160 (Kodak Portra), lens was 50mm/1.8 D


    I got similar results with similar settings on a drugstore ISO 200 film which normally gives me splendid results, only not in low-light interior flash situations. Here the settings will have been around: Manual f 2.8, 1/80, bounced TTL with BFT, FEC minus3, lens was 50mm/1.8 D


    After seeing the first image I included here, I decided to do a small study and gradually change settings in the same situation. To my surprise it seems manual flash was doing the trick for me, as if TTL was trying to pull in too much ambient light or what. Actually, in all the TTL pictures here, I switched off 3D Multi-sensor balanced fill flash in favor of Standard TTL.

    With my camera on Manual, I was trying to see if smaller aperture and shorter shutter time would give me a sharper image and to an extent they did:
    f 3.5, 1/125, TTL, FEC = 0, bounced to the right with BFT, head zoomed to 50mm, lens was 50mm/1.8 D.

    However, with similar settings and manual flash output, I like the result much more. Again camera on Manual, f 2.8, 1/125, manual flash 1/4, bounced to the right with BFT, head zoomed to 70mm, lens was 50mm/1.8 D.


    I would love to rely on TTL, though, like you suggest throughout the site. I dread the moment the manual flash would ruin an unforgettable family moment.


  • Marcel_film


    The images you shot using TTL look underexposed; try raising
    the FEC see if that helps.



  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited December 2014
    Here's your entire problem: "FEC minus3"

    Your images look typical of what under-exposed film shots look like.
  • Thank you I will try zero FEC in such conditions

    in any case, if you look at the third photo compared to the last one, the former is shot with TTL while the last one on manual but the manual looks better in that it is sharper and more vivid colors. Is that achievable with TTL?
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited January 2015
    Yes, you absolutely can do this in TTL.

    You're fighting something else here though in trying to figure this out - print labs will adjust for exposure errors while printing to try and give you a decent print. So you will never quite be sure if what you're doing is the correct or suitable way of doing it. 

    If you want to figure this out and do some research on what / how ... then shoot transparency film. With transparency film's limited latitude for exposure errors, you will very quickly see if you have issues. 

    But you can't figure this stuff out this way with print film. Use transparency film for this kind of techie research. 
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    I don't want to derail this thread, however, the obvious question has to be asked ... why film?

    You can do this more easily with digital cameras, and with more impressive results than the images from print film. 

    For 20+ years I shot with Fujichrome for my personal photography. Fuji was renowned for eye-popping colors and wonderful saturation. I now wish though that I had been able to get all my best images as original digital captures instead. None of the scans from transparency film matches the files I could get from a Nikon D3 for example. 

    I feel that starting out with film right now, is an anachronistic dead-end. 
  • Guess it depends on what you want to achieve, I shoot medium format as hobby with some TLRs and a Mamiya RB67, for fun and my personal entertainment though. 

    There are still photographers who can make a living with medium and large format photography in their niche. There was a nice documentary on a national geographic photographer who lugged around her larget format camera in some very cold and remote place to make portraits of native inhabitants.

    I don't earn my bucks with photography but as pro I'd never consider film for a wedding and anything fast paced. 
  • Neil, thank you. I have heard about lab corrections. The pics I have posted are scans from the negative. Do you think corrections are applied there as well? Or I will just ask the lab.

    Shooting transparencies is my dream but first I'd like to improve with print film so I don't ruin too many. They are also more expensive to develop and scan. Ideally I would like to shoot medium format transparencies and project them for family viewing to get maximum image experience.

    I appreciate the film vs. digital question. I just like the colors and overall picture impression. It's genuinly pleasant. Heck, people apply in-camera film filters to get it :)


    I shoot film also because I have limited time for photography beside my day job and family. I don't have to select the best shots from tens or hundreds of pics-per-event (I would not resist it for sure :) ) and spend hours with post-processing. Granted, I screw some shots but the overall experience is a pleasant one. It's like slow food vs. fast food.
  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    Shooting transparencies is my dream but first I'd like to improve with print film so I don't ruin too many. 

    Re-read what I wrote.
    ie, you won't improve with print film, like you would with transparency film. With print film you have no clear idea of what you're chasing if you're trying to improve exposure metering and flash. So, shoot a few rolls of transparency film first to figure out your technical problems ... then go forth with print film.

    The pics I have posted are scans from the negative. 

    To my mind this makes no sense. You're ending up with digital images. The slow way. 

    Digital capture WILL be better. More detail. More info to work with. Much more that you will learn in a shorter time. 

    I learnt more about light and lighting in the first few years with digital than I did the previous decades with film. The instantaneous feedback via your LCD screen is invaluable. Not even the experience of shooting polaroids before a film shoot, can touch this. 

    My few comments re film vs digital doesn't come from being didactic or argumentative. It comes from a place where I am trying to help. You're struggling. Here's my advice.

    Back to the original questions re flash and shooting on film ... you will have to go to transparency film and the narrow margin of error that transparency film gives you. Or just shoot digital since you're getting the images scanned either way. 

    Those are your two most viable options. The other way would be very slow progress, or an eventual dead-end.

    Do you think corrections are applied there as well? Or I will just ask the lab. 

    From the looks of it, they most definitely are.  (Regardless of their possible answer.)
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    edited January 2015

    As an aside, many people make the mistake of when scanning in Negs to do adjustments in the software from the get go, that's very wrong in my opinion as you then have no control in editing but stuck with the scan just like you would be if shot in jpeg format in digital.

    You should always scan in at the absolute highest dpi setting, with NO contrast, NO colour adjustments and you should end up with a flat/lousy looking scan, but it will then be like a 'virtual RAW' file, all the details will be in there and it's up to you to then do adjustments in photoshop/LR/whatever.

    Also the file should be scanned in DNG or TIF format, definitely not jpeg, then you virtually have your scanned image just like you would if shot in digital RAW.

    EDIT:  Neil makes very succinct points re digital/film workflow. My post re scanning would be for those wanting to do editing on old film negs, etc. but in your case since you are using film, that's a piece of very good advice I can offer you.

    Also like Neil, coming from decades of film/digital I learnt a very good while back, scan in any negs as in the advice I gave above.

  • hendrackhendrack Member
    edited January 2015

    Scanning can be tricky without a good scanner. If you dont want the lab to scan them you can use a led light panel for transparent film and take multiple shots with a macro lens and stitch them together with panorama software. I use a tripod and the Canon 100mm macro. That sounds pretty retarded when you think about that "workflow" and takes too much time for a large amount of photographs, but you have quite some DPI that way. :)

    Here's a howto: http://petapixel.com/2012/12/24/how-to-scan-your-film-using-a-digital-camera-and-macro-lens/

  • thank you guys for valuable comments

    Neil, I'll take your advice, shoot some transparencies and see how I am doing. Certainly I have much to learn in term of controlling what I am doing and not just hoping it would come out as intended. Thank you for your thoughts and that you take the time to converse with me ;)

    I shoot (film) as pastime so I don't really need tons of detail to play with in post processing. I simply like the look of film. I may not be able to explain what it is in technical terms.I want the genuine look of film so shooting it directly for me is the more pleasant way...I am wondering, though, it is possible to tell 5-10 photos taken on film from the same scenes/light/settings captured in RAW and editied to look like that exact film?

    I have pics scanned so I can send them around. If I had to make larger enlargements, I would have them done straight from the negative, for sure. Having a negative is a nice way to archive the pictures, along with the (lousy) scan and printouts of the better ones.

    @Trev @hendrack Thanks for the scanning tips

  • marcel_filmmarcel_film Member
    edited January 2015
    a recent video on the topic - on the "film is not dead" topic, rather than flash for film

  • Neil vNNeil vN Administrator
    edited January 2015
    Okay, back to the images that are shown here: 
    The problem is gross under-exposure. 

    With flash, you have two exposures: ambient + flash.
    They need to add up to correct exposure. 

    There are broadly speaking, three scenarios: 

    1. You can correctly expose ambient, and then add a touch of fill-flash at -3EV or -2 EV (or thereabouts)

    2. Flash and ambient can be about the same, and add up to correct exposure. 

    3. You can under-expose the ambient when your flash takes over the rest of the exposure - e.g., TTL flash that takes up the slack. 
    In this case, you had FEC set to -3 EV, and that means you were 3 stops under with your flash, and however many stops under with ambient. 

    In other words, if you want to use fill-flash to lift the shadows, then -3 FEC makes sense. But in low-light scenarios where the ambient light is too low, then your flash needs to be around 0 FEC to become the dominant light source. 
    Part of the solution is that you *have* to become familiar with your camera's built-in light meter. It is accurate.
  • Neil, thank you very much for the succint overview.

    One question that springs to mind, though, is exposing 'for ambient' outdoors when there is backlight or sidelight. Since my subject is the person I am shooting, my instinct would be to meter the ambient using center-weight or spot on the person's face and use the reading to set exposure + add the toned-down fill-flash. In the interior matrix metering for the ambient is probably the one to use..

    Another one I was thinking about lately is how I set my flash. I must do more research on how standard TTL operates. I use it instead of 'balanced' TTL as I have read advice against it due to unknown and varying levels of 'camera-induced' flash output compensation as opposed to standard TTL. However standard TTL probably does not fire the preflash so that would run counter to the TTL logic you explain throughout your site (I know that is really iTTL but preflash was there before there was iTTL). I guess, thought, that if I 1.meter without flash - i.e. using the camera's exposure meter 2. set the metered exposure on manual and then 3.use standard TTL - using the flash meter, the result should be more or less what it would be directly with balanced (fill) flash or better as there is more control over flash output. Some people even suggest shooting in Auto mode indoors when using bounce flash..

  • With backlighting you should meter for correct exposure on your subject. Fill flash can be added or not. Personal preference.
    What you really need to do Marcel is practice. Keep a note of your settings for each shot. Digicams do this as a matter of course in EXIF file, which is dead useful.
    Choose a GOOD lab, preferably a ProLab that you can instruct NOT to colour correct your pictures. Only then will you get a proper idea what works. They will also scan your negs for a CD of your pics as well should you wish. The lab I use processes your film, scans the negs and then prints them using the scanned files. Properly exposed, the results are top quality.
    As Neil says, transparency film is good for learning. You will soon learn to be much more accurate with exposure or you end up with blocked shadows and burnt highlights quite easily.
    Who said photography is easy? ;-)

Sign In or Register to comment.