Discussion in 'Beginner Questions' started by scarletfield, Jan 18, 2018.

  1. 94AEFD83-156C-42B3-B9D1-224530794A09.jpeg F0BD7192-FF3A-4F7C-A559-B747ED7D4DDC.jpeg B7A3A3C5-9ED3-426F-B7C9-69B75C910CD0.jpeg F1EDBAC3-C978-4548-9E7B-066487343CFA.jpeg Hello, I am a beginner to photography and have a Minolta x-700.
    My first roll of film I shot was fantastic (the top 2 images) and I was very pleased with it - it was ISO 400 but I set it to 800 to underexpose, and I also set exposure at -1. (I shoot on P mode so the rest it done automatically for me). I was very pleased with these results.
    The next roll of film I shot (the bottom 2 images) I used all the same methods, but they came out looking overexposed and faded.
    Will this be the different films I was using? Or something I did?
    I would be so so so grateful for any help
  2. Why are you underexposing your film? The last 2 pictures are very underexposed NOT overexposed. Set the ISO to 400 and leave it there.
    bethe_fisher likes this.
  3. SCL


    Being new to a hobby naturally suggests initially taking a proven path to suggest before experimenting with alternatives. Use the manufacturer's suggested ISO before deviating so that you can see what generally expected results will be. As you gain experience with varying conditions you will be much better prepared to make adjustments.
    western_isles likes this.
  4. Shooting with negative (reversal) film involves a two-stage exposure process: once when you expose the negative, then again to project the film onto prints (or alternatively when you scan the film). I'm assuming this was shot with negative film and given to a print shop (which may or may not have provided you with scans), and that's what came back washed out? I've seen that happen. I'm assuming you didn't do your own printing (which is a faff, in colour).

    The problem is that the production of the print/scan is a subjective process. Expecting that people will have underexposed the image accidentally, the thing controlling the exposure of the prints (whether that's an automated heuristic or an actual person) will be overexposing the result, bringing it back to the washed-out muddy version. Presumably this didn't happen for your first prints, presumably because it was a different print shop? You won't have this problem if you shoot slide (positive) film, because there's no secondary exposure - what you put on the film is what you get, and the E6 colour slide process is relatively standardised. However, slide film is sometimes not very tolerant to incorrect exposure, so be wary when you can't fix it afterwards! The good news is that your negatives are probably fine - if you get them re-scanned or new prints made, you should be able to get the exposure you intended.

    Note that telling the camera your film is ISO800 when it's ISO400 will make the meter underexpose everything by one stop. If you're setting a further exposure compensation of -1 stop, you're at a total of -2 stops of exposure. You could probably pick one way or the other to do this rather than both, but up to you!

    For your interest (and I hope you don't mind), here's a quick tweak of your last image in an image editing package (GIMP, because I had it to hand and it's free). All I did was adjust the curves to blacken the darker tones, and add a slight contrast curve to the rest. Can I confirm this is what you were attending to achieve? Note that the dark regions are quite grainy (as in your original) because the film isn't getting all that much light to work with; darkening it helps a bit. A longer exposure and slower film might well give you a bit more leeway.


    (Incidentally, I know that pub.)

    I hope that helps!
    DavidTriplett likes this.
  5. The problem is that you set ISO 800 instead of 400 and then set the exposure compensation to -1 thus underexpose your film 2 stops. You're lucky that you have the pictures. I wonder why you did that? I hope you feel it's fair to answer the question as you asked and had answer.
  6. These are all severely underexposed. The last two especially, because not only have you (incorrectly) set your exposure two stops too low, but the bright skies caused your meter to further underexpose. Shoot a roll at the rated speed (ISO 400) for this film, and I think you'll find the results much better. With color negative film, many of us tend to OVER expose--I shoot Kodak Portra 400 at 200, for example. You may have misunderstood some instructions you read?
  7. Scarletfield's question suggests that the first two images were satisfactory - that is, they are deliberately intended to be low-key and underexposed, because that was the desired look. I actually think that's fine (as an artistic decision) for the first two images.

    The problem is the latter two, which were shot in the same style but which have had their exposure raised - probably in the printing process of this is reversal film. That's certainly where I've seen the behaviour. Normally it's a primitive attempt to compensate for an accidentally under-exposed negative (or one which was underexposed because the necessary shutter speed and appetite didn't allow enough light, since you can't explicitly "change ISO" like on a digital camera). On this occasion the negative was intended to be two stops under-exposed, so the exposure boost made to the print reversed the photographer's decision and left mush. If the print shop thought you were trying to photograph the text on the blackboard, they'd have done the right thing - is more legible in the original than my edit, despite the low contrast.

    The negatives (which, if processed normally, were controlled by the original exposure) should contain what was intended - getting them printed again with specific instructions not to increase exposure during the print, or saving the negatives, would get the original captures represented properly.

    At least, that's my take on this, and why I edited one of the photos to be very gloomy. Recovering the detail in the dark areas is harder, and best done with a brighter exposure at time of capture.

    I'm hoping scarletfield will confirm, though. I may have misunderstood.

    It's also not a bad idea as a beginner to shoot at default exposure settings and only later start making adjustments for low-key and high-key images - then you know the rest of the process works. If you can edit the image afterwards digitally, you can often create a look better when you've got maximum detail for the scene recorded.

    I have to point out that you don't really have this problem (certainly not to the same extent) with a digital camera - there's no third party doing your printing for you. (Well, until you send it off to get a poster made and they mess up the colours "artistically", but that's a separate problem.) Welcome to the joys of (reversal) film. Film has merits, but digital does make it easier to experiment.
  8. I think even if you want the image to be dark I would want to expose for it correctly. It's easy to print or scan them as dark as I want. I often print quite dark and in the area when looking at the print normally it would look black but if you have it backlighted you can see details. Printing it that way the black part gives you the impression of something is there.
  9. Thank you all for your time and advice.

    I am confused as I have read in many places that it is normal to play around with the ISO numbers, in order to under or over expose.
    If I were to keep ISO 400 at 400, wouldn’t my photos then be a lot lighter? (I’m trying to achieve the underexposed vintage look).

    I also don’t understand how with the same settings and same print shop the results are completely different.

    Do we all agree then that my ISO should be at the correct number and only my exposure at a negative number?
  10. Expose correctly at the rated ISO and don't use any negative exposure compensation. If anything, negative film responds better to overexposure. Trying to get a certain look by exposing a certain way and then having a lab guess at your intentions is not going to work. You'd need to print your own or have a custom lab print for you.
    bethe_fisher likes this.
  11. 1a. You are right - it is helpful to play around with ISO numbers. You can get a subtle change or a dramatic change, depending on the film. And this is useful in the real world. For example, the cinematographer who shot The Dark Knight overexposed one scene by five stops. If you looked at that negative by holding it up to a window, you would probably not be able to see through it. This was then brought back down in printing - this is the advantage of negative film over slide film, to put it simply. (Almost all movies shot on film are shot on negative stock, as opposed to reversal stock such as Ektachrome).

    1b. If you kept your 400 speed film at 400, and metered correctly, your photos wouldn't be necessarily lighter. Negatives must be interpreted by the user. That's the price you pay for so much flexibility. You can set your 400 speed film at ISO 100 if you wanted, and even then you can print it to look dark.

    2. That is because everyone has a different opinion on how a negative has to be interpreted. Slide film is, to be simplistic, impossible to interpret. If you get your exposure right, then it's its own reference when it comes to scanning and publishing. If you get it wrong, you throw it out and try again later. Without getting into too much detail, you don't get the luxury of agonizing about how to print a slide. ;-)

    3. Not necessarily. :) There is little point in underexposing negative film unless you actually don't have enough light. In that case, you would expose a roll of 400 speed film at ISO 1600 (for example), and then tell the lab to push it by two stops. That will make it easier to print/scan. Either way, you are still underexposing, so you will get a grainier - but usable - image. Modern emulsions can be underexposed without pushing and still be easy to recover a usable image. For example, Eyes Wide Shut, in its entirety, was shot by pushing the film by two stops (it was ASA 500 film, rated at ASA 2000, and pushed in the lab).

    FWIW I would not use program mode. That's for mobile phone snapshots. Stick to manual, aperture priority or shutter priority. You're a photographer, not just someone who wants to take memento snapshots. :)
  12. They are completely different because the things you photographed are completely different. Large areas of highlights and shadow in the third and fourth, not so much in the first two. Seriously though, set your ISO to whatever the film is rated, 400, 200 and so on and take out that -1 compensation setting. Shoot some short rolls of each kind of image, the outdoor town images, the indoor shot and so on. Do some different things and see what the meter is telling you. I would put the camera in manual mode for now. You will find still that the camera will have problems with high contrast photos ie. large bright skies and large shadows in the same shot or a white book surrounded by areas with less light. There is no one single correct exposure, you either need to expose for the highlights and lose the shadows or the other way around. You should consider photography, like flying, as a compromise, a gain somewhere causes a loss somewhere else. It takes practice but when you figure it out you'll wonder what was so hard about it. You can get a huge amount of help here.

    Rick H.
  13. I assume scarletfield might have been trying to avoid blowing out the sky in the negative. Negatives do have a limited dynamic range, and it's possible that a "normal" exposure (capturing the foreground normally) would simply have recorded the skies as white. Even if the intent wasn't to produce a low-key image, it's potentially reasonable to do this. Negative film (sorry, I got my terminology mixed up and kept calling this "reversal film" incorrectly), as others have implied, tends to handle overexposure relatively well (light areas of the negative turn dark, and you need quite a lot before they fully saturate); on the other hand, if you under-expose, the grains don't really "get started". The opposite is true of slide film: once an area is at maximum brightness, you've lost that detail, whereas you have a chance of pulling detail out of the shadows (in a scan). Digital behaves more like slide film, in that once the sensor is recording white, you can't pull any detail back - whereas there's often something recorded in shadows.

    When making the print, the print shop makes its own exposure of your negative. The exposure settings for the print are not fixed - either a person or a meter in the print machine decided that your film needed more exposure to produce a correct print, causing the shadows to be brightened. Your first images, if a little low-key, had enough brightness in them to avoid confusing the meter. I'd guess that's not true of the latter two shots - particularly since there's a dark area right in the centre of the frame, exactly where a centre-weighted meter would be looking.

    I agree that it makes no difference whether you're underexposing the film by telling the camera's meter that the film is faster than it really is, or dialling in exposure compensation manually. On some cameras the "exposure compensation" is physically the same dial as that where you set the film ISO. Assuming you actually wanted a dark image with detail in the sky, the problem isn't with what you captured, it's with the printing process. If you get the negative scanned, you can process the result yourself; if you print it yourself in a dark room, you can also fix it. A standard print shop with no knowledge of your intent happened to get it wrong in this case.

    Kharim is correct - slide film (assuming it's processed normally) does not go through an "interpretation" process by the print shop - at least in generating the slide (you can always edit the result digitally or make a print from a slide, but let's ignore that for now). With negative film, you can make easy choices of how to print the film, lightening or darkening it, or adjusting areas of it during the print process. With slide film, the slide is what you captured. This does mean you can't "rescue" a slide (at least, in the default process of getting an image out of it) in the way that you could rescue a print - if you'd wanted to have detail in the road signs in your last image, for example, you can recover them in a print (which is what the print shop tried to do), whereas they'd simply be dark in a slide. On the other hand, if you get the exposure right at the time of capture, that's what you'll get in the slide, and the print shop won't have a chance to mess it up (unless they're doing something non-standard in the development process).

    As BeBu says:

    That's really the question - how "easy" is it to control the print or scan? If you just hand it to a shop and come back later, you probably don't have any control (especially if you didn't ask). If you're doing your own darkroom work, you have a lot of control.

    If you're making your own prints or can tell your print shop what you want, negative film gives you more flexibility. If you're outsourcing and have no control over what happens, slide film has the advantage that what you shot is what you'll get (for better or for worse): if you have no control other than the in-camera exposure, it's helpful to ensure you have at least that much control. I've tended to shoot slides more, partly for this reason. That said, slide films often have less dynamic range (I believe), so if you're trying to capture bright skies and dark foregrounds, they may not be your friend even if you have the best exposure settings. To be fair, I'm mostly a digital shooter, so others will be giving much better advice on the specific behaviour of films than me.

    The Ansel Adams books on The Negative and The Print are quite interesting reads on the subject, although they do rather assume you're doing your own thing in a darkroom and making an exhibition-sized print. These days many would get a scan of the negative and process it digitally.

    I think that's going a bit far. I don't agree with a well-known photographic blogger/opinionist who claims that "P" stands for "professional", but there's a "P" setting on pro cameras for a reason. That is:
    • Manual mode: You set the aperture and shutter manually. The camera tells you whether your exposure settings agree with the meter (usually adjusted by your exposure compensation settings).
    • Aperture priority: You set the aperture (to the available range) and the camera sets the shutter speed (as best it can) according to the meter, adjusted by your exposure compensation settings.
    • Shutter priority: You set the shutter (to the available range) and the camera sets the aperture (as best it can) according to the meter, adjusted by your exposure compensation settings.
    • Program mode: The camera picks a relationship between aperture and priority according to your exposure compensation settings, and you "shift" to choose which of the options sharing that relationship fits your needs.
    If you want specific control over depth of field and want the camera to control the shutter for you, pick aperture priority. You may find the camera can't get the exposure correct because the shutter speed it would need is not available.

    If you want specific control over shutter speed (to freeze or induce motion blur or camera shake), pick shutter priority. You may find the camera can't get the exposure correct because the aperture it would need is not available.

    If you want to control both but are prepared for the exposure to be incorrect if the lighting changes, pick manual mode. You're in control, but you'll be slower than the camera at allowing for a subject moving into or out of light, or if clouds shift.

    If you want the exposure correct no matter what, and only want to influence depth of field and motion as a secondary factor, use program, and don't be ashamed. It's a safer option under highly varying lighting conditions, and it has its place.

    They're only controlling the same pair of parameters (with respect to a third). How you choose to control that is up to you:


    The situation is even more complicated in digital, where dynamically changing the ISO for each shot is also an option. Camera manufacturers generally don't have this interface perfect yet.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2018
  14. Sorry, it's been politely pointed out to me that I have my terminology mixed up. "Reversal film" refers to positive film, as typically used to generate a slide, not negative film as I'd been claiming. I told you I usually shot digital! Apologies for any confusion. (My description of the properties of negative vs slide film is, I believe, correct.)
  15. No idea where you read it, but for beginner purposes, I think it's pretty useless advice. I'd start with the book Understanding Exposure, or if you prefer website tutorials, on this very site the same author wrote short introductions on the same topic. The book is a more complete reference though.
    Once you fully understand the concepts in that book, and understand well how the metering in your camera works, start thinking about deliberately underexposing and overexposing. Odds are, you won't use ISO anymore to achieve that, but rather shoot fully manual mode. Getting a particular look is much easier once you understand the basics behind it; instead of following a recipe, you can reason for yourself what it takes.

    In my view, one of the key mistakes is thinking that the meter in your camera is always spot on. It can be, but it also may not - it's worth understanding what kind of light conditions might confuse it, and how to act upon it.
  16. Tony Parsons

    Tony Parsons Norfolk and Good

    Is it possible that the OP has been reading information relating to exposure with digital equipment, and trying to apply the advice to colour negative film ?
  17. I'm still assuming that the OP was underexposing deliberately, intending to produce an underexposed (or low-key) final result, if only to darken the sky. Which would have worked if it weren't for the somewhat arbitrary nature of the process of printing from a negative (if you don't have control over it or the ability to make requests of the person doing the printing). Within a small range I'd assume this would quite possibly work anyway - I don't know whether the average automated printing machine meters every negative from scratch, or whether there's a "whoops, that one looks like it needs rescuing" mode.

    There are cameras for which "changing ISO" is the only way to make the meter apply exposure compensation. It doesn't appear that the X-700 is one of them (you set the ISO with a secondary mode on the shutter speed dial); I'm guessing this was a miscommunication. It doesn't really matter (so long as the shooter isn't confused), and you could use a "fake ISO" to dial in a correction for a meter which consistently over- or under-exposes, but if you just want to make a given image darker, the dedicated exposure compensation seems more logical. The X-700's meter appears to be fairly even across the frame rather than being significantly centre-weighted, which might affect some choices with a very bright sky.

    Having looked at the user guide, I now realise that the X-700 doesn't appear to have a program shift (its Program mode is just "pick one value and live with it") - and the default is shifted to higher shutter speeds. In which case, Karim has a point - P mode gives you less control over creativity than it does on a modern camera!
  18. A few points.
    1. The Minolta X700 does have the exposure compensation function and can be used to alter exposure when you are in A or P mode. I personally never use it but I think it should be used to compensate for a single shot.
    2. If you want to always over or under expose your film then I would use the ISO setting to do that. For example I use Portra 160 at ISO 100 and I set the ISO for 100 instead of setting the EC to +2/3.
    3. Negative film should be exposed in the manner that it would capture the most details of the scene and not because you want the final print or scan to look dark or bright. In case the dynamic range of the scene exceeds that of the film then you either have to sacrifice the shadow or the highlight. The final print or scan is then made to look the way you like that is to show more of the shadow or highlight details.
    DavidTriplett and Andrew Garrard like this.
  19. Get a digital camera to learn the basics with. Film is a dreadful (and expensive) medium to learn on.

    There's nothing you can do with film* that can't be learned or done with even a quite basic digital camera, and vice versa. Especially if you're going to just use P mode.

    *Except become reasonably proficient at chemical process control.
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2018
    Andrew Garrard likes this.
  20. The responses so far are all very interesting and helpful, especially for those who have a fair amount of experience, not so for a beginner.

    May I make the following suggestions?

    Problem 1 - Your film speed is ISO 400 but you told the camera that it was ISO 800. You then told the camera to increase the film ISO speed to 1600. So the camera created the image on that basis. In some light, ISO 1600 light if you like, it will work OK other times, non ISO 1600 light it will not. As a beginner do what everyone else does and stick to the film speed of the film in the camera at least until you get some more experience and you feel comfortable with "pushing" (increasing) film speed or "pulling" (decreasing) film speed for particular effects.

    Problem 2 - When you had the film processed the machine at the processors thought it was working with ISO 400 film. On the film canister it will have "ISO 400" or "DIN 27" both of which mean the same thing just different ways of measuring film speed. In addition, you may have noticed some odd markings which are small squares which again tells the processing machine "this is ISO 400 film". The processor created the images on the basis of what you told them via the film canister. Again, as above this will work sometimes and not on other occasions.

    May I suggest, turning OFF P mode and work with manual especially if you are using negative film which is very forgiving much more so than transparency (positive) film . Make notes of each shot taken and then compare them to the results. This will teach you the relationship between f stop and aperture speed Always tell the processors what film settings you used if anything other than the standard rating of the film bearing in mind as above that the film canister always indicates the film speed.

    You should also note that "negative (reversal) film" is in fact wrong as stated above by one of the respondents. Negative film is always printed on paper or scanned. When negative film is processed it comes out with a distinct orange caste which makes it, at best, difficult to see detail hence a further process of printing as a positive image on paper or scanning for processing further is required. "reversal film" comes out of the processor in a form that you actually hold it up to the light and see clearly detail, colour, shadows etc. Although I consider reversal film, sometimes referred to as transparency, to be superior I would not advise its use for a beginner. Start with film and learn by your mistakes which is exactly what I, and millions of other photographers have done.

    After 30 years of photography I, and many others, have images galore which turned out as your second two images we all learn from our mistakes. Don't be put off keep going we have all been there. will show you some examples of my images most of which used to be reversal film.

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