Overexposing color negative film?

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by RaymondC, Jul 11, 2020.

  1. Is this a new trend more recently nowadays? Did people consistently overexpose their color negative film back in the film days? I shoot mainly with color slide film myself but with the 1 or 2 rolls ie Kodak Gold 400 and Fuji ProH 400 I rated them at 200 the color is more muted / pastel like. Did people largely did this in the film days?

    For me I might prefer box speed but it is a bit creative.

  2. AJG


    Color negative film has a lot of latitude on the overexposure side, much less with underexposure if you're looking for technically perfect images. When I shot color neg professionally I routinely downrated it by 1/3 or 1/2 stop to guarantee accurate exposure and easy printing. I once unintentionally overexposed a few shots at a wedding by at least 3 stops and the resulting prints looked fine. In my experience, the quality of the lab doing the printing is far more important than perfect exposure of color negative film.
    Jochen likes this.
  3. In the closing years of the last century, substantial attention was given to CN film latitude. Especially as 'scanning' of images came in, many of us tried CN films as a transition to digital.

    Here's one page from one of many articles (Modern Photography 1988-04) illustrating the point
    Dave Luttmann, Jochen and ed_farmer like this.
  4. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    Hmm... looks like Modern
    Photography used the
    same set of photos for
    all three films...
    rodeo_joe|1 likes this.
  5. Nah! Do the lick test. The lemons taste more lemony on Konica film.
    Vincent Peri likes this.
  6. I use to routinely overexpose consumer C-41 film by a stop or so. I found it would often give the colors a bit more "pop" than at box speed.
  7. SCL


    I usually followed my own rule: overexpose color negative film by 1/2 stop, underexpose transparency film by 1/2 stop. Got good consistent results.
  8. Color negative could handle overexposure, so if you ahd light and were in doubnt you erred into that direction to be better safe than sorry. The issue I see is maximum density and cheap scanners. overexposed B&W in a darkroom just meant a pretty hot enlarger head while non-drum scanners, as far as I know, have a denisty limit? - rescue scanning a too dark slide seemed impossible for that reason.

    I think some primitive cameras like Kodak Disc overexposed color negative film on purpose. Wasn't XP1 reported to have slightly finer grain when exposed like ISO 200? - Others might have more experience. I took few shots consciously overexposing a lot but that feature made color film work in almost everything.
  9. i think it depends on the following....

    1. accuracy of the meter system being used
    2. how the film gives best results for your individual meter system and camera. ie, if it gives best results by keeping the match needle in the bottom half of the circle, keep it that way.
    3. the ideas of the lab that does the development and printing. that is were the over exposure goes from "acceptable" to "jesus christ on a stick, even ray charles would yell about that"
  10. I will play around with it .... I might do a 1/2 stop overexposure, I will try +1EV but not for every frame to see how it is like.

    I scan and print myself. I only ask the lab to develop only. I have 2 rolls of Portra 400 and 1 roll of Portra 160 and 1 Ektar 100, all in 120 format. I use a Sekonic 758 Cine light meter .... Overall, I am still preferring slide film, less leeway, what you shoot is what you get. The reference is what is on the film.

    Been interested about this ... since people overexpose their film by 1 stop and get muted colors which is what they enjoy something like the below link ....
    How to Shoot Fuji Pro 400H Film ยป Shoot It With Film
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2020
  11. Vincent Peri

    Vincent Peri Metairie, LA

    For what it's worth, I read that Kodak Ektar 100 color print film has a very narrow exposure range and shouldn't be over/under-exposed. I know I always use very careful meter readings when I shoot it. Anyone else hear this?
  12. Well, here's the thing - it doesn't really happen as an inherent quality of the film, at least not for most color neg. When someone gets muted colors its more than likely an artifact of the scanning. Or possibly badly out of spec film processing.

    The one film on your list that I've been very familiar with is Portra 160. I spent a lot of years with a large studio chain outfit. We used to periodically run extensive tests on films under evaluation (beyond 10 years ago, when we switched fully to digital cameras). One of the tests we would do was a complete exposure series from perhaps two or three stops underexposed to maybe five stops overexposed. (We wanted to know the usability limits in our studios; not that we planned to use those limits, but because with a large number of studios there will always be SOMEONE screwing up badly.)

    The test would be under studio conditions with four or five models, very pale to very dark complexions, different hair colors, a variety of colored clothing and fabrics, and color reference charts. The film would be processed along with a "process control strip" so that we knew the machine was very close to aim spec - there's no question about the quality of the processing.

    We did the evaluations via optical printing on the appropriate professional paper. First, the "normal" exposure image was color balanced to a "best" color, agreed on by a small committee viewing in a proper color booth. Once this reference is established, every other image (within reason) is printed, hand balanced to match to 1 cc unit (this is about as close as things can be matched).

    Finally, the results: from roughly 1/2 to one stop under, up to 3 or 4 stops overexposed, everything looks virtually identical, colorwise. By 5 stops overexposed we would be seeing a sort of creamy appearance in some lighter colors, but keep in mind that this is overexposed by a factor of about 30 times. (This is roughly the difference between the white patch and the black patch on a Macbeth ColorChecker.)

    Of course, there are little disclaimers here and there. For a person with a very dark complexion it was not permissible to underexpose at all. You see, when they are printed it must be lightened up to show good tones in their face. If you do this with the 1-stop underexposed negative the darkest parts of the scene, black fabrics, etc., will be getting a grainy appearance (this is the "fast" large grain part of the color film showing up). And we did this under studio lighting - electronic flash - which is roughly what a daylight film is balanced for. If you were to go under a different color temperature light the three color-layers of the film will be offset from each other - the net result is that the acceptable exposure range will be reduced. (No, we didn't test this, but in principle it has to happen.)

    The summary: Portra 160, exposed under ideal lighting with a full-range portrait subject, and optically printed onto a compatible pro paper, does NOT change appearance between 1stop under thru about 4 stops overexposed.

    This was a serious test, performed by competent photo lab people, who did this sort of work for a living, and who knew that their processes were in spec.

    With respect to the other films, no, haven't used them to any serious degree. But my understanding is that Portra 400 has very similar performance. We once tested a Fuji 400 "pro" type film, I forget the designation, circa 1990s, I think(?). It had similar performance characteristics, which I think is pretty standard for a professional portrait/wedding film. (The Kodak predecessors, VPSII, VPSIII, and Portra 160 NC were similar)

    From what I read online the Kodak Ektar film is different, in that it is finicky about exposure. Not that it gets muted colors, rather that there are color errors. Again, no actual experience.
  13. Thanks for that. After a bit of detective work, the person I found desaturates the film scans and pulls back the clarity, It is her editing than the film.
  14. I routinely rated Fuji Pro 400H at iso 100 to 125 for wedding work..and spot metering for the shadow under the chin. This builds up density in the film....reduces grain and acutance. Color saturation is increased and I then adjust in scanning. It all depends on the film. I do it with Portra and Fuji pro...not with Ektar.
  15. My usual system is to round the exposure up to the next whole stop.

    Color negative (an C41 black and white) films have a low gamma, close to 0.5.

    This gives them about twice the exposure range as a film with gamma 1.0 would have.
    It also make them harder to print (or scan) as you have to be more accurate with exposure.

    This started in the days with simpler cameras and no light meters, when it was easy to be far off.
    Also, labs would have printers that could both measure color balance and accurate exposure
    for optimal printing, that one would normally not do at home.

    If you use Ilford XP2 film, you probably need to print it with grade 3 or 4 paper, or
    appropriate VC filter. It is the way it is supposed to work.
  16. That would be one very over-developed film!
    Most B&W film is developed to a 'gamma' - more correctly CI - of about 0.65.
    The exposure is the easy bit. Colour correction is the hard part.
  17. Some years ago I was using Panalure, where I did notice that it was harder to get the exposure right than for normal black and white paper.
    (And you don't have to worry about color correction.)

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