Shot on film! For real!

Just kidding. Just playing with some cheesy Photoshop plugins.

* * *

When I was viewing the 2017 Summer Open exhibit at the Aperture Gallery (which I previously blogged about), I came across one portfolio of photos which had these types of film borders. My first impression was “this photographer used an Instragam filter!” Honest, that’s what I thought. These types of retro filter are very popular on Instagram.

Upon further reflection, I assumed a prestigious organization like Aperture wouldn’t allow those kinds of borders unless the photos were really shot on film. The borders show that he was using Kodak Portra 400. I tried to look closely at the photos to see if I could notice any film grain, but I didn’t. The most obvious giveaway that the photos were shot on a film camera is that they weren’t as sharp as photos from most of the other portfolios.

My feelings about film borders are similar to my feelings about photographers who brag about shooting with Leica. Maybe you should not try to shout out to the world that you are using “real” film by including the film borders in your prints; rather let people viewing the photos notice for themselves the special film qualities. If the qualities imparted by film are that special, then should not the borders be superfluous? During the era when people actually shot with film, the borders were not shown. Sort of. It’s well known that Henri Cartier-Bresson liked his film borders, and there were times when the borders were popularly included with fine art prints, but it’s my understanding that they eventually came to be seen as “artsy and pretentious,” which is my natural reaction, and the film-border-look died out.

Looking further into matters, I discovered that the photographer, Jon Henry, has an online portfolio and an Instagram account. As is proper for an online portfolio oriented to fine art photography, there is no mention of what kind of camera was used. But taking the time to look through his entire portfolio while sitting in a comfortable chair in front of a computer screen, it’s more obvious now that he used lo-fi equipment for at least some of the photos, because I spotted blurry areas and light leaks.

On his Instagram feed, Jon was unable to avoid talking about his gear, and the mystery was solved. He shot these pictures with 4×5 large format. That explains why I didn’t see any obvious film grain.

Do you know how expensive it is to shoot 4×5 color film? The cost of the film is $5 per sheet, and I found a place online that develops this stuff for $4 per sheet, so every time he pushes the shutter button, there goes $9 worth of film and developing costs! And all that to get a lo-fi look that could have easily been accomplished with much less expensive medium format cameras, where each shot would cost about one-tenth the price of 4×5 large format.

After all this talk about film borders and his gear, let me compliment Jon Henry; his portraits are very compelling and excellent photography.

* * *

Going back to the image I posted above, it was taken this year on Memorial Day weekend at Seaside Heights, New Jersey. I know, not a very classy place. But interesting to see how it looks now, after it has been rebuilt after being mostly destroyed a few years ago by Hurricane Sandy.

Strangely, it was a very ugly photo before I used the cheesy Photoshop plugins, but after applying retro warm colors and adding a black film border, the image looks so much more visually appealing. On my to-do list is to look into what exactly that plugin did to the image, and also look into whether black borders (minus the cheesy faux-film lettering) enhance the display online.

23 thoughts on “Shot on film! For real!

  1. Fun article! I’ve never used digital – maybe for snapping my dog, or a business card, or receipt… bought 4 rolls of HP5 a week and a half ago, one camera’s frame counter is on 5, the other 25. We shoot very very differently than digital, as differently as 4×5 to 35.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great picture! I took a couple of film photography classes and I remember learning how to do the black borders. My photography teacher told us that in college she got really good at using sharpie to get the black lines when she was in a rush which was pretty funny.

    Liked by 2 people

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