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How do you determine what makes a good film image??

Mark_24 8 19 United Kingdom
16 Dec 2014 9:34PM
Looking for a little advice about taking pics on b&W film (have also posted this in the "taking pictures" forum)

I began a college course in Sept this year and as part of the course, we have to shoot / develop / make a contact print/ print a selection of mono film images. With digital, you can see instantly what you've just shot (obviously!!!), but cant with film. How do you determine "what makes a good picture"??

Achieving good contrast, tonal range, etc is difficult at the best of times with digital, let alone film.
At times, I've taken my digital (matched the settings) and shot in monochrome, however this isn't always "successful" in showing me what the film would look like. Not being able to see in mono is obviously 1 drawback, so how do you determine what makes a good film image??
franken Plus
18 5.2k 4 United Kingdom
16 Dec 2014 10:16PM
I would say what makes a good picture is one with an interest/impact. This applies to both film and digital.

I appear to have gone over thirty years without a screen at the back of my camera although I use digital now.

An ideal image would have a full range of tones from pure black to white.

You could shoot an image of your choice and let the camera take care of all of the settings and then you can shoot another with a slightly less exposure and then another with slightly more. (bracketing if your camera can do this)

A lot can be done at the printing stage and that's where a bit of practice with exposure of the printing paper is required.

A few rolls of film and a bit of practice will be required at all of the stages to be honest.

Hope this helps a bit.

franken Plus
18 5.2k 4 United Kingdom
16 Dec 2014 10:27PM
Ps, Black and white film is not so critical with exposure as digital and a lot can be recovered at the printing stage.
Paul Morgan 19 19.5k 6 England
16 Dec 2014 10:50PM
How do you determine "what makes a good picture"??

JackAllTog Plus
12 6.3k 58 United Kingdom
17 Dec 2014 1:09PM
Are you asking how you might know you have a good picture before processing the film?

If so then I'd guess that double checking the exposure from the camera meter in different parts of the scene is quite important to ensure you have not lost shadow detail or over exposed highlights.
Then i'd GUESS AGAIN want to understand how colours translate to B&W shades on the film i use, with any filters if needed.

Then I'd be looking at shapes that remain in the scene, perhaps squinting a bit to just see what the main parts of the image stand out.

I think you'd want to also think about defining the subject scope as well beforehand as portrait,landscape,abstract,night photography will all have different things you want to focus on.

Andysnapper 12 109 25 England
17 Dec 2014 1:10PM
Content is obviously the thing, a boring shot is a boring shot whether on film or digital but there are other factors as well, especially in b&w images. Contrast is your colour replacement, this is what gives b&w its impact. Look for shots with contrast and try and imagine how the different colours in the shot will translate into grey tones, lots of tones from white to black and everything in between. As Franken says above, exposure is not as critical, I tend to expose a little more to the highlights as shadow detail is easier to recover.

Have a look on flickr at the black and white still life group, many interesting shots on there, not all film but a large majority are.

Over the years I have found that I can usually judge what makes a good black and white shot, I think as with most things practice makes perfect. Good luck and I look forward to seeing some of your results.


sherlob Plus
15 3.2k 130 United Kingdom
17 Dec 2014 5:48PM
I'm not sure if I am understanding your question correctly, but I think you are asking - how can I check that my film image is any good at the time of exposure? E.g. With digital we get the comfort of immediate feedback, but in film we don't.

The answer is that you can't - rather you need to live with a sense of doubt until your negative is developed. Doubt sounds negative - but rather the sense can be one of excited anticipation. It's really quite a buzz not knowing.

So what can we do about it? Well there are curtian techniques that can help us to maximise the chances of getting it right. For example, take your time and think about your image - try to apply a deliberate use of knowledge. In short, look to develop your skills in composition, exposure, and camera craft. Sometimes I think that the immediacy of digital leads users to rely on luck and guess work rather thn skill - that's not to say digital isn't a fabulous learning tool, but rather that some folk fail to use it as such.

Other techniques may help too. For example, consider bracketing your exposures - altering the exposure by a stop above and below your metered reading. Vary your composition. Consider the use of filters when shooting B&W film - a polariser is particularly useful, but so can coloured filters such as red, yellow and green. Remember film doesn't have meta data in relation to exposure etc - so an exposure diary can come in handy - allowing you toto critically review the settings used against the results.

Finally, and most importantly, try to have fun. The anticipation of not knowing can be quite exciting!
sherlob Plus
15 3.2k 130 United Kingdom
17 Dec 2014 5:54PM
Excuse the spelling above - the auto spell checker on the iPad has kicked in again.

A final comment. A return to shooting film can seem banal - as can the use of some of the techniques it emphasises. E.g. Good camera craft includes your use of framing, checking carefully the edges of the frame for distractions for each exposure. Remember these are habits that are worth acquiring! If used they will help you develop your photography - whatever the medium you opt for.
Mark_24 8 19 United Kingdom
17 Dec 2014 11:25PM
Thanks all for the advice so far. Looking forward to "having fun" and learning as well


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