This summer marks two years for me having been a dedicated, film-only shooter. There’s been a lot of learning that’s gone on during that time: trying different film formats, experimenting in the darkroom, taking several commercial projects on film, and even having a few solo shows. Throughout all of these changes, there’s been one name that’s seen me through and through, Kodak. From the memories captured on disposable 35mm cameras all the way up to professional large format films, Kodak has been, and continues to be a BIG part of my photographic journey.
My relationship with Kodak started much like anyone else’s that was born before digital photography was the consumer Goliath it is today, out of necessity. In the US, for as long as anyone could remember, if you wanted reliable quality and lasting memories on film, you went with Kodak. Every image I shot on family vacations, weeknights at the ballpark, or any other time was done with Kodak film. Heck, until I started looking online for my own Hasselblad, I hardly knew there were other choices for film, besides Polaroid or Fuji. Even then, upon landing my first medium format film camera, I was gifted by my photography professor a big yellow brick of expired Kodak Portra film.
Immediately after shooting my first rolls of film, I raced to the local photo lab that I knew would process 120, and eagerly awaited the results. Expired or not, these images had a look I’d never seen out of my photographs before, and I was instantly enamored. Like many folks hooked on a new film camera, I threw as many different kinds of film through it as I could get my hands on. But even though I would experiment with other film stocks, I’d always make my way back to Kodak. When it came time to try my hand in the darkroom, both in medium and large format, I learned very, very quickly why that film in the yellow box comes with a premium price tag. During processing by hand, large format sheet film especially, Kodak films just feel more solid. Compared to other, much flimsier eastern European film bases, Kodak feels like cardboard in the hand; and unless you’ve got a polar bear processing your film, you’ll be hard-pressed to find scratches on your Kodak film. Fortunately, rigidity is just one reason I find myself coming back to Kodak.
Moving past the “feels good” nature of these films, Kodak stock offers me something that, as a film shooter, hardly ever comes without years and years of shooting experience, peace of mind. To the folks that have been shooting the same camera, lens, and film for years and years, this may sound trivial, but to someone new to film photography, this is a big deal. With Kodak’s lean lineup of professional color negative films, namely Ektar and Portra, one can cover an enormous array of lighting situations, and sometimes even on the same roll of film! Let’s take for example a roll of Portra 400 being shot just before and during “the golden hour”. At the start of the roll, one can confidently make exposures one stop overexposed (ASA 200), and shoot continuously as the light fades and fades all the way down to one stop underexposed (ASA 800). With any traditional color negative emulsion, the first images on the roll would be very hard to print down with accurate colors, while the end of the roll would lack enough shadow detail to have the same “pop” as those properly exposed. Instead, Portra comes through with consistent tones, a great dynamic range, and negatives that scan just as well as they optically print!
Another important, but often glanced over, property of Kodak films that keeps them at the top of my list is quality control. The list of checks and precautions Kodak takes to ensure every last frame of film they produce is of consistent quality is far too long to list in this short article; in fact, there was an entire book dedicated to this very topic. To sum up the technological feat that is “Making Kodak Film”, Kodak and its production facility are one-of-a-kind. They’ve been keeping the bar set very high for many years, and despite recent financial troubles, have managed to maintain consistent quality in the shrinking film market.
Exceptional care in manufacture aside, the single most important reason I love shooting with Kodak films is “the look”. Whether I’m shooting a wedding, a scenic landscape, or an old, dimly-lit barbershop, I can count on Kodak having a film with a look that will match the feel of the image I’m making. For portraits where skin tones need to be spot on (see above and below), and saturation needs a bit of toning down, Portra’s got you covered. Scenes that require that more intense punch of color, with the finest grain color can offer, Kodak Ektar fits the bill. In the realm of B&W, there’s still plenty of room for variety. Tri-X, a film that’s been in production since the 1940’s, has that timeless, traditional grained look, perfect for portraits and street photography. Conversely, the newer, finer grain TMax emulsions are the perfect pairing for tricky lighting situations, long exposures, and outdoor light in general. For everything I do, and hope to do in the future, Kodak’s lineup of films has got me covered!
Last, but certainly not least, on my list of reasons I’ll continue to buy and shoot Kodak film is that they have been so generous to the Film Photography Project over the past year. Every meetup we’ve hosted: PDN 2011, FPP NYC 2012, FPP UK 2012, and Analog’s Pulse has had roll after roll of Kodak film graciously given to us to supply our attendees with nothing but the best. Whether you’re a fan of Kodak films, the Film Photography Podcast, or both, consider getting out there and shooting some Kodak film today. And remember folks, only the good stuff comes in the yellow box!
FPP Kodak Portra video shot by “Cowboy” Joe Kolbek at the FPP Mid-West Meet-Up
Mat’s previous post on Kodak film – “Pushing Kodak Portra”