#5.8/5.9: Great Photographer, Wasted Film

When John Canlas takes pictures with Portra 400 squeezed to 3200 (read: N -3), it looks more than good. That’s because Canlas is a good photographer, but that’s also because there is enough light around where he lives and where he uses to take pictures. And because he makes sure that the apertures are opened up wide enough.

When I shot with Portra 400 cranked up to 3200 in a dark cinema on Saturday, February 6, it was partly about stubbornness, false decisions and curiosity. I know what to expect in a big, dark hall with just a little tungsten light for the presenter of a lecture, shooting from the balcony, round about 200 feet away from the stage, with an aperture of f/5.6 and a focal length of 200mm to 300mm. I know I should be using the 70-210/2.8 instead and not the 70-300 at f/5.6 and I know that the digital Nikon Df has a tremendous sensor which is just begging to excel in situations like this. I wasn’t able to pick up the right gear, bedazzled, dazed and confused in excitement – but then again, I like excitement.

To keep it short: It was a waste of a fine roll of film, but being in a curious mood I was asking for it and loaded the F5 with some Portra 400 and the F100 with Neopan 400. And I am going to confess the reason why: I was anticipating the moment when standing in front of Steven Shore, I wanted to show that I am shooting on film. I wasn’t aware of this, but now I realize this was my motivation and of course this was complete nonsense.

When seeing Shore like this, I cannot help but I’m also seeing his self portrait (New York 1976) as well at the same time.

First of all, Stephen Shore is no apostle of shooting analog. He is one of the most influential photographers there is, and he photographed gorgeously with large format cameras, but he also realized that digital cameras have caught up with resolution. With his students, he does not bother to talk about digital and analog. They just start in the first years with analog because the students would understand better what it means to adjust several things physically and not just by pushing a slider in Photoshop. Secondly, he wouldn’t care. Shore is a master, he looks at the picture, the light, the composition perhaps, but he would just not talk about some limitations in it except there are any specifically for some particular reason, say hang them on a wall or because of some color shifting or distortion or such criteria. And he has no problems to show snapshots taken with his phone on Instagram.

So I was going to his lecture with some unfitting gear. It was no big deal. At least, I had my shots on film. But I should have gone for some telephoto lens with a much wider aperture and I didn’t save some film in the F100 with the 85/1.8 attached for some close ups of a man whose work is important to me and who made a particular amicable impression in Berlin. I was happy to get a personal dedication into my copy of the catalogue. If you want to explore his work, start with “Uncommon Places”.

Outside, I had no problems whatsoever with the gear, so this is the Berlin Photography Crowd, cueing in front of a big, sold out cinema called the ‘Delphi’ to go to the lecture.


If you are into the art of photography a bit, you should take your time and listen to this.


P.S.: Grateful cheers to Jacks, without her I would have missed the lecture because it was sold out. She spotted two visitors who each had one ticket to sell. I wasn’t able to get tickets beforehand, our group exhibition kept me busy. She also excelled with the real diary shot with her nice Pentax ME Super, when Shore signed his book for me.

2016-#6.3-portra- (8)

Portra 400 at 3200 when the sun is shining is like wearing a scarf in summer. Sometimes you need it.

Pollux on 52rolls:

19 thoughts on “#5.8/5.9: Great Photographer, Wasted Film

  1. Great Post, thank you very much! I like the multiple levels of reading it… it is about pushing film indoor/outdoor as well as about using the “right” gear digital/analog and about sharing time breathing the same air with a great photographer. I don´t think that your motivation to use film was “complete” nonsense, there are a lot of nice pictures in this roll! And your plan to “impress” Mr. Shore by using film shows that film is important to you. So important that you even refrain from getting “perfect” results (at this point we would have to start a discussion about perfection or at least “good” photographs). I agree: when it comes to technical issues digital is hard to beat. But the mystery of photography is not only about the picture itself but also about the process of taking it. And the difference between shooting digital or shooting film is hard to describe by words because it has – at least for me – an effect on something deep inside of me, where reason has no influence anymore, and where happiness and satisfaction are created.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree in many ways, but here the main difference in analog and digital was only about the ability to shoot pictures in the dark. With a 200/2.8 I wouldn’t complain about the gear or with a 135/2.8 shooting from the front row. I have faith in analog gear, but the limitations in low light are obvious and acceptable as well. At least I could have given the Portra an aperture of 1.8 with the 85mm and go for the Neopan in the F5.

      Talking gear:
      F100 + 85/1.8 + Portra 400 and
      F5 + 70-210/2.8 + Neopan 400
      would have been the better choice.

      Last Tuesday I shot a concert with three cameras, two of them were analog and it was great to have them with me. With the F4 I had just missed one shot out of 36 at ISO 1600, which is a good result for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I love my F5! Beast of a camera and doesn’t let you down! And yes shame about the Portra 400 it is a powerful film but I’ve found that when pushing it you really need to have a lot of ambient light for it to be effective. Probably the best Portra 400 pushed to 3200 I’ve seen was taken in Times Square.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The F5 is part of the family here as well, I am happy with it. Besides: I noticed something peculiar about it: The Yongnuo 622TX wireless flash trigger does not talk with the F5 and the F100, but with the F4. And the modern Tamron 70-300 with VC does not work in terms of Autofocus with the F5, but with the F100 (which is a little lame with the 85/1.8D and the Sigma 70-210/2.8 APO). So I have to keep it in mind for the future. But all in all, it’s just good to know which combinations to use. The Portra would have needed a 85B filter in tungsten light or better a Cinestill 800T or Kodak Vision3 500T. I still feel a little sorry for abusing it 😉


  3. Thanks you for posting this, very interesting indeed! I understand your motivation too. I have been trying to take pictures at meetings this year using film, and sometimes it works, and it is great – and other times, no. I think the point is it makes you think about what you are doing. The best camera would be a FILM camera where you could change the ISO by just turning a dial 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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