One Specific Speed Rating
Us film photographers are used to the limitations of our medium. In fact, we often regard them as strengths, and not weaknesses. But even we can’t really take issue with the suggestion that as soon as we begin to expose a roll of film we are limited to one specific speed rating, making it more difficult to adapt to quickly changing light conditions. On digital: no problem. Just whack the ISO up to some implausibly high number, and keep shooting. Sadly we just can’t do that mid-roll, at least not by more than a stop or so, without causing all sorts of issues for ourselves later.
The Creative Outcome
Recently I shot an event that began in the late afternoon, and which I left - two hours later - as darkness fell. To make matters worse I needed to use highish shutter speeds throughout, and telephoto lenses too. A testing combination, certainly. And yet, despite all that, a little bit of planning - not to mention access to a range of film emulsions - can make all the difference in terms of the creative outcome.
Rambunctious Mass Football Game
The event in question? Well, this Easter I spent a few hours in Workington, Cumberland. I was photographing the wonderful, rambunctious mass football game called Uppies and Downies. You probably know the sort of thing: a set start time, two goals (a mile or two apart), and after that, anything goes. No home or away kit, no set number of players, no finish time - and definitely no referee.
The Atmosphere Really Is Amazing
I’ve been lucky enough to photograph the game, on and off, for thirty years, so I knew what I wanted to convey in my pictures. The drama of the game itself certainly, but also the setting, the players, and the spectators. Because the atmosphere really is amazing; with teenagers enjoying the action just yards away from a huge, wheeling scrummage. (All of the players in the scrum are after the ball, of course, and many are trying to throw it from the scrum to a fleet-footed friend nearby. If it’s pitch dark when this happens the lucky recipient can often simply stroll away, undetected, to the goal of their choice.)
Fast and Furious
The game starts at 6.30pm on The Cloffocks, and this year it was broad daylight, albeit a little cloudy. So I started with DELTA 100 - pushed one stop - in one Minolta Dynax, and fitted that camera with a Sony 50mm f/1.4 AF lens. Another Dynax had Kentmere 400, a film that I love shooting, rated at box speed, and shooting through a Minolta 135mm f/2.8 AF lens. Needless to say the action was fast and furious, so I was working at or close to full aperture right from the off.
This particular game was fairly typical, in that the ball went into the beck a couple of times, then spent another half hour or so on the car park behind the council offices. By now it was getting dark, so I re-loaded with one roll of Kentmere 400 rated at box speed (for the 50mm) and another of the same film, but pushed one stop for the slower telephoto lens. That extra bit of film speed kept me shooting right up until the gloaming, as dusk began to give way to night. At that point I finally abandoned the two camera approach, and shot DELTA 400 at 1600 ISO, using only the camera fitted with the 50mm f/1.4. By the time I headed wearily back to the hotel, which has recently been built very much on the ‘pitch’ itself, it was too dark to maintain even 1/60th at f/1.4.
I Develop My Own Film
A selection of the photographs that I made that evening are here, and the captions indicate which film they were shot on, and at what speed. But, as I look at them now, I’m struck by how well they work together, particularly in terms of their overall aesthetic. That’s not a huge surprise, perhaps, partly because they were made by one photographer with a pre-existing point of view, but also because I develop my own film, and then scan in order to allow for a hybrid workflow. So the post processing - almost always no more than tones and levels in my case - is consistent, if nothing else.
But, you know what?
Of course I could easily have gone another way with this shoot: to the dark side. Because if I’d taken my all-singing mirrorless digital kit with me I could certainly have kept shooting long into the night. But, you know what? I’m glad that I didn’t so much as shoot a single digital frame. All of the film stocks that I used just captured the atmosphere, and the particular quality of light (or its increasing absence of it) in a way that digital just couldn’t have done. Not in my hands, anyway.
The man deserves a medal
Overall I was pretty happy with the pictures that I made that night. But any incipient feelings of smugness soon evaporated, even as I was working. Because as I was trying to dodge the scrum I noticed another photographer also shooting film. Nothing unusual in that: except that this one was right in amongst it, wielding a whopping 5x4 film camera like a broadsword. The man deserves a medal, and I hope that he made some utterly captivating work that night. He certainly deserved to, anyway.
Technical details of attached images:
Film stock and speeds indicated in caption. All of these pictures were made on Minolta Dynax SLRs, with either 50mm f/1.4 AF Sony or Minolta AF 135mm f/2.8 lenses.
Images ©Richard Simpson
About The Author
Richard Simpson is an author (J J Salkeld), former journalist and lifelong photographer, working mainly in the documentary tradition. He was first published while at school, and has exhibited and published widely throughout his adult life, often illustrating his own feature articles for national newspapers.
He works almost exclusively on film (always Harman), and usually undertakes long-form narrative projects. Recently he has made work about the fast-receding Durham Heritage Coast, photographed an allotment site over the course of all four seasons and followed a small stream from source to sea. He publishes ‘zines regularly, and sells fine art prints, often in monograph form, to collectors worldwide.
His latest novel, Be Lucky, Bamber, is available on Amazon now.
www.simpson-studios.com (with Michaela Simpson)