significant feature of transparency film is that the results are what was
suggesting that I might prefer to shoot negative has given the impression
that I am less than a professional."
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is John Lacy,
a commercial photographer
based in the
metro Detroit area.
We produce high quality photography
mostly for business to business marketing.
Our principal markets are the construction industry and the automotive
manufacturing industry. A significant portion of our work is also divided
among the hospitality industry (hotels, resorts, casinos & restaurants)
Our specialties include
(interior & exteriors),
(interiors & exteriors,
studio & location),
shooting manufacturing facilities & equipment.
>> Environmental & Studio
for Editorial, Annual Report
glass, plastic, package goods & food.
In addition to photography we also offer
>> Digital Retouching
>> Large Format Printing
>>Graphic Design & Offset Printing for brochures, catalogs and promotional
Website Design & Hosting.
We've been in business since 1987
[please note that this article was written in 2004. While we have moved
exclusively to digital formats , currently up to 50megapixel, some may still
be interested in some of the information contained here]
Recently I've been getting
more requests to shoot transparency film for exterior architectural
assignments. To these requests I've stated that I'd be happy to shoot
transparency if they insist but that I many times recommend shooting
negative. This has opened a can of worms because it is conventional wisdom
that transparency film is superior to negative film. Even suggesting that I
might prefer to shoot negative has given the impression that I am less than
a professional. So here I would like to outline the differences between the
two types of film and outline my reasons for a preference to shoot negatives
under certain circumstances.
Before I get too far along
I would like to quickly add that this discussion will very soon be mute as
digital technology is on the verge of eclipsing all film use in the very
near future. Recent tests I've seen show that the next generation of
professional digital cameras modeled on the 35mm body format produce images
which are comparable and in many ways superior to medium format film. It
will only be a couple of more years before even 4x5 film will be replaced by
these digital cameras if progress continues at the current pace.
When I started out I worked
at the major car photography studios in Detroit. Virtually all jobs were
then shot on 8x10 film and always on transparency film.
This produced huge,
beautiful transparencies (also referred to as "chromes"). As I
developed my own portfolio I shot almost exclusively 4x5 chromes. It was
thought that only amateurs shot negatives. Then I moved out of the
studio and started doing alot of industrial photography. Much of this was
done in dark factory settings that required me to bring in lighting to
augment the existing lighting. The lighting in many of these settings was a
mix of daylight, tungsten, sodium and florescent in various flavors. In
addition lighting coming through windows would be filtered slightly green
through the tint of the windows. At first I tried to control all of these
colored light sources with filters on both the lens and on the light
sources. I also did many tests with various film types to see what would
What I found was under such extreme conditions of both light color and
exposure range is that newer negative films allowed me to find a balance
within the "color cross" that resulted in a more natural photo than I was
getting from my chromes. In addition I found the added bonus that I could
also find detail in both the shadows and the highlights of the composition.
With transparency I would typically have to expose for the brightest part of
the image and try to add light as best I could to the darkest parts. It
wasn't long after this that I started having scans made from my film so I
could manipulate the images on my computer. The purpose of this retouching
was primarily to cutout a robotic assembly system from a background and
cleanup some of the surfaces, but I also found that I could further balance
the color and correct perspective issues caused by shooting with wide angle
lenses that produce "keystoning" when the lens is not parallel with the
ground. It was shortly after this that I started making my own scans.
I now shoot quite a bit of architectural work. In fact it is more than half
of all the photography I currently produce. I took what I learned in
shooting industrial subjects and carried it into my architectural work.
of the spaces and structures I shoot by and large incorporate the existing
light sources and as such require a wider exposure range than can
typically be captured on transparency.
They also include a wide range of
color sources as well. In addition to this I found that by shooting with medium format
negative film instead of 4x5 that I can produce more shots at a lower cost for the client
to choose from. I produce 4000dpi scans from the resulting film, correct any
perspective issues, correct the color, balance the exposure and saturation
and then do retouching to remove stains in carpeting, remove undesired
elements like sprinkler heads or signs. On exteriors I might clean up
pavement, green grass, remove reflections in windows and/or remove telephone
wires and the like from the background. The result is a perfect image which
ideally does not look retouched at all and is more than high enough in
resolution to reproduce at any size. From these images I've created 5x10 foot murals as well as billboards.
OK, so what I'm saying is the negative film is superior to transparency
right? No, not at all. It all depends on the subject and the lighting.
Advantages of transparency are that despite improvements to the fine detail
rendering capabilities of negative films that several transparency films
still have the edge, producing virtually no grain. The transparency films I
use in the studio and under completely controlled lighting conditions
produce rich, saturated, balanced images of products, food and portraits.
But for both industrial and architectural applications where the lighting
cannot be completely controlled and in the case of exterior architectural
shoots where the lighting may be constantly changing negative films
offer clear advantages. Lastly a significant feature of transparency film is
that the results are what was captured. That is to say that the film can be
used as a guide or a standard when the image is reproduced. With negative
film every reproduction including the scan, prints and printing is
ultimately an interpretation as no definitive "master" is produced.
Using transparency can
serves as a good quality control measure, but again this assumes that the
record captured by the film is ideal and preferred. Uncorrected light
sources will still appear as off color and shadow detail may still be
blocked up or worse yet highlights may contain no information at all.
We currently deliver 90% of our jobs to clients as digital files, the vast
majority of which were shot on film then scanned and prepared, more times
than not from negative film.
As an experienced professional one of my responsibilities to my clients is
to advise them when certain options may be to their advantage, even if those
options appear to contradict convention.
As I mentioned at the beginning,
this whole discussion will soon be mute as we move into an all digital world
(read more about this here) but for now I will
try to offer my clients the best options reflecting the best value for their
"Be old beliefs steadfast", my advice to clients is to be open minded to the
advantages and options provided to them through new technology, and we will
always be happy to do as they prefer and think best.