Let me be the first to put this out there: I don't shoot film. There, I said it. In fact, I learned to take pictures on a digital camera. I first picked up a camera about six years ago. Now, having said that, it doesn't mean I don't appreciate the look and visual "feel" of film. In fact, it's something I try and emulate on a daily basis-I just go about it a different way.
As I only shoot digital, using a Hasselblad H3D (31MP and 39MP), I deal with large, digital files on a daily basis. Hasselblad's capture software, FlexColor, allows me to tweak the images to a very fine degree-from white balance to contrast, etc. But these high-resolution digital images can be very antiseptic-that goes for all digital brands, makes, and sizes. Digital is a very "clean" capturing method. I don't mean this in a derogatory way-what I mean is that it's so clean, so clinical, and so precise, that it can often lack life-that "je ne sais quoi," the imperfections of film.
When I first started shooting, I was delighted with the medium-format digital output I was getting, so I really didn't do much to the images apart from the usual retouching for blemishes. But the more I shot and the more I researched others' work, I began to realize there were obvious and yet very subtle differences. I often asked my assistants or friends: How did he/she make the image look like that? The answer was so often: "It was shot on this/that film." I've never regretted not having shot much film-that's the way it is-but I did begin to regret that I couldn't replicate some of the famous film types that I kept seeing and loving the look of.
Then I discovered Alien Skin's Exposure. I'd found it because I was looking for a good black-and-white converter plug-in for Photoshop. I'd tried various manual methods but just wasn't getting what I wanted. I'd just started my photo project for Breast Cancer Awareness, Clothing Immaterial, a nude portrait study. At that point I'd only shot about five or so portraits and was looking for something different for conversion. What I liked so much about Exposure was everything was done by film type-I could actually replicate various types of films I'd never shot. I fell in love instantly. Clothing Immaterial has grown over the last [few] years, and I've shot nearly 200 people. I'm coming up to finishing the project, and having always used the TRI-X 400 option (with no grain), I thought my search was over. Then Exposure 2 came out and I was given the option of so many more film types. I'm now wavering on which one to use. Let's do a poll?* I like TRI-X (with and without grain), Agfa APX, and Agfa Scala the best. What do you think?
I use Exposure 2 on every image that leaves [my studio], whether for print, exhibition, portfolio, or client. I use it for everything-whether a gentle "tweak" to a color image to give it a bit more pop and depth (my favorite: Kodak Portra 160NC), or a gentle shift in color and tone by using Polachrome, subduing the colors by using Kodak Ektachrome ESS or using black and white for a color image in layers (see my daguerreotype example).
One "look" I put together was for a very interesting project I worked on with the French Foreign Legion, shot in Africa. They were simple, personal portraits of Legionnaires of many different nationalities-I'd gotten them to write letters home to a loved one, read them out loud, and then take their picture. The images are striking because of the loneliness. As captured, the images are strong-but by applying a black-and-white layer (daguerreotype) and setting the opacity to between 50%–70% the "bleaching" gives them a haunting feel. This came solely out of my looking for something a bit different and playing with the levels until I found what I wanted.
I think the thing that impressed me most about Exposure is that for my first exhibition last year, The Accidental Photographer, more than 70 images were blown up to sizes of 70 inches high, and the applied filters looked just as good that large as on a normal printed page, which is truly impressive.
I find the program so simple to use-I very rarely change the default settings; I find a film that I think suits the images and run it, simple as that. I'm a firm believer in finding tools that not only enhance my photography but also make my photographic life easier-Exposure does that with its eyes closed.
*Its your turn to get in on the fun. Go to the link below to take the poll and let us know which version of the image you like best: Tri-X, Agfa APX, or Agfa Scala.
Download the daguerreotype settings that Hills uses here:
Francis hills (www.francishills.com), a New York photographer travels the world shooting celebrity, fashion and beauty. A new generation photographer, he picked up a camera for the first time in 2002, learning to shoot on digital: he has been shooting with Hasselblad high resolution digital backs and cameras since 2003.