Shooting with Black and White Film for Big Pharma

Offering the opportunity to shoot with black and white film for a major branding campaign launch and why I suggest an old school method.

Shooting with Black and White Film.

The comp was a black and white photograph of woman gazing into the camera. The attention was geared toward her face with her shoulders out of focus. The client wanted the truth to come thorough the subject’s eyes.  They wanted honest and authentic photos. I have been called upon many times to create such an image. During the whole process of estimating and creative calls I kept hearing the same mission statement. “The client was looking for that honest connection.” The supplied visual was that classic portrait with a large single light source. This was an important product launch for the brand. I asked myself, “What was going to be the little twist to make the viewer pause and take notice? What would make the viewer stop flipping through the pages of the magazine and take notice?”

Making a Commitment

It came down to the process of shooting. How to actually take the photo during the session. Everything was pointing to the obvious choice as to shoot with black and film and capturing everything in camera. In the current world of commercial photography digital capture is the only way to go. There are many great reasons to shoot digital during a commercial assignment with control being one of the most important. Another is for the client to review the session while on set. All the while there is the comfort of knowing that everything can be adjusted in post-production. Shooting with roll film changes that.  There are known reasons some why people shoot with film. They like the look and tonal quality of the finished print. In addition to that the main reason I wanted to shoot film is because I wanted shoot with my Mamiya RZ67. I wanted to slow down the process. I love the bellows focusing option the camera has to offer. It allows me to get up close and shoot with a narrow depth of field while still able to look through the viewfinder while shooting. The large 6 by 7 centimeter image area also promotes a shallower depth of field. It has taken years of experience to be able to follow focus on a subject while keeping a narrow depth of field. I always want my subject to feel relaxed during the session and not feel incumbent by the limitations of the camera. With ten exposures per roll to work with and a more fluid shooting relationship this camera combination has served me well through the years.

It came down to the process of shooting. How to actually take the photo during the session. Everything was pointing to the obvious choice as to shoot with black and film and capturing everything in camera. In the current world of commercial photography digital capture is the only way to go. There are many great reasons to shoot digital during a commercial assignment with control being one of the most important. Another is for the client to review the session while on set. All the while there is the comfort of knowing that everything can be adjusted in post-production.

Shooting with roll film changes that.  There are known reasons some why people shoot with film. They like the look and tonal quality of the finished print. In addition to that the main reason I wanted to shoot film is because I wanted shoot with my Mamiya RZ67. I wanted to slow down the process. I love the bellows focusing option the camera has to offer. It allows me to get up close and shoot with a narrow depth of field while still able to look through the viewfinder while shooting. The large 6 by 7 centimeter image area also promotes a shallower depth of field. It has taken years of experience to be able to follow focus on a subject while keeping a narrow depth of field. I always want my subject to feel relaxed during the session and not feel incumbent by the limitations of the camera. With ten exposures per roll to work with and a more fluid shooting relationship this camera combination has served me well through the years.

Making a Connection

There is another thing that happens while shooting with film. The connection between the photographer and subject is much more private. There is no tethered monitor off to the side with a gathering of people reviewing every exposure. That private connection between the photographer and subject builds a unique trust. A collaborative relationship can now build between the two. That energy stays on the set with only the camera being witness. The photographer has to know in his heart when he has the shot. The clients have to trust the process.   This process worked very well until the advent of the digital village. All of a sudden everyone has a say in the final image. That is because the captured images are now there for everyone to view on the monitor. The energy has been displaced to another area. For this shoot it was important to reel in that energy between the subject and photographer. It was elemental in getting that connection with the eyes in the photograph.

There is another thing that happens while shooting with film. The connection between the photographer and subject is much more private. There is no tethered monitor off to the side with a gathering of people reviewing every exposure. That private connection between the photographer and subject builds a unique trust. A collaborative relationship can now build between the two. That energy stays on the set with only the camera being witness. The photographer has to know in his heart when he has the shot. The clients have to trust the process.

 

This process worked very well until the advent of the digital village. All of a sudden everyone has a say in the final image. That is because the captured images are now there for everyone to view on the monitor. The energy has been displaced to another area. For this shoot it was important to reel in that energy between the subject and photographer. It was elemental in getting that connection with the eyes in the photograph.

During this shoot the senior creative director sat right beside me during the portrait sessions. I could hear his expressions of confirmation simultaneously as I thought the same during a winsome capture. There was behind the scene video that captures the two of us almost connected by an invisible force, as we both would respond at the same moment to a winning expression. We both knew we had it and that’s all that mattered.

During this shoot the senior creative director sat right beside me during the portrait sessions. I could hear his expressions of confirmation simultaneously as I thought the same during a winsome capture. There was behind the scene video that captures the two of us almost connected by an invisible force, as we both would respond at the same moment to a winning expression. We both knew we had it and that’s all that mattered.

Working within known Boundaries

Another interesting occurrence while shooting with roll film is the limitation of ten exposures per roll of film. When you came to the end of a roll you had to pause and change film backs. This little break in the action was the silence in the shoot. This silence gave everyone a chance to reflect and think or discover. When shooting digitally a photographer can shoot nonstop. It creates a different type of energy on a shoot. For this shoot, those pauses and silence were perfect. It kept the pace at a more personal and somewhat reflective tempo.

Another interesting occurrence while shooting with roll film is the limitation of ten exposures per roll of film. When you came to the end of a roll you had to pause and change film backs. This little break in the action was the silence in the shoot. This silence gave everyone a chance to reflect and think or discover. When shooting digitally a photographer can shoot nonstop. It creates a different type of energy on a shoot. For this shoot, those pauses and silence were perfect. It kept the pace at a more personal and somewhat reflective tempo.

Shooting high importance branding campaigns is nothing new for me. I have done this with film and digital. With experience in both realms of capture I was able to blend the best of both worlds. The client services and ease of production that digital has to offer and the touchstone of humanistic cravings with film. There was a muscle memory of shooting film that came back to me and crew members as we revisited old film logs and quad checks. That old “best practices” of assuring we got the shot fell right into place. It was like doing your old favorite dance again. We still had our moves.

Shooting high importance branding campaigns is nothing new for me. I have done this with film and digital. With experience in both realms of capture I was able to blend the best of both worlds. The client services and ease of production that digital has to offer and the touchstone of humanistic cravings with film. There was a muscle memory of shooting film that came back to me and crew members as we revisited old film logs and quad checks. That old “best practices” of assuring we got the shot fell right into place. It was like doing your old favorite dance again. We still had our moves.

Flexing Old Muscle Memories with Lab Work.

I still had that old  unsettlednessin my bones until I hear the owner of Gamma Black and White labs call and say. “You got an image can I process the other half?” A personal and somewhat selfish desire I had was to personally visit the lab to pick up the film. I wanted to see my old friends and take in the smell of fixer and hypo clear. It’s perfume to me and I wanted another hit. There were a number of nice options to choose from. I always want to give the client many options as to finesse the final outcome. The campaign has been launched and some wonderful news has gotten back to me about how people are responding to the photography. How the images have connected with people on a personal level. The campaign just won Gold at the advertising Davey awards for photography.  So something must have struck a cord with this shoot. Maybe it was allowing ourselves to step back a little and re-approach a photo shoot with a different way of capturing the moment.

I still had that old  unsettlednessin my bones until I hear the owner of Gamma Black and White labs call and say. “You got an image can I process the other half?” A personal and somewhat selfish desire I had was to personally visit the lab to pick up the film. I wanted to see my old friends and take in the smell of fixer and hypo clear. It’s perfume to me and I wanted another hit. There were a number of nice options to choose from. I always want to give the client many options as to finesse the final outcome. The campaign has been launched and some wonderful news has gotten back to me about how people are responding to the photography. How the images have connected with people on a personal level. The campaign just won Gold at the advertising Davey awards for photography.  So something must have struck a cord with this shoot. Maybe it was allowing ourselves to step back a little and re-approach a photo shoot with a different way of capturing the moment.