Interview: David Chan

“Once I got the hang of it, it was easy to see why so many photographers are (re)discovering film. The way that light renders on film is simply magic…”

David is an avid film photographer in California. I came across his work shortly after a trip he took to Banff and I was blown away by his work. His panoramic photos made me want an X-Pan (or Fujifilm TX-1), the colors in photos made me want to try Ektar again, and the energy of his work has inspired me to travel and take more photographs.

JM: Thanks so much for doing this.  Your shots in Banff have inspired me to try Ektar again after one failed roll.  I’ve really appreciated all the direction and advice about my trip to Banff and photography in general.

JM: Why do you shoot film?

DC: I took some film and darkroom classes in high school and college, but it wasn’t until about a few years ago that I started seriously pursuing photography as a hobby again after purchasing a Sony a6000 with a 16-50mm kit lens for a trip to Hawaii. I was amazed with the capabilities of that little camera and began to accumulate lenses and accessories for it before completely upgrading to a full-frame Sony system later on.

DC: It was exhausting keeping up with the rapidly evolving technologies after a while, and I was beginning to feel burnt out from spending most of my time in Lightroom, rather than shooting. I must have spent hundreds of hours culling through terabytes of RAW files, watching Youtube tutorials, installing presets, trying to give my images that ineffable “film look”. At the same time, I was seeing more and more photographers that I admired dabble in film, with gorgeous results.

DC: I started looking into film cameras and ended up buying a beautiful silver Olympus OM-2n and a pack of Superia on Amazon. The package arrived minutes before I was set to leave for the airport. I spent the entire flight trying to figure out how to load the film, and not realizing that it needed batteries to operate shutter speeds other than 1/60s. Needless to say that first roll was complete dog s**t!

DC: Once I got the hang of it, it was easy to see why so many photographers are (re)discovering film. The way that light renders on film is simply magic, the tones and colors have a natural richness that is hard to replicate in digital. I find myself being a lot more deliberate and thoughtful with each click, and not having the ability to “chimp” is actually very liberating. Finally, it could be days, weeks, or even months before you see your images. It’s a lot of fun for me to look at those memories again with fresh eyes.

“Sometimes, even those carefully planned shots can turn out like crap, but a random click of the person sitting across from you can blow you away. It’s all part of the fun!”

JM: What is your favorite film?  Camera?

DC: For my favorite film, I’m going to be cliché and say Kodak Portra 400. It’s such a versatile film that works for 90% of situations. Fast enough to use at most lighting, amazing exposure latitude, pleasant grain and tones. It’s the best.

DC: I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of great cameras to choose from, but if I have to pick a favorite it would probably be my Hasselblad Xpan. It’s a camera that I actually don’t use that often due to its special format and its “slow” lenses, but in the right situation it has produced some of my favorite images.

JM: What proportion of your shots turn out as you hoped (or better)?

DC: I would say about 25%. Being on film and having no way to verify your results, I usually play it safe and take 2-4 frames if it’s something important. Sometimes, even those carefully planned shots can turn out like crap, but a random click of the person sitting across from you can blow you away. It’s all part of the fun!

JM: When do you call a photo ‘finished’?  When it’s printed? posted on IG? scanned?

DC: Well, it’s “finished” as soon as the shutter curtain close, isn’t it? I just hope that I or the lab don’t screw it up after! In all seriousness, I think it really depends on what you are trying to achieve with a particular image. Whether the goal is to post it on social, hang a large framed print on your wall, or email it to your grandma, to me it’s finished once you are satisfied with the result.

JM: Though it’s really tough to choose a favorite photo of yours, I’d have to say it’s one you took at Consolation Lakes (15Sept2018).  What’s the story behind it? Where does it rank for you?

DC: Thank you, it’s one of my favorites from that trip! Such a memorable day. My wife Crystal and I started early in the morning to Moraine Lake with the plan to get some photos and canoe on the lake. As the morning went on, the area became more and more crowded with tourists, waving around their selfie sticks and whatnot. After a while, it was impossible to get any unobstructed shots and we were desperate to get away to somewhere more secluded. We discovered the Consolation Lakes trail and decided to explore despite the large ominous sign that warned of bears!

DC: It was a beautiful trail through the woods that ended with a scramble over some large boulders to get to the lake. My wife being a former gymnast, is much more nimble than I am. I got as far as I am comfortable with while she continued to work her way over the rocks. I had been saving the last frame of Velvia in my Xpan, and decided to use it as she was perched on the large rock in the center. It was one of those rare shots where it turned out even better than planned. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out!

JM: What is your favorite shot you’ve ever taken?  What’s the story behind it?

DC: Oh man, that’s a tough one. There are a lot of shots that I am proud of and a few that have received some recognition, but as far as my personal favorite, it would probably be the of Crystal doing her makeup in the mirror while we were in New York. Just a simple, intimate moment captured on black and white film that I hand developed. 

JM: If someone told you they were thinking of getting into film, what would your response/advice be?

DC: Get a full manual camera with a fast prime lens and just shoot, shoot, shoot. Stick with one type of film stock so you can learn the characteristics and have something consistent to measure your progress. Most of all, shoot what you love and have fun!

You can see more of David’s work below.

Review: Kodak Ektachrome E100

Ektachrome was the first slide film I’ve ever tried. I bought a few rolls the day it came out and left on a trip to Arizona the next day. I shot Ektachrome in my Nikon F2 and Fujichrome Provia in my Mamiya 645 Pro TL at the same time while hiking through Lockett Meadow. Needless to say, for it being a first attempt, I went all in and bet everything would turn out alright.

For those that are not familiar with slide film, it is very temperamental. By that I’m referring to the exposure latitude (or lack thereof) and tendency to get blown out pretty quickly. As such, you have to get the exposure right on point and err on the side of underexposure. Yes- that’s the exact opposite of most color film.

Overall, my thoughts are very positive about this film. So much so that I’ve shot thru several rolls of it and I’ve continued to maintain a stock of it at home, waiting for the sunny weather and long days to come back. The colors are great – a lot warmer than Provia – to a point colors tend to lean towards yellows and reds in my opinion.

Hocking Hills: Pushing Portra 400 1 Stop to 800

To see Kodak Portra 400 pushed to 800 exposure tested and compared with Portra 400 at box speed and Portra 800 at box speed, follow this link. To get to a review of Portra 400, follow this link.

This is an article about an experience of mine pushing Kodak Portra 400 one afternoon when I was going through Hocking Hills in Ohio.

On my way home in Columbus, OH from Charleston, SC, I have to pass through one of Ohio’s prettiest areas – Hocking County. As it happens, I was also going to be driving through at dusk and on a day following several snowy days. Who could pass that up? Not I says the cat.

Then it hits you… It’s not just going to be dusk but you’ll be in gorge where it’ll get darker earlier and you realize you didn’t bring your tripod on the trip… No matter. You’ve got Portra 400 loaded in one of your spare film backs of your medium format camera and you go for it. Once you get into the bottom of the gorge and you realize it’s not just darker than you hoped it would be, it would be pushing the limits of what you can do with your camera handheld.

That was the situation I found myself in that afternoon/evening. I knew Portra could handle underexposure like a champ but when a neutral exposure was coming in 3 full stops slower than what I could afford, there wasn’t much of a choice but to push the film at least one stop. To add to the complexity, I had already shot the first roll of the film and overexposed that part by one stop (shooting at 200 to be developed at 400) so I was reluctant to push it beyond just the one stop. In the end, I think the pictures turned out pretty well for a moment of spontaneity.

That was the first of shots form the remaining 8 frames of the already half expensed roll. The following frames are from a second roll. As you can see in some of the shots, I was really pushing it with useable light. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the performance of the film that afternoon. Had it been any darker, I would have wanted to push another stop but with every stop I push, I lose some of the film’s versatility so as far as compromises go, I would say things worked out pretty well.

The following pictures weren’t actually taken with Portra but rather some Fujifilm Provia F100 that was in my primary film back. I was able to get out a few shots on the drive before I got to Hocking Hills.