Interview: Craig McIntosh

“When I made the move from digital to shooting on film I immediately noticed how much it forced me to slow down and actually think about how I wanted to compose the scene or my subject.”

Craig is a film photographer in Scotland. His work is really creative and has helped me to focus on the importance of light and setting up the framing to emphasize light. He also has a website you should check out (he suggests looking at it on a desktop to fully appreciate it).

MH: Hey Craig! Thanks so much for doing this! I really love your style and hope learning more about you can help me start to see light the way you do.

MH: Why do you shoot film?

CM: Film photography as a medium just works for me. When I made the move from digital to shooting on film I immediately noticed how much it forced me to slow down and actually think about how I wanted to compose the scene or my subject. Every photo you take is effectively costing you money, so for me, it doesn’t allow the luxury of shooting hundreds of images and praying that you nailed 1 or 2.  For me, a fully manual film camera just simplified everything.

CM: I like that you can’t view the images immediately – the disconnect between me taking a photo, sending the rolls of film to the lab and then waiting for the scans to be sent back allows me to focus on what’s happening around me. Usually, I shoot a few rolls throughout the month then drop them off at the lab after payday. By that point, I’ve usually forgotten some of the images I’ve taken. Like a kid at Christmas, I get excited when I receive the scans from the lab and I can spend quality time to go through them and consider their effectiveness. This is a feeling I only get from shooting film

CM: Further, I was never particularly fond of the digital process of shooting my images in RAW and then spending time editing the images. I find it to be an added headache and I’m less productive as a result. I select the film stock depending on what I’m shooting that day or what light I’m working with, then I try to do as much work as I can inside the camera. I have faith in my lab to produce the results I want. I will sometimes edit my images however, it’s more quick little touch ups than anything else.

MH: What is your favorite film?  Camera?

CM: I shoot mostly colour C41 film and if I had to choose my favourite stock, it would be Portra 400. I love how versatile it is – for nearly every situation, it produces great results even if it’s over or underexposed. I also love the pastel and muted tones it produces and the skin colours look perfect. I’d say my favourite Black and White film is Kodak Tri-X.

CM: For most of my portrait work, I use my Mamiya C330. I enjoy how close I can get to my subject while still being able to focus in sharp using the bellows, and I like that you get a different look to your portraits purely because you’re shooting up at your subject from the waist instead of at eye level. I’m in the process of upgrading my gear just now, I’ve just purchased a Nikon FM2 to replace my Pentax K1000 that I learned on. I’ve used 5 or 6 rolls through it so far but It’s fast becoming my favourite camera. It’s the small touches that I enjoy, for example, being able to see the camera settings in the viewfinder and having the option to shoot double exposures at the flick of a switch.

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

CM: I’m usually pretty happy if I can walk away with at least 3 or 4 images per roll. Naturally over time, you start to figure out how certain film stocks excel and how they react in certain lighting which altogether lends itself to more consistent results. When I began shooting on film, I had the tendency to want to finish the roll in my camera before I would call it a day and head home. This led to me forcing images and subsequently getting poorer results.

CM: I remember in the early days apologizing to the lab for one of the rolls I had shot and had them develop and scan. The results were so poor I felt bad for them going to the trouble of processing them. Maybe it was the early excitement of shooting on film and wanting to see how the images turned out. I now don’t allow myself to do that but it’s all part of the learning process. Currently, I find that I’m quite selective with what I shoot and it’s usually the case that I can be out for a few hours and only take 2 or 3 photos.

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

CM: I should print my work more often, I usually do it if I’m making a print as a gift. For the better part of 2 years I’ve been shooting everything and anything. So, I generally had the mindset that once I had uploaded the image to my website/Instagram the image was effectively finished. However, at the turn of the year I decided to start thinking of some long-term projects that I have begun shooting over the last month. Periodically I may upload some of the images from the photo series to the fore mentioned platforms. However,  instead of seeing that as the finish line I’m looking more into making long term projects with a bit more substance and purpose.

“I select the film stock depending on what I’m shooting that day or what light I’m working with, then I try to do as much work as I can inside the camera.”

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

CM: I’m quite fond of this photo I took during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2017. It’s probably one of the first rolls of film I shot on my Olympus Mju ii and it was Kodak Tri-X 400 i used. That camera is tremendous for candid street photography, as it’s so compact and the shutter is so quiet. Every day during the festival I would use my lunch break to go for a wander through the Royal Mile to see some of the free shows and take in the festival atmosphere. I was immediately drawn to the man handing out flyers to passing tourists.  The timing of the photo makes the man look quite mysterious, with clothing comparable to that of film noir. I’ve always thought that it looks like the top half of his body is etched onto the granite stone wall behind him. Meanwhile, you have a moment between the little girl and the lady with the bunny eared cap, which is a look of curiosity and terror. This is one of the first images that I felt creatively proud of.

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

CM: This is based upon my experience with photography, but I would encourage anyone who is thinking of picking up their first camera to choose a fully manual SLR instead of a digital camera. I think that the amount of settings on a basic entry level digital camera can be slightly overwhelming. I learned on a Pentax K1000 which you can pick up for around £100 from Ebay. It’s really easy to use, fully manual and you can pick up additional lenses cheaply. Having 36 frames to use will force you to learn the fundamentals of photography in terms of composition and the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Youtube is also a great source for tutorials on anything film photography related, so use that to your advantage. There is also plenty of good budget film stocks out there to get you started on, some I would recommend trying are Fujifilm Superia 400, Fuji C200, Kodak Colourplus, Fomapan 400, Lomography 400, Ilford HP5 400.  Amazon has some good bulk buy options that I use quite regularly. 

More of Craig’s work can be seen below:

NYC: New city, new film – Kodak Tri-X

As you may have read in the review I did on Kodak Tri-X, my first introduction to it was on a trip to NYC.  As it happens, I have been to NYC a couple times before this visit but I had never taken a film camera; all but one trip I had taken my Sony a7 with me.  Generally, when I’m trying something new – like a new film – I try to keep the experimental conditions to a minimum.  At best, I would have my same camera, in the same or similar enviroment, taking photos similar subjects.  How else am I supposed to know if I really like the new film?

If you’re me or like me, you don’t tend to shoot as much normally as you would if you were out and about – particularly if you’re on a trip.  As such, I don’t always get those chances to get out and go through a roll or two as an experiement before I go on a trip.  Instead, in some instances, I pick up some film and I find that the best time to give it a go is when I’m on a trip, potentially in a place I’ve never been and potentially in a place I’ll never go to again.  If you’re like me, you like to have photos from these trips so taking the risk of using a film you have no experience with leaves a lot to chance.

And sometimes that chance rewards you with photographs you never expect and will now treasure for the rest of your life.

That’s what happened to me on a recent trip to NYC.  Granted – I was taking a chance with Tri-X, a film that’s highly acclaimed and well documented.  Nevertheless, I didn’t know what to expect from it and I couldn’t have been happier.

Review: Kodak Tri-X

To see Kodak Tri-X exposure tested and compared with other B&W film, follow this link.  

It took me far too long to give Tri-X the attention it deserves. I shot through several rolls of T-Max 400 and moved into high-speed B&W film stocks like Ilford’s Delta 3200 and Kodak’s TMax P3200. Prior to a trip to NYC in late 2018, I picked up a pro pack of Tri-X 120 and shot it exclusively in my Mamiya 645.

All it took for me was that trip and I’m sold. It has just the right amount of grit and the gradient is so unique; the shadows aren’t harsh but much more pronounced than a lot of other films and the brights are unmistakably bright.

I’m still shocked at how gorgeous some of these turned out. =Having started using Tri-X, I’ve realized so much of what I looked for and wanted in B&W photography was here.  It was then that I started making my home with this film. Before long, I expect to start experimenting with it by way of pushing and pulling. From other articles I’ve read and friends I’ve talked to, I have high hopes for what I’ll get.

Since NYC, I got to play in a friend’s studio and while I would have rather been shooting some TMax 100 for the sharpness and lack of grain, I had Tri-X loaded and I made the best of it. I think the results are pretty spectacular. The only thing I would have reconsidered would be making accommodations for the exposure latitude. We set up all the lighting and camera settings using his Fuji mirrorless camera and in multiple shots, we expected complete silhouettes but I got a fair amount of shadow detail in the film.