View Full Version : Exposure advice with slide film (Velvia 50) needed; a manual for practice

27-Dec-2014, 12:17
Hello everybody!

I´m still quite new to LF-photography but I defently love it. I want to open this thread to discuss a problem I encounter with slide film since I started. Especially with Velvia 50 that I love for its colors. I therefore use Provia and Ektar also to get a higher chance with scenes that have to much contrast, but I also have problems with scenes, that should be possible with Velvia.

For exposure metering I use a Gossen Starlite. I use a polarizer and ND grad. filters quite often, maybe too often.

I meter Velvia 50 at 50.

Here are 3 sample shots. All were taken around 5-6 PM in beautiful golden light. All three pictures are overall too dark. Unfortunately I can only show you the processed scans. i don´t have the RAW Scans any more, but they are all quite dark. I think the problem is, that I stick too tight to the advice: "with slide film expose for the highlights". So in all these 3 shots I placed the lightest highlights (boat, wall, roof) at zone 6+1/2 or 7. But the rest of the picture that shows 98% of the things I want to look at is too dark. Don´t be bewildered about these scans here, they were processed and had a fair amount of shadow lightening.

My question is:

How would you have done it?

Where to place trees or the sky. Where to place the stones of the mole in the first picture?

How do I ensure, that the most important part of the image is correctly exposed with Velvia?

I´m interested in any hint and exspecially in your own personel experiance!

https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7552/15934298430_8b4978f833_b.jpg (https://www.flickr.com/photos/88626385@N03/15934298430/)
Tango Übersicht (https://www.flickr.com/photos/88626385@N03/15934298430/) von sdzsdz (https://www.flickr.com/people/88626385@N03/) auf Flickr

https://farm9.staticflickr.com/8631/15499260594_24bed692d7_b.jpg (https://www.flickr.com/photos/88626385@N03/15499260594/)
Bornholm 4x5 13 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/88626385@N03/15499260594/) von sdzsdz (https://www.flickr.com/people/88626385@N03/) auf Flickr

https://farm9.staticflickr.com/8592/16121581385_842f7ee8b3_b.jpg (https://www.flickr.com/photos/88626385@N03/16121581385/)
Bornholm 4x5 2 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/88626385@N03/16121581385/) von sdzsdz (https://www.flickr.com/people/88626385@N03/) auf Flickr

Thank you all!


27-Dec-2014, 12:40
I don't meter for the highlights, never have.
If the highlights are off the scale, I either bring them down with a filter or don't take the shot with slide film.
Green grass=zone 5
Asphalt=zone 5
Foliage is usually about -2/3 under that
I often place the brightest clouds on zone 8.

Obviously metering the highlights didn't work for you and sunny conditions aren't where velvia shines. If you can't fit the shadows and highlights in the film, choose another film or wait for softer light.

27-Dec-2014, 13:31
I do meter for the high values, placing the most significant highlights no higher than zone 7-1/2. Given your examples, your high values look pretty good, but the scene's dynamic range was too great for Velvia, which has a useable dynamic range of about 4 stops.

As Vinny says, "Obviously metering the highlights didn't work for you and sunny conditions aren't where velvia shines. If you can't fit the shadows and highlights in the film, choose another film or wait for softer light. " I agree with what he's saying. Scenes such as those in your examples would benefit from using Astia 100-F (if you can find some), or a color neg film such as Kodak Portra 160. I find Ektar to be too contrasty for my taste.

Vinny's stated placements for various scene elements (green, grass, etc.) are excellent guides, in my opinion.


27-Dec-2014, 13:34
Hey Sebastian,

When you placed your highlights on zones 5, 6 and 7, where did that place your shadows? This seems to be a critical piece of info missing from your narration, as if your concentration on "exposing for the highlights" robbed you of your attention from shadowy consequences.

For example, if I had noticed that my exposure choice forced the shadows to, say, zones 2, 2.5, and 3 – esp. in view of the shadowy areas being so important to your image – I would have thought twice about using Velvia-50. Or if Velvia-50 was my only film on this outing, I would have chosen a more suitable composition, one with flatter lighting of course.

BTW, I like all three of your shots in terms of framing and perspective, even if the light wasn't cooperating with your choice of film.

28-Dec-2014, 05:12
My question is:

How would you have done it?

Where to place trees or the sky. Where to place the stones of the mole in the first picture?

How do I ensure, that the most important part of the image is correctly exposed with Velvia?

I´m interested in any hint and exspecially in your own personel experiance!

Thank you all!


First of all - you're on a good track if you mistrust the proverbial "meter for highlights".
Unfortunately, you like a very unforgiving film for your pictures.
Where to meter? When you see you have a problem with your shadows being too dark, well, then meter the shadows. That's what I learned with Velvia and do with Provia too, which I prefer for my photography (slides exclusively).
In your 1st picture I would meter the foliage, knowing from my experience that dark foliage is very unpleasant in landscape pictures.

28-Dec-2014, 08:40
In reviewing the images Sebastian provided, the issue is not one of exposure, per se, but of the dynamic range of Velvia and the large areas of deep shadows. Certainly, he could have placed his shadow values higher on the scale, say, Zone 3 or 4, but all texture in the whites of the buildings and the boats would be lost, never to be recovered. In my opinion, Sebastian was able to realize very nice looking whites by exposing for them, but the film simply wasn't up to the task with respect to the dark foliage and the water in the harbor image.

My experience with chrome films has taught me to look for compositions where areas of very dense shadows are small in comparison with the rest of the frame, as well as evaluating the scene to see if its dynamic range is a good fit for the film I am using. If these two criteria aren't met, then I either use a different film, or wait for better light.

Sebastian also didn't mention what was used to scan the chromes. A higher end flatbed or a drum scan may have helped in realizing more detail.


28-Dec-2014, 16:04

I assume you have taken into account the loss of exposure due to filter use. When using a polarizing filter, the exposure loss will vary depending on how much polarization you are using. I am not sure if you are aware of this. In bright direct light scenes and particularlty with big blue skies, the use of a polarizer to darken the sky is frequently counterproductive (skies go too darl) and IMHO they are necessary withVelvia, due to its high contrast and limited DR, that is, unless you are trying to eliminate reflections on surfaces. Try shooting the same scenes without a polarizer or with only partial polarization and compare. Polarization is most effective when shooting between 45 and 90 degrees from the light source. I find polarizers can be useful in low light (where Velvia 50 is at its best) but I would be cautious in using these filters in direct light when you have highly illuminated white subjects in the image.

Though using the zone sysem is effective for some when shooting Velvia, the limited DR of the film makes it challenging for me to obtain correct exposures using it. When you have significant white areas in bright light in the scene (as is the case in each of your examples), I would start with finding Zone V first, and then reducing your exposure by between 2/3 and 1 full stop (experiment and take multiple exposures over and perhaps under, keeping track of your adjustments).

In your first image, perhaps placing the orange areas of the most forward boat at Zone 5 and reducing your exposure to keep detail in the whites would be a solution.

Some use a DSLR to obtain some idea of proper exposure in high contrast scenes and then adjusting for highlight blowouts when exposing the film. This is particularly advantageous when using polarizing filters (assuming you have one for the DSLR as well), as the DSLR will provide a proper exposure with the polarizing filter attached. This makes for one less exposure adjustment you have to calcualte. I have had great success by using this method.


Jim C.
28-Dec-2014, 18:21
I'm glad pdmoylan mentioned the polarizing filter, each one of the pictures you posted show signs that a polarizing filter was used especially the boat dock.
The ND filter is also darkening on top of the polarizer. Try the advice of shooting without the ND and polarizing filters.

28-Dec-2014, 19:28
FWIW I almost always shoot Velvia50 with a circ-polarizing filter on full. And I've rarely had an issue, they all look SLIGHTLY under exposed to me.

29-Dec-2014, 02:50
As other have said, the old advice with slide film to "expose for the highlights" is in my experience nonsense. If you expose for the highlights then your highlights will be OK, and depending on the scene and the lighting everything else in the image could be OK or could be way too dark. A better adage would be "expose for anything that is important in the image".

If there are parts of the image that are outside the range of the film then you either need to recompose, use a different emulsion, or use filters/flash/lighting to deal with them.

john borrelli
29-Dec-2014, 16:06
I would also try photography with this film without the filters until you get a grasp of Velvia 50.

It is the best slide film in my opinion and I am happy that you have access to it. I have had the most success with this film when using it right around sunset, a little before or a little after. The same is probably true for around dawn but I am not a morning person. Years of landscape photography but no sunrises! But I digress.

One of the big reasons to use this film at these times is dynamic range. One of the most interesting things to observe relative to dynamic range is that it tends to decrease as you approach sunset. As this occurs you enter into the sweet spot of Fuji Velvia 50. Now you will get within that 4 or 5 stops of range in light. Even though the light on the landscape may not seem dynamic, saturated or have a beautiful three dimensional quality, when you later see the transparency, the Velvia magic may surprise you.

Drew Wiley
29-Dec-2014, 16:47
Velvia is not very forgiving, and using a polarizer with it certainly doesn't help. Those skies look awfully heavy rather than realistic. I meter color differently than when shooting black and white, but use a Pentax Spotmeter for everything. First, I try to find something in the scene equivalent to middle gray, like a lawn or asphalt - or an equivalent gray rock. This usually works, even when I'm out in the wilderness, due to sheer experience. Then I'll check the highlights and shadowsto see what is going to be sacrified. With Velvia, it's usually the dark shadows that go black, cause that is generally less disturbing than the highlights blowing out. You learn to use the blacks graphically, as part of the composition..... Or more likely, switch to another film if Velvia proves too contrasty for the lighting. I found it nice in fog or mist, when I actually wanted a boost in contrast, but have since switched over to color neg film completely (no more Cibachrome).