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Thread: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

  1. #1

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    What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    What color negative or transparency film would you guys recommend for night photography in foggy/cloudy weather?

    I canít decide between Portra 160, Portra 400, Ektar 100, and Provia 100. Iíve used Ektar and Provia, but only in the daytime during cloudy/overcast weather. I donít know how these perform at night.

    Iím particularly interested in trying out one of the Portra films. That said, does Portra 160 perform better than Portra 400 for moody nighttime suburban landscapes a la Todd Hido?

    Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
    Corran's Avatar
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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    Do you want a high contrast image with deep shadows? Or lower contrast with easier to control / open shadows? Are you shooting under tungsten lights and want that corrected? Or looking for a daylight color balance?

    Portra would probably give you the most leeway. Ektar will give more contrast and saturation. The Provia slide film will be harder to control.

    Really depends on what you want to do. A lot of folks also like the Cinestill film for color nightscapes. I don't know if they have any 4x5 available...I still haven't shot any of mine that I got from their campaign some years ago.

    I also have a stash of old tungsten films - both Fuji T64 slide and some NPL 160 negative film. I like both. It's really fun to see the slides on a light table. But, you'll also want to consider how you'll be printing them - scanning? Traditional?
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  3. #3
    Corran's Avatar
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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    From a number of years ago, two shots - one on Fuji NPL 160 and the other on Velvia 50:



    Just thought I'd post so you can see the difference. The negative film was nice and open but the colors were cold/magenta (you could possibly wrench them around more than I did here). I ended up liking the look of the daylight-balanced film. Seems more true-to-life in the carnival scene, but YMMV.
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  4. #4

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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    Thanks for the example, Corran. I really like both of your shots.

    For the purposes of my project I was hoping to get a look like these by Todd Hido:
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    I’d like to make large prints, so I don’t know if Portra 160 or Ektar 100 would be better choices. If anyone can give me any input on this, it would be much appreciated.

    Can anyone chime in about the difference between Portra 160 and Portra 400, save for the ISO?

  5. #5

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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    The lower contrast and (relatively) subdued color rendition of the Portra films will be a big help. Might as well shoot 400, you'll want all the speed you can get. I haven't shot any in ten years, so can't advise on the differences between them- which will likely be obscured by your non-daylight light sources anyway. And you'll want some good scanning skills too. I did a lot of work in the '80s shooting Vericolor type L on the streets, at night and in the daytime too. Of course the practice has changed entirely since then.

  6. #6

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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    Neg film will give you more latitude and better response in the shadows...

    There will be color correction involved, but you can get an idea before you burn too much film by testing the lighting on your sites with a digital camera set to daylight or tungsten and see how the colors come out... Most older streetlighting will come out greenish or blueish or tan, but you can camera filter generally for florescent lighting and see where you end up...

    Expect a strong color key like those examples...

    Steve K

  7. #7
    Andrej Gregov
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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    +1 on using Portra 400. You want the faster film to reduce exposure times. Also, Portra 400 is warmer (more yellow) than Portra 160. A warmer film will be better for the colors you're after. Note, Hido often does not "color correct" his images. When he was printing in the color darkroom, he would do everything from removing most colors to over saturate depending on the image. He is editing digitally more now but can't comment on his workflow there but likely similar. Finally, I believe most of the House Hunting images were shot on 6x6 or 6x7. You can make fine 16x20s with medium format negs. If you head in that direction, you can then try out the Cinestill 800 which comes in 120 and should handle night shooting the best. May want to test both films before you really get going with your project.

    If you enjoy Hido's work, he wrote a Aperture workshop book on Landscape shooting that's very good.

    https://aperture.org/shop/todd-hido-...the-nude-books

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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    I actually have that very book that you mention - "Todd Hido on Landscape, Interiors, and the Nude" from Aperture. I met him twice and he's signed not only that book for me, but also the new edition of "House Hunting" that came out in late 2019 and the "Intimate Distance" retrospective from Aperture. Very interesting guy. I wish I had more time to chat with him. Anyway, I'll definitely consider Cinestill; looks like a very unique film.

    Since Portra 400 has a higher ISO than Portra 160, will that limit the size of the possible high-res prints, or is the difference in grain so small that it's basically negligible?

  9. #9

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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    Quote Originally Posted by manfrominternet View Post
    Since Portra 400 has a higher ISO than Portra 160, will that limit the size of the possible high-res prints, or is the difference in grain so small that it's basically negligible?
    Both have very similar resolving power.

    Regarding grain, see "image structure section" in page 3 of the datasheets, telling "Print Grain Index".

    https://imaging.kodakalaris.com/site...portra_400.pdf
    https://imaging.kodakalaris.com/site...portra_160.pdf

    From a 4x5" shot at 16x20" enlargement you won't notice grain from the 160 but you'll start perceiving grain from the 400.

    Anyway shot a 35mm roll and enlarge to different ratios scenes having a wide illumination range, to see grain of each film at different enlargement ratios, different under/overexposure, and different colors. Some colors have more grain... Blue has way more (x3 grain size) than red. Best is you check that on your own to see what suits your taste, just use 35mm rolls to explore that.

    If you are to do hybrid process then you may use some noise reduction software.


    I don't think 400 is warmer or colder than 160, this depends on post-processing. What is true is that 160 has a warm shift in the extreme highlights, this is a nice effect. See the sensitometric curves in the 160 datasheet, the Red channel is shouldered in the extreme highlights, like Vision 3. Anyway this can be hacked in Ps.


    Another difference is spectral response, 160 has a larger Green-Red separation, perhaps to deliver better skin tones or textures.

    Note that you may have variable color shifts in long exposures, shifts in the highlights may be different than in the shadows, this may contribute to creative aesthetics, again, learn all that with 35mm rolls.

  10. #10
    Andrej Gregov
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    Re: What color negative/transparency would you recommend for night photography?

    In my experience Portra 400 images are warmer than 160--I've diffed color corrected prints next to one another. There's clearly more color in 400 images. Kodak has made some handy scales to help visualize the difference between the various color films in saturation and grain (see attached below or link).

    https://imaging.kodakalaris.com/site...ochure2018.pdf

    That said, if you're shooting 4x5, I doubt you'll see significant grain differences between 400 and 160. I've enlarged Portra 400 4x5 images to 20x24 (analog C prints) without grain issues to my eyes at least. Portra 800 (135 or 120) that's a different story. 800 is a very grainy film.

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