I Shot a Roll of Portra 800 by Holly Ferris

Dec 2, 2019
5 min read

I recently started my film journey again after a long, 12 year break. I started my career shooting film (35mm) but then as times changed I went digital with the rest of the world. In October, I purchased my first medium format film camera, the Mamiya RB67.

This camera is the first camera to humble me as a photographer. I’ve always been able to pick up any camera and produce a beautiful image but this camera is not easy to use. I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and shoot in situations that I otherwise wouldn’t; shooting at night on film. I’ve been experimenting with long exposure ever since I got the camera.

When I shoot digital, things are predictable. I know what settings will produce certain images and shots aren’t intentional. I snap, snap, snap and then cull through tons of images and end up deleting 2/3 of them since many are almost identical. One thing that appealed to me most about the RB67 was the technical aspect of this camera, you can’t just snap, snap, snap on a camera like the Mamiya RB67, there’s too many steps to taking a photo for that. On digital, I shoot what I know and what I’ve known for many years; daytime during golden hour. With the RB67, I wanted to step out of that comfort zone and I’ve truly found a new passion for shooting night photography; something I actually struggled with shooting digital.

“…each image looks like I hit pause in a movie”

I chose Portra 800 because it’s been the best film for night shots that I’ve tried so far. I love everything about long exposure night shots; the contrast, the lights, how each image looks like I hit pause in a movie; everything these shots capture draws me in. Shooting at night on film is risky and you don’t truly know what’s going to happen with each shot. After each of these I thought to myself “I hope that turns out”. I was, in a sense, shooting blindly the whole night because you never know what an image will look like until you develop the roll.

When I went out to get these I went with a few friends around downtown Raleigh. I was the only one shooting film that night and I only shot 10 images. I know that my digital counterparts likely had at least 100 shots at different angles of the same scene and were able to experiment. I felt a little silly walking block after block to set up my tripod for one single shot but that’s what it means to shoot with intention.

With the RB67 there are quite a few steps involved with taking a single image: I would walk to my spot I wanted to shoot, set up the tripod for the right height, make sure my shutter release cable was in, set my lens for the shutter speed and aperture I wanted, make sure the dark slide is removed, turn the shutter dial so it’s not locked, have one last look through the waist level view finder, look up at my scene, fire the shutter release cable, then start my phones stopwatch at the same time and wait.

There are so many steps for taking one single photo and that’s what makes this camera and this kind of photography so special. Shooting with intention is my favorite thing about shooting film and shooting long exposure on film not only makes me shoot with intention but also keeps me patient. You have to think about your shot, your settings, envision the outcome, and even keep track of time as you keep the shutter open for just the perfect amount of time to capture the images.

These were all shot on the Mamiya Sekor C 90mm F3.8 Lens at f/8 and 30-45 seconds. Scenes with more light around I did 30 seconds and those with less I did 45. The last one with the yellow trees on either side was a full minute because it was really dark down that street.

By Holly Ferris

Instagram: @itsthesnaplife

Website: www.lafleurphotography.net


If you’re interested in other low light experiments on film, here are a few articles that you should check out:

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