IN THE FIELD: The Archives

During the holiday season I took some time out to look through my film archives. I have thousands of slides in protective pages and in those little yellow boxes that came back from the processing lab. I didn’t review all of the slides, or I would still be at it come this time next year.

Back in the day, before digital cameras became commonplace, we used film cameras. And there were many types of film available, ranging from slow to medium speed (ISO 25-400) slide films to slow to fast speed (ISO 50-800) print films. Film had a quirky trait when exposed for long periods of time. When exposures started to reach the 30 second mark or less, depending on the film and light available, the film’s ability to render true colors would shift throughout the color spectrum. This was known as reciprocity failure and could be used to the photographer’s advantage if abstract images were the main goal. Or the photographer wanted to experiment.

The film I used for the photo in this post was Kodachrome 64. The aperture I used was probably f16 or f22 and the shutter speed was most likely around 25 seconds. Available light was minimal since the sun had already set and it was almost dark.

This photo is a small portion of an ice patch near the edge of a creek. I took several shots at various locations along the water’s edge. The color shift varied from frame to frame, depending on how long the exposures were. The rainbow lens flare in the upper corners of the frame may have been caused the light reflecting off the water. Because of the long exposure, the color of the ice shifted from white to blue, with spots of lavender, giving it a surreal look.

For me, the hardest thing about using film was waiting to see the results from the photo lab. Good or bad.


  1. December 28, 2011 at 4:29 pm

    beautiful David !! this is one of your best photos.. the color cast definitely adds to the dark mood and I like it very much ! i did not notice the flare until i read your description.

    If you like, you could easily crop that section without taking anything significant from the feel as my eyes dont want to go up to the edges, it is drawn towards the beautiful patterns in centre and the right.

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:20 am

      Hey thanks Abu! I was going to crop out the lens flares, but then thought what the heck. Leave ’em in to show what happens with film and long exposures. It was a lot of fun because you never knew what the results would be!

  2. December 28, 2011 at 5:27 pm

    Cosmic image there! Cool.

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:26 am

      Thanks T, it really isn’t ice but actually it’s an unnamed nebula of stars and gas from the other side of our galaxy. My starship was on auto pilot and took a wrong turn. I have other images from that excursion that I will post in a few days…don’t want to over do things.

  3. December 28, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Great abstract, David. If it was printed and hanged in a gallery, it would probably sell for mucho money. 🙂

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:28 am

      Thanks Bob, hmmmm I do have others to scan that may do well also!

  4. December 28, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Love the color and texture on the photo, David. I think it was very well done.

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Thanks Gracie! This series came out really well…of course the results were always a surprise because of the waiting from the lab. Plus you never knew how the film would react!

  5. Jo Woolf
    December 29, 2011 at 2:20 am

    Beautiful pic – I love the colours.

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:30 am

      Thanks Jo, it was amazing to see how the colors would shift…a total guessing game!

  6. December 29, 2011 at 4:17 am

    This is amazing. You captured such a nice image… Fascinated me. Thank you dear David, with my love, nia

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:36 am

      Thank you Nia, the results were always a surprise…I had to use a flashlight to see the camera settings and then calculate the exposure and hope for the best!

  7. December 29, 2011 at 5:30 am

    Fascinating. It makes for a really beautiful and moody abstract.

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:38 am

      Thanks Meanderer, It was fun trying to guess what the final result would be. With the dark conditions and long exposures, the outcome was always different!

  8. Nandini
    December 29, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Interesting outcome. Really liked the blue and the little rainbows at the edges. Nice post! 🙂

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:39 am

      Thanks Nandini, I thought the little lens flares added a bit of interest although the shot works well without them too!

  9. December 29, 2011 at 9:33 am

    A beautiful abstract image with gorgeous colors! If you hadn’t explained, I’d never have guessed what the subject was.

    • December 29, 2011 at 9:46 am

      Thanks Lee, I have several more that Sharon and I took that evening and the outcome was completely different. They look more like ice rather than such an abstract image. I’ll post them in a few days…don’t want to over do things. Wait and see!

  10. December 29, 2011 at 9:47 am

    Nice abstract here, David. Fun playing with film back in the day. 🙂

    • December 29, 2011 at 11:34 am

      Thanks Katie! It sure was fun playing. In fact, last week I found two rolls that I never processed. Unfortunately one of them is a Kodachrome so it’s going to take some research to see if anyone still processes that film. I have no idea what may be on that film.
      Now I just have to see if some of those effects work in the digital age.Hmmmmm

  11. Kristina
    December 29, 2011 at 10:46 am

    Beautiful image 🙂 Love the richness of the colour!

    • December 29, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Thanks Kristina! The color was always a surprise because you never really knew how the film would react!

  12. December 29, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I like the colors!

    • December 29, 2011 at 1:49 pm

      Yes the colors are pretty cool!

  13. December 30, 2011 at 8:29 am

    It’s been a long time since I’ve heard anyone talk about reciprocity failure.

    Like you, I’ve bot boxes and boxes of old negatives and slides. Only rarely have I gone back and digitized any of them. It’s so much easier to review a digital archive.

    Steve Schwartzman

    • December 30, 2011 at 9:22 am

      Yeah I figured that would bring back memories for some of us old timers…not that I’m old…just been shooting since the early 80’s. I haven’t scanned in very many of the old slides, but it is fun to go back and reminisce. And you are right, digital archives are way easier to review!

  14. January 1, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Beautiful photo David! The color, the flare/rainbow, the light everything makes this a great image! And it sounds me strange reading about film as something from …another age ! Yes, waiting for the result from the photo lab is/was hard…but in meantime so exciting when the (sometimes yellow) boxes arrive 🙂

  15. January 2, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Thanks Robert! I figured the mention of the little yellow boxes would trigger some memories…and it does seem like another age. I still have all my film cameras and have been itching to get them out again…need to find a processing source around here though.

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