Working with Film

September 9, 2014

Recently I have started working with film more often and earlier this year I came across a camera that I had longed to own. A Rolleiflex 2.8 Planar. These cameras were favoured by the likes of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Diane Arbus, Robert Capa, Bert Stern and Vivian Maier. One of my ‘heros’, David Bailey swears by the camera and indeed used a Rollei to carve out his recognisable style in his celebrity portraiture. An amusing article appeared on Sky News when Bailey photographed the Her Majesty The Queens Birthday Portrait. The headline read ‘Bailey’s Queen Portrait In ‘Instagram Style”. This of course was referencing the square format that the Rolleiflex captures on 120 medium format film. Given his use of the format since the 60’s it is clear that Instagram was in fact inspired by the use of these cameras. My own Rollei is actually a 1955 2.8D model with the manufacture of the original Rollei twin lens mechanical camera dating back to 1929 at the Franke & Heidecke factory in Germany.

Once I had run a test roll with the camera I sent it away to Brian Mickleboro who was the chief engineer at the UK Rolleiflex Factory. There is nothing that he does not know about these cameras and although retired, still performs servicing on them for customers today. I had a thorough clean, lube and adjust making sure the optics were clean inside and out, the focus mechanism smooth and the shutter speeds all accurate. It works like a dream and produces excellent results. It has become my favourite camera. Whilst it may not be practical to use it on all client jobs given turnarounds for processing  and other digital post processing requirements I have started to implement it into my portrait work. As a photographer that shoots a lot of musicians it is a camera I have started taking along to shoots in addition to digital kit. It lends itself to this kind of work and there is something about capturing artists on film that feels special to me. The archival nature perhaps, living on a physical frame of film instead of ones and zeros in a digital file. Here are a few examples of portraits shot over the summer. I prefer black and white to colour and use Kodak TriX 400 film for its contrast, tone and grain. That said, It performs beautifully with colour film in which case I use Kodak Portra.

The image above of Matt Blake went on to be used for his EP cover artwork along with another image from the shoot for the back cover of the cd sleeve. The range in the tones captured on film are fantastic and the images have an honesty about them. Without a darkroom of my own I haven’t had the pleasure of making prints from the negatives as yet. Instead, they are scanned at a pro lab and what you see here in terms of the exposure and composition is straight from the negative! The great thing about using film is the change in approach required. Many photographers who shoot film talk of slowing down, being considerate and aiming to get the image right in camera unlike with digital where it is easy to get close and fix anything in post that isn’t quite there. It really is rewarding to make images as you envisaged them and know that it was your mind that made the picture and not a computer processor and software. The whole process from capture to the presentation all feels more real. I find the camera inspires me in the way I see things. Looking down through a ground glass screen and seeing from a completely different perspective is fascinating. Also, it completely changes the way I communicate with whoever I am shooting without having a camera covering my face.

Interestingly, this month saw the launch of rolleiflex.co.uk and is the exclusive authorised dealer of DHW Fototechnik products in the United Kingdom, and the only ecommerce store in the EU. They sell used Rolleiflex equipment as well as brand new models that are still manufactured in the original Rollei factory in Germany. You can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Anybody interested in being photographed on film using this camera should enquire via the contact page and I will provide a quote.