Jewelry Photography Film Types

The film that I’m going to recommend, and that I use myself, is 64 ISO Tungsten Ecktachrome film. It only comes in 36 - shot rolls. It is used with photoflood bulbs. Even though it says 64 ISO on the box, in actual practice you set the ISO on the camera to 50 (check the instructions that come with the film). You can happily use Tungsten Fujichrome film.

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By Charles Lewton-BrainMore from this author

The film that I'm going to recommend, and that I use myself, is 64 ISO Tungsten Ecktachrome film. It only comes in 36 - shot rolls. It is used with photoflood bulbs.

64 ISO Tungsten Film

Even though it says 64 ISO on the box, in actual practice you set the ISO on the camera to 50 (check the instructions that come with the film). You can happily use Tungsten Fujichrome film, and other brands as well, but I tend to prefer the Kodak, simply because it's what I'm used to. Fujichrome is however quite acceptable, works great, and seems to be similar. You should find the letter 'T' next to the film ISO on tungsten film. It is worth checking for this as I've seen more than one person blow a roll of film of their objects by getting daylight film because they didn't check for the 'T' on the box of film they bought. Always buy more than one roll of film - you don't want to be stuck needing one at a critical moment.

Professional films come out of a refrigerator at the photo shop and are stored in one before and after use. I always buy in bulk packs of twenty and get a hefty discount because of it. If you buy film with the same emulsion batch number (usually the case when buying twenty at once) you can be assured of consistency in color amongst them as there are slight differences in color in every emulsion batch produced. As long as it is in a refrigerator the film can be stored almost indefinitely. Some photographers store film in the freezer compartment of their refrigerator.

With the Tungsten Ecktachrome film that I recommend, there is a tendency to render blues and greens quite well and reds come out pretty well. The Fuji films tend to have a little bit more of a bias towards the blue and the green, so if your work has a lot of blue and green in it, perhaps you wish to consider Fuji. Again, choose a film type and try and live with it. If they are having slides reproduced in a magazine some photographers will take a slide of a Kodak Color Patch Strip (available from photo suppliers) at the same time as they shoot the objects. This slide is sent in with the slides for reproduction and can help the printer (if they bother) to better match the actual colors of the work (Meltzer, p 48).

Important: set your camera to 50 ISO with the 64T ISO film and photofloods

Kodachrome slide film

Some professionals use Kodachrome film. Kodachrome is a daylight film, and it has to be processed by Kodak approved labs, which means that you can't shoot a roll of Kodachrome film and have it this afternoon like you can with the other slide films: it must be mailed off for processing. With Kodachrome the advantage is that it gives you warmer tones in the reds and in the pinks, so some professionals prefer Kodachrome, particularly for the flesh tones in shooting people, which in my case, because I'm shooting jewelry and craft objects, is not an issue. If the objects you are shooting have a lot of reds and yellows in them you might try it out. If you use Kodachrome film for the drop shadow photo system you will have to use the daylight balanced photofloods (blue bulbs) or the appropriate filter to modify the tungsten lighting.

According to Collins, Kodachrome also has the best dye stability of any film (as long as it is stored in the dark) but fades faster than any of them upon projection, requiring duplicates for actual projection use. Meltzer prefers Kodachrome 25 or 64 over other film types for shooting craft objects (Meltzer, p 25).

160 ISO Tungsten Film

Many professionals will use 160 ISO Tungsten Ecktachrome film for studio work. The reason that they do this is because they're shooting people, and people move and breathe and walk around, so they need to have a faster shutter speed in order not to have blurred pictures, but with our system we're shooting immobile jewelry, ceramics or other small objects so we don't have to worry about having to use a fast shutter speed. I also believe that we get better results, better grain and better control over our depth of field by choosing a lower ISO film, such as the ISO 64 film, than we'd ever get with the ISO 160 film. I have had troubles when using the ISO 160 - a result I think of being used to the ISO 64 because I've seen great results from professionals who only use the ISO 160 even when shooting craft objects. Again, a chosen fixed film type lets you learn it and control the results. If you want to learn with the ISO 160T it is in general slightly more available than the ISO 64T.

Let the Film Warm Up for 15 Minutes

The films we use (for example the 64 ISO Tungsten Ecktachrome) should be stored in a refrigerator until use. Take it out a good fifteen minutes before use so it warms up slowly; this avoids condensation problems. After you have shot the roll put it back into a fridge until you get around to having it processed. I keep all my films in a refrigerator to avoid them 'maturing.' Watch out for putting film onto a radiator or allowing it to get hot by accident - heat can really wreck film.

Black and White Film

Black and white film is another thing to consider and at this point I would recommend TMax ISO 400 film, just for your general purpose black and white photographs. I've also used Kodak Plus - X. Kodak Technical Pan film is recommended by Collins. Another film that I've used a fair bit recently is Ilford XP2. The main advantage of Ilford XP2 is that it can be processed in any one - hour photo machine, using what's called the C 41 color print process, and this means that you can shoot a roll of black and white film and have the negatives back very quickly, which is an advantage when compared with having standard black and white done commercially. If you want prints done on a standard one - hour color printing machine this is not a problem, but you have to tell the photo shop to use the correct black and white paper to print on, as otherwise you will get a yellowish or bluish toned image - which may have a certain charm but is usually not useful for PR purposes which is generally the point of making black and white prints.

Many quick - print photo shops send out to do the black and white printing even on a color printing machine so you may have to ask around a bit to find a place whose service suits your needs in terms of time and cost. If a shop has the special black and white paper on hand it can be anywhere from hours to several days to get the black and white prints back.

I believe the best route for black and white printing is to print it yourself. It is not that hard to do, is the least costly option and offers the most control of your results. You can learn how to do adequate black and white prints in an afternoon from a photographer with a darkroom. Essentials include a good enlarger, the use of test strips and probably RC (rapid) photo paper, not too contrasty. Once the XP2 negatives have been processed they can be printed like any normal black and white film negative. It is usually possible to find a darkroom to borrow once or twice a year and then print like mad (at least 8 of each print is useful for PR reasons). If you can't borrow access most cities have a darkroom rental service for a reasonable cost if you are going in with a plan to test strip and batch print rapidly. The ability to manipulate things in the darkroom can to some extent compensate for errors in image making and allow some flexibility in contrast control.

For printing for reproduction I like Polycontrast glossy RC paper, printed at a contrast level of 2 or 3. A batch printing procedure for beginners is described in the appendices.

Magazines do not, in my experience, print color shots of one's work unless one is quite famous; they print black and white, so it's really important to know how to do black and white photography. The nice thing about taking black and white photographs is you don't have to use any fancy lighting; anything counts, anything at all - desk lamps, it doesn't matter, anything. The hard part is that it's really hard to see tone, contrast and so on in terms of black and white when what your eyes are used to seeing is color. Being able to do this is a matter of practice and is tricky. You've got to watch contrast when you're shooting black and white; you have to make sure the lighting is very, very even, and tonally average, of course with some slight amount of deep blacks and white whites. As always watch out for hot spots (too bright an area on the object).

Black and white film can be used to copy from slides to obtain black and white prints of color slides that you like. You can project a slide onto a white wall or card, set up the camera as close a possible to parallel and centered on the projected image and take the shot. If the red areas come out too light and the blue too dark consider experimenting with a filter like a Wratten 82A (Meltzer, p 100). One can shoot black and white film on a slide duplicator for a similar effect. Jeff Wilkins, a Calgary artist suggests using a new black and white transparency film called Scala 200 for black and white slides for magazines to work from.

Color Print Film

Some people will use the daylight filter, or daylight bulbs, and shoot daylight film prints of their objects: color prints. The reason for this is so that they can have them in a portfolio, so they can get reprints made and pass them out and send them on. Are they useful? Magazines aren't going to use them, but if you have a color print, you can then use a copy stand and make a slide off that. So for some people that's their route; they do all color prints, and if they need slides, they shoot slides of the prints. Note that color print negatives are apparently even less stable than color transparency (slide) films over the long haul. Color prints can be a positive part of a presentation to a client or a gallery but unless larger than 4″ x 6″ they feel a little like a 'snapshot' (not a high - status reference), so if using them in presentations change the context and references for the viewer and print them at 8″ x 10″ which is definitely more impressive.

You can also buy special films from Los Angeles which are often advertised in the backs of photography magazines which are actually movie film. It is 35 millimeter film; it's very high - detail and is interesting because the same film can be used to make prints or slides, both, and that has advantages for some people. I didn't like it personally when I tried it; but some people swear by it.

One of the other things about color prints is that, providing you either know how to print them yourself or are willing to pay someone, there is some possible flexibility and control of the final image available.

I don't personally use color prints much; I stick to color slides and if I need a print then I have one made from the slide. Ilfochrome (Cibachrome) (a direct print from the slide) gave me my best results but it is getting harder to find this process now. Your camera shop may just shoot an internegative of your slide onto color print film and then print it (that is, they take a color print photo of your slide). Ask them what your best route for quality is and what options are available to you. Very good laser photocopies from slides are available and quality can go from reasonable for the cost to an expensive almost perfect reproduction of the image. There tends to be an increase in image contrast in most reproduction and printing methods.

Where color prints make sense is in portfolios. Crys Harse reports that when she approached German galleries for an exhibition she had to have her slides made into color prints before they would deal with her.

Excerpt from the book “Small Scale Photography”
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Charles Lewton-Brain

Master goldsmith Charles Lewton-Brain trained, studied and worked in Germany, Canada and the United States to learn the skills he uses. Charles Lewton-Brain is one of the original creators of Ganoksin.

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