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Reviving the Magic: Rediscovering Medium Format Slide Film Photography

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Medium format slide film photography is a captivating art form that has enthralled photographers for decades. The combination of medium format cameras and slide film unlocks a world of possibilities, allowing photographers to create images that are both visually stunning and timeless. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into its total allure and unique characteristics. From the exceptional saturation and vibrancy to the fine grain, high resolution, limited dynamic range, and even the projection of slide film images, we will explore every aspect of this remarkable medium. Join us on this journey of rediscovery and find inspiration to elevate your slide film photography to new heights.

A sunset scene overlooking Canary Wharf. A long exposure on Provia 100F film shot with the Fuji GL-690.
A sunset scene overlooking Canary Wharf. A long exposure on Provia 100F film shot with the Fuji GL-690.
 

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The Allure of Medium Format Slide Film

Medium format photography stands out for its larger film sizes compared to the standard 35mm format. This increased image resolution surpasses what can be achieved with smaller formats, allowing for exceptional detail and clarity. When shooting with medium format cameras, equivalent focal-length lenses exhibit minimal distortion, resulting in straighter architectural lines and more flattering portraits. But what sets slide film apart? Let's explore the unique allure of medium format slide film photography.


Exceptional Saturation and Vibrancy

Slide film - also known as colour reversal, positive or transparency film - is renowned for its remarkable saturation and vibrant colours. The images produced with slide film possess a depth and richness that are truly captivating. Unlike colour negative film, colour reversal film undergoes a specific development process that preserves the original colours of the scene with minimal alterations. This results in images that maintain the true vibrancy and saturation of the subject, offering a more faithful representation of the captured moment. Dive into the world of vibrant hues and discover the power of saturation in slide film photography.

Golden hour shot of Charlton House on Velvia 100 film shot with the Kiev 60.
Golden hour shot of Charlton House on Velvia 100 film shot with the Kiev 60.

Fine Grain and High Resolution

One of the remarkable characteristics of reversal film is its fine grain structure. When compared to colour negative film, it exhibits a finer and more subtle grain pattern. This characteristic contributes to the overall sharpness and detail of the image, resulting in images that are crisp and defined, even when enlarged. The fine grain of colour reversal film is a result of the film's emulsion and the specific manufacturing process. By using smaller and more tightly packed grains, colour transparency film captures intricate textures, delicate nuances, and subtle tonal gradations with exceptional precision. The effect is compounded by using medium format film. Discover the artistry of fine grain and revel in the sharpness and detail that transparency film brings to your images.


Limited Dynamic Range

I was originally put off shooting slide film because I had heard that you needed to be incredibly precise with your exposure otherwise the whole shot would be ruined. Frankly, when I was first shooting film, I didn’t have enough confidence in my ability and so I kept away.

- Holly Gilman, A Year in Slide Film Part 1 – Shooting | 35mmc


One of the clear drawbacks of colour reversal film is its limited dynamic range compared to other film types, such as colour negative film. Dynamic range refers to the range of brightness levels that a film can capture, from deep shadows to bright highlights. Transparency film has a narrower latitude, meaning it can struggle to retain detail in extremely bright or dark areas of a scene. This limited dynamic range is a trade-off for the intensified saturation and vibrant colours that reversal film offers. It requires careful exposure and metering techniques to maintain details in both highlights and shadows, ensuring that the image retains its visual impact and balanced tonality. Master the art of exposure and unlock the full potential of slide film photography.


Shooting Techniques for Slide Film

[M]y advice with slide film, try it out. Knowing the right situation to shoot is important to get the most out of it.

- Albert Genato, Medium Format Slide Film | Albert Genato Photography


To truly excel in medium format slide film photography, one must develop a thorough understanding of the shooting techniques that maximise the medium's unique characteristics. From metering and exposure to composition and storytelling, every aspect plays a vital role in capturing striking transparency film images. Let's explore a range of practical tips and tricks to enhance your transparency film shooting experience.


Metering and Exposure

  • Utilise a handheld light meter or the built-in metering system of your camera for precise exposure readings.

  • Make necessary adjustments to achieve balanced exposures that bring out the full potential of colour reversal film.

  • Interpret metering readings and understand the impact of exposure settings on the final image.

Composition and Storytelling

  • Consider the placement of subjects, leading lines, and framing elements to guide the viewer's gaze.

  • Infuse depth and narrative into your slide film images through thoughtful composition.

  • Explore the principles of composition and storytelling to elevate your slide film photography.

Embracing Natural Light

  • Seek environments with distinct contrast and abundant natural light.

  • Capture scenes with strong shadows, bright highlights, and a wide range of tonal values.

  • Harness the interplay of light and shadow to create visually striking and dynamic transparencies.

Experimenting with Slide Film Stocks

  • Explore different slide film stocks to understand their unique characteristics and colour rendition.

  • Discover the nuances of each film stock and learn to harness their distinct qualities.

  • Experiment with various slide film stocks to find the ones that resonate with your artistic vision.

Filters for Slide Film

  • Enhance or alter colours and contrast using filters such as polarising filters, neutral density filters, and graduated neutral density filters.

  • Understand how different filters can transform your transparencies and add a new dimension to your work.

Capturing Landscapes and Portraits

  • Utilise the exceptional detail, vibrant colours, and fine grain of colour reversal film to bring landscapes to life.

  • Capture captivating and expressive portraits using the unique qualities of colour reversal film.

  • Explore the techniques and considerations specific to capturing stunning landscapes and portraits with reversal film.

The Greenwich riverside shot from the Isle of Dogs on Ektachrome E100 film, shot on the Fuji GL-690.
The Greenwich riverside shot from the Isle of Dogs on Ektachrome E100 film, shot on the Fuji GL-690.

Showcasing Transparencies

Slide film photography produces transparencies that are meant to be seen and appreciated. From exhibitions to fine art prints, there are various ways to showcase and share the magic of your slide film images.


Projection of Transparencies

[S]lide film was the go to for the average Joe shooting his family holidays – this made no sense to me alongside the idea that these films had to be perfectly exposed. However if you think about point and shoot cameras in the 1980s and 1990s, they were pretty good at exposing for you so actually this may not be as contradictory as first thought.

- Holly Gilman, A Year in Slide Film Part 1 – Shooting | 35mmc


One of the unique and captivating ways to showcase slide film images is through projection. Projecting transparencies onto a large screen or surface allows viewers to immerse themselves in the rich colours, fine details, and vibrant saturation that slide film offers. The projected images come to life, creating a mesmerising visual experience.


To project slide film images, you will need a slide projector specifically designed for this purpose. Here are some key steps to follow:

  1. Prepare the slides: Mount your slide film images in slide mounts or carriers, ensuring they are clean and free from dust or scratches. Arrange them in the desired order for your presentation.

  2. Set up the projector: Position the slide projector on a stable surface, and connect it to a power source. Adjust the focus and aperture settings according to your preferences and the lighting conditions.

  3. Create the ambience: Dim the lights in the room to enhance the impact of the projected images. This allows the colours and details to stand out, creating a more immersive viewing experience.

  4. Start the projection: Load the slide mounts or carriers into the projector and turn it on. The projected images will come to life, revealing the unique qualities of slide film, such as exceptional saturation, fine grain, and vibrant colours.

  5. Narrate the presentation: If desired, provide commentary or narration as you showcase your slide film images. Share the stories behind the photographs, the inspiration behind them, and any technical details that may enhance the viewer's understanding and appreciation.

  6. Engage with the audience: After the presentation, encourage the audience to ask questions, share their thoughts, and engage in discussions about the slide film images. This interaction allows for a deeper connection and appreciation of your work.

Projection of transparencies offers a dynamic and immersive way to share the magic of this medium. It allows viewers to experience the unique qualities of slide film on a larger scale, where the colours, details, and vibrancy come to life in a captivating manner. Consider incorporating projection as part of your showcasing strategy to create an unforgettable visual experience for your audience.


Printing Fine Art Prints

To truly showcase the richness and detail of colour reversal film, it's essential to choose high-quality printing services that understand the unique qualities of the medium. Fine art prints allow you to transform your slide film images into tangible works of art. Look for printing services that specialise in positives, as they can provide expert colour management and attention to detail to ensure your prints accurately reflect the vibrancy and saturation inherent in your images. Whether you choose to display your prints in a gallery or share them with collectors, fine art prints are a testament to the enduring beauty of slide film photography.


Online Portfolios and Galleries

In today's digital age, building an online presence is crucial for showcasing your slide film work to a wider audience. Create a portfolio website dedicated to your slide film photography or utilise photography platforms and communities that cater to film enthusiasts and art appreciators. Curate your slide film images to present a cohesive and captivating body of work. Engage with the community by sharing your techniques, experiences, and insights. Online portfolios and galleries provide an opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals, receive feedback, and gain recognition for your slide film photography.


The Cibachrome/Ilfochrome Process: Preserving the Richness of Slide Film

The Cibachrome/Ilfochrome process, also known as the dye destruction process, was a unique and highly regarded method for producing vibrant and long-lasting prints from reversal film. Developed by Ciba-Geigy in the 1960s, this process allowed photographers to create stunning prints that retained the exceptional saturation, vibrancy, and detail inherent in their positives.


Unlike traditional colour printing processes, the Cibachrome/Ilfochrome process involved the direct transfer of dyes onto a light-sensitive paper. This method enabled the preservation of the original colours captured on reversal film with remarkable accuracy and intensity. The resulting prints exhibited rich, saturated colours and a three-dimensional depth that truly brought colour reversal film images to life.


The Cibachrome/Ilfochrome process was highly regarded for its archival quality. The prints produced using this process were known for their exceptional longevity, resisting fading and colour shifts over time. This made them highly sought after by photographers and collectors alike.


While the Cibachrome/Ilfochrome process is no longer widely practised, there are digital alternatives available that aim to replicate the unique qualities of these prints. Digital methods strive to capture the vibrant colours, exceptional saturation, and archival quality of the Cibachrome/Ilfochrome prints, allowing photographers to continue showcasing their slide film images in a manner reminiscent of this historic process.

It used to be possible to make photographic prints from slides using a process called Cibachrome (later known as Ilfochrome), but the supplies are no longer available. Color slide film can be scanned, but it looks best when projected.

- Aaron Gold, The absolute beginner’s guide to film photography: Color slide film | DPReview


Whether through projection, fine art prints, online portfolios, or digital reproductions inspired by the Cibachrome/Ilfochrome process, each method offers a unique way to showcase the richness and beauty of slide film. Explore these options and find the best way to share the magic of your slide film images with the world.

Canary Wharf from Millwall Dock. Ektachrome E100 film on the Fuji GL-690.
Canary Wharf from Millwall Dock. Ektachrome E100 film on the Fuji GL-690.

Conclusion

Medium format slide film photography offers a unique and captivating experience. The exceptional saturation, vibrancy, fine grain, high resolution, limited dynamic range, and even the projection of slide film images combine to create images that are visually striking and timeless. By mastering the shooting techniques, understanding the medium's characteristics, and showcasing your work through projection, fine art prints, or online platforms, you can fully immerse yourself in the magic of medium format slide film photography. Embrace the richness of colours, the intricacy of details, and the artistry that slide film brings to your photographic journey. Let your creativity soar and capture images that will stand the test of time.

 

Here at Michael Elliott Photography, I pride myself on using the finest medium format camera systems and films to produce my wall art. Why not stop by the shop and check out the latest in black and white fine art prints, or get in touch and see if I can produce something bespoke for your walls?

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