For a while now, I’ve thought that for some reason, I don’t enjoy excessive use of bokeh (that trendy background blur) on my film photographs. I like grain a lot. I like bokeh too, but not the two combined. For some reason, in my opinion, the two just don’t seem to mix right.
Couple of weeks ago I made this portrait on the street. I decided to shoot it at f1.8 like a good little portrait shooter. I also had a grainy film in my camera. The image should’ve turned out nicely, but I find the background extremely non-pleasing. That’s when I realised and made a conscious observation, that what’s been bugging me about background blur on film photos, is the grain.
For now on I try to keep that in mind and try to avoid large aperture on grainy film. To be honest, I don’t necessarily enjoy over blown f1.8 backgrounds that much, but I know from a personal experience, that it may be extremely hard to resist shooting wide open when you’re given the chance. For years I shot mostly with point-and-shoots and iPhone and getting back to better equipment lead me to irresistible urges to shoot everything… and I mean EVERYTHING with f1.8. I got bored of that rather quickly, after realising that there’s practically not a single point in my images in focus. Also, nailing the focus with such a large aperture caused me to miss the focus all together more often than I would have liked to. And finally it is of course just pointless to shoot wide open just because you can. Looking at how people are generally shooting nowadays on Instagram etc., I can’t often see a legit reason to blow backgrounds like that. It just happens to be trendy and seemingly an easy way to level up your photography game.
In a way, I’ve known for a long time, that bokeh and film doesn’t necessarily mix too well, but I haven’t made a mental note of it. I suspected it, but never made the connection entirely. Maybe that is just a personal preference and I’m sure someone points out to me beautiful grainy film photos now, with totally out of focus backgrounds.
My preferred background is not entirely on focus nor bokeh. It’s something classical and moderate. Something in between. In general, I like to shoot with f8. Depending on the distances between the camera, subject and the background, it generally gives a sophisticated amount of background blur. Not too much to even call it bokeh.
On very fine films, such as Kodak T-Max 100, that has very small amount of grain, bokeh looks so much better than on grainy films. And for some reason I enjoy bokeh on color images more as well. Below are couple of images I shot of my dogs last spring. The images were shot on Canon AE-1 and 35mm f2.8 aperture, which is the maximum aperture of that lens. I even used red filter in order to be able to shoot wide open on such a bright spring day. As you may notice from the setup, I was going after blurry backgrounds. I remember being a bit worried though of how the images would turn out, because I had pretty disappointing results previously on bokeh and film. I was pleasantly surprised though.