Street photography on slow film — wide open (50mm f1.8)

Last year I was really exited about Kodak Tri-x 400, that I usually pushed one stop to 800. I still enjoy very much the look and shooting experience that it gives, but as usual, after a while, you just start to crave for something different.

I’m experimenting with a bunch of different films at the moment and Ilford Pan F+ has been on my todo list for a long time. It has an ISO rating of 50 which makes is a nice summer day film. It is almost the opposite to my usual Tri-x setup. It’s extremely slow and gives really smooth look, where as Tri-x is grainy and super fast.

I developed these shots with D-76, 1:1 dilution. I used my Olympus OM-2n with the 50mm f1.8 lens. I was very curious to try shooting wide open on a bright sunny day like this. I usually want to shoot at smaller apertures, something like f8 usually, but now that I had the chance to shoot at f1.8 or f2.8, I just could not resist trying. Obviously practically all my action shots of moving targets were complete failures. I tried shooting bicycle riders, which I won’t be trying ever again on such large apertures — unless I really want to waste film. The focus was impossible to nail. Even slightly more stationary subjects were hard to focus with my usual street photography style. If I’m photographing people and don’t want to draw much attention, I usually focus really fast and I really need that larger aperture to nail it. I was surprised to see just how much mis-focused shots I had, even though I was pretty sure I nailed them. Good reminder that f1.8/2.8 truly has an amazingly shallow depth of field. Hats of to any of you who can actually shoot anything moving, on film, wide open with f1.8 or faster. I can’t even imagine how much I’d waste film attempting to nail the focus with something like f1.1 — geez!

But assuming that focusing wasn’t the issue, I really enjoyed shooting wide open for a change. It was good for creating abstractions and perhaps more artistic, rather than documentary mood. Even though, these are of course both. I especially enjoyed some of the nice window reflections that were nicely out of focus. Ilford Pan F+ is smooth and creamy, which looks good with the so called bokeh. I usually don’t like the combination of bokeh and grain, especially on black and white. Pan F has the right characteristics for fooling around with smooth bokeh. I’ll definitely continue my journey with the slow films this summer!

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