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My approach of getting perfect exposure when shooting with ASA400 film

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

A guest blog by @Hisham Ahmad

This is going to be a long read. If you are interested to know more, please read on, otherwise, I do not know how I am going to explain it in a very short way – because I can’t.

So, let’s start, shall we?

  • Understanding the objective of the photoshoot

This is important. Because your objective will determine how you are going to approach your subject and how you are going to manage the aperture and shutter speed during the photoshoot later on.

For me, my objective of doing street photography are as follows:

  • To be as discreet as possible because I do not want to have any conversation with my subjects on the street. To be honest, I’m not comfortable talking to the strangers.

  • I’m particularly looking for a layers in my frame. Therefore, large depth of field is very important for me. (I will explain further about this in the next topic)

  • Understanding what is DOF and its relationship with aperture

If you are into photography, you MUST know about this. If not, you might as well shoot with a digital camera (with auto mode) or with a mobile phone. But if you are interested with film photography – like it or not – this knowledge is a MUST.

What is Depth of Field (DOF)?

Depth of field is the distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears sharp or in focus.

It’s relation to the aperture setting are as follows:

So, in a nutshell:

  • If you are going to use a large aperture – your main subject in the frame will appear in focus (or sharp) meanwhile the background will be blurred. (refer to the picture #1)

  • If you are going to use a small aperture – your main subject PLUS the background WILL appear in focus (or sharp). (refer to the picture #2)

Now back to my main objective of shooting the streets:

Large depth of field is very important for me because I’m looking for a layers in my frame”.

Therefore, my main choice of aperture setting should be f5.6 or f8 or f11. I’m not going to use f16 because the aperture opening is too small and it will effect my shutter speed – which will cause the picture to have motion blur. But if you are interested with motion blur in your picture, you can try to explore this setting. For me, I will never use f16 – ever!

  • My camera and lens that I’m using.

I want to be as discreet as possible because I do not want to have any conversation with my subjects on the street. To be honest, I’m not comfortable talking to the strangers. Therefore, I love using Leica M6 and Leica M4P because it is small and compact, durable, the shutter sound is quiet, 100% mechanical and can last for decades. As for the lens, initially I’m using 35mm lens but then changed to 28mm lens. My current lens of choice is Voigtlander Color Skopar 28mm f3.5.

Why 28mm lens?

Because I wanted to get close and get more subject into the frame. By using a wider lens, I can get more depth of field during the photoshoot. This is where most of the experience photographers using “zone focusing” technique.

What is zone focusing?

Zone focusing is a technique where you just need to use small aperture (such as f5.6, f8 or f11) throughout the photography process. Example: I set the aperture to f8 and set the focus point to 2 meters. So when I press the shutter, I already know that within that scale of DOF, every subjects will be in focus. (See picture below. I have already explained about this in the DOF topic above)

If you are a Leica user, you will notice this DOF scale is already marked on top of the lens itself such as below:

Again, this technique is applicable for me because my objective is to have layers and more subjects to be in focus within the frame. So, if you wanted to have background blur for your subject, you can’t use this technique and you will need to focus the lens manually (yes, I’m referring to the film camera obviously).

Below is some of the pictures that I’ve taken with my 28mm lens by using zone focusing technique:

©Mohd Hisham Ahmad. Pasar Karat, Petaling Street, KL. January 2020.

©Mohd Hisham Ahmad. Pasar Chow Kit, KL. February 2020.
  • Understanding the primary usage of ASA400 film.

Disclaimer: I’ve been using film ASA400 for the last four years and I am only going to explain on how to use this film speed only. I’ve tried a different film speed before, but throughout those years – ASA400 is my favorite film. So, this writing is based on that experience only.

Whether you are shooting with a digital camera or a film camera – lights is very important. No lights – no picture. As simple as that.

As for Film ASA400 - it is suitable to be used during daytime – either morning or evening – when there is SUN available. Yes, I did mention “SUN” because you need to use this film outside or outdoor only. (Technically you can use it indoor – but you will need a speedlight or a flash to accommodate the situation – but then, it’s a different setting and another tutorial all together).

So in a nutshell, use ASA400 film during daytime - either morning or evening – when there is SUN available. If the situation turns cloudy, this is where you need to play around with both aperture and the shutter speed to get the exposure right.

  • How do I meter the lights for ASA400 film?

There are three lights situation that you will need to consider:

  1. Harsh lights This is when the sun is directly shines the area. There is no clouds and you can clearly see the blue sky. If you put your hand into the bright area you can feel the heat.

  2. Soft lights The sun is bright, but there are some clouds blocking it. You know it is not going to rain anytime soon because the area is perfectly lit even though the light is a little bit soft.

  3. Dark The sun is not visible and you know it is going to rain very soon.

Based on the information above, below are some of the tips that I can share with you based on my experience:

(Note: My objective is to use zone focusing, therefore the information below is applicable for zone focusing method with ASA400 film)

  • During the Harsh Lights situation – Aperture f8 and shutter speed is 1/500 sec. (Sometimes if the area is too bright, I will use f11 with 1/500 sec shutter speed).

  • During the Soft Lights situation – Aperture f8 and shutter speed is 1/250 sec. (Sometimes if the area is dim, I will stop down to 1/125 sec).

  • During the Dark situation – most of the time I will not go out to shoot because the light situation defeats my main objective (which is to use zone focusing to maximizing the depth of field).

Below are some of the pictures that I’ve taken using the methods above:

©Mohd Hisham Ahmad. Petaling Street, KL. July 2020.

The picture above is shot during the harsh light situation. During this time, you can create a very dark shadows and adding some dramatic shapes into your frame.

©Mohd Hisham Ahmad. Chow Kit, KL. February 2020.

The picture above is shot during the soft light situation. You can apply this setting should you find your subjects is within the shades area.

To summarize the tips, below are the important notes to recap:

  • Use ASA400 film outdoor (not indoor).

  • Shoot during daytime.

  • Shoot when the sun is shining bright.

  • Use zone focusing technique.

  • Conclusion

This information is purely based on my experience only. At the end of the day, every person has their own photography objectives and this might not be relevant for them.

Anyhow, I hope that my knowledge sharing above will helps for those who are looking for it.

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1 commentaire

24 oct. 2021

Good article. Essentially your Zone Focusing setup is mainly for fast point and shoot, especially when you preset to f/11 and lock in your focus point to 2m / 6ft, your implied focus range is from 1.2m to almost infinity. I have a similar set up on my F2AS / 28mm F/3.5 on 400 ISO. I use 1/500 but set it f/16 and I stop down all the way to 5.6 as necessary depending on light. Sometime I find it necessary to open up all the way to 3.5 or even to switch to a faster lens to get some background blur or even with a short tele (105mm 1:2.5) looking for another a National Geographic special like the Afghan…

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