I’ve always been curious about Velvia, the super saturated film that’s typically used for landscapes. I’ve heard about its legendary colors for years and now that I’m playing with film, I finally gave it a try.
I brought several rolls of Velvia 100, a reformulated version of the classic Velvia film (which is now called Velvia 50), to Big Bend. I got to use it for the majestic western landscapes both in medium format and 35mm. It was going to be great. Except, it didn’t exactly turn out that way.
Velvia is slide film, which is different. Unlike the easy to use negative film, Velvia can’t be overexposed or the highlights get blown, kinda like digital. It also lacks the large exposure latitude of standard (negative) print film. I knew this going in so I under exposed by about 1/2 stop. I also tweaked my exposures somewhat, depending on the scene. The problem was I over compensated — many of the images came out darker than I hoped. At least I didn’t blow out the sky.
In retrospect, I probably should’t have worried about the sky for most of my landscapes. The dynamic range on slide film wasn’t going to capture everything anyway. So what if the sky looked white, as long as I properly captured the magnificent landscapes. Luckily, not all my photographs were a total loss. Lesson learned, hopefully.
No question, Velvia is colorful. I like bold colors and for the first time, in film or digital, I didn’t need to increase the saturation. But there is a bigger problem — I don’t like the Velvia colors. I find them too red and too cool. I generally prefer the warmer tones, like what I get with Kodak Portra 400, especially after I digitally increase the saturation.
Take a look at these two photos. I took the first one with Velvia 100 on the Mamiya 645E and the second with the Nikon 35Ti with Portra 400. Portra is a portrait film with muted colors but I like the effect when I add saturation in post processing. I realize this is a personal thing. I’m sure some prefer the look of Velvia.
I took the same Velvia image and shifted the colors to warm it up. I’m getting a closer match but things are a bit off and the sky is a bit wonky and I still prefer the warmth of Portra. The good thing is, I’m not a film purist. I have no hesitation to digitally manipulate my film scans to make them match my “vision”. But I don’t have a desire to do extensive changes. It’s a lot easier to get the look I like from Portra than Velvia.
I understand the attraction to Velvia though, pre-digital. When you couldn’t increase saturation, Velvia was the way to go. I wouldn’t like Portra, for example, if I couldn’t amp up its colors. But Digital post processing is a game changer for film. I get the warmth of analog tweaked the way I want it. And even with all this digital manipulation, I still find that film, even manipulated film, has a different feel from photographs created with a digital camera.
The salient question for me is, should I continue to shoot Velvia 100? I can tweak its colors but negative film is a lot easier to shoot and it costs less too. If my results with Velvia aren’t materially better, is it worth it? I hear that classic Velvia 50 is warmer with more yellows. Perhaps I should try that instead of the newer Velvia 100.
I’ve just started my journey with film and I have a lot to learn. It certainly is challenging but fun, in a different kind of way, from pure digital photography. I think there is a place for both in my repertoire.
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