As part of a new feature SoCal Sessions is going to be giving local creatives an opportunity to talk about their craft. We reached out to local amateur photographer Weston Ring to get it started. We’ve been watching his Instagram feed for awhile, and when we saw he was starting to shoot film at night we had to reach out.
Words and images by Weston Ring.
A few years ago my sister gave me an old Pentax K1000* film camera. It’s a beautiful little camera, that to me is the definition of simplicity. Choose your aperture, set your shutter speed, and shoot. The light meter doesn’t work any more on this little camera, and I tried desperately to repair it with no luck. In a way, it forces me even deeper into simplicity. I take a light meter reading and shoot away. If the light changes, adjust appropriately. Thankfully, film is pretty forgiving compared to our new digital cameras and I’ve had pretty good luck.
I’ve really grown to love shooting night photography on my digital camera. It’s become my most creative photographic expression. I get to create a scene that isn’t really there, or at least one that you can’t see with your naked eye. Digital cameras are so great for this application because you have so much control. Even still, I’ve been wanting to try my hand at some film exposures at night.
Last month my wife and I travelled from San Diego up to Mammoth for a weekend of skiing. Even as Colorado natives, we had never seen so much snow! We stayed in a tiny little cabin with snow drifts up past the roof. We had to climb down into the front door from snow packed at least ten feet deep. The whole experience was incredible, and in order to get a full last day of skiing we decided to break up our drive home with a little side adventure. We loaded up our car with camping gear and found a great campground halfway between Mammoth and San Diego.
Red Rock Canyon State Park is right off Highway 14 outside of Mojave, CA. Even with a late arrival, we easily found a spot for our impromptu camp out. After the sun went down I broke out the cameras for some late night fun. I was shooting on my Canon and getting some great shots, but I felt like it was time to try my hand at some film exposures. I used my exposure settings on my DSLR as a guideline for my settings on the Pentax, working backwards to compensate for ISO, shutter speed, and aperture. To be safe, I bracketed my shots by doing one at 5, and another at 10 minutes in length; using an old plunger style shutter release to lock the shutter open.
Shooting film is a little like Christmas morning. No matter how sure you are that you did things right, you never really know until you go get that film developed. I was so happy to see my two shots on the proof sheet, with neat little star trails streaking across the frame. I was shooting on a roll of Kodak Portra 400, which is fantastic, but at such long exposures the grain was pronounced. In the future I would reach for a lower ISO film and compensate with exposure time.
I didn’t have my intervalometer on hand for my digital camera, so I was constrained to 30 second maximum exposures. This is a great strategy for astrophotography but you won’t get the beautiful star trails that come from longer exposures. My digital images are cleaner, sharper, more detailed; but the film camera picked up some things that are completely absent in the digital shots. Check out the beautiful spark trails visible in both the 5 and 10 minute film exposures, but are mostly washed out in all of my digital shots. I’m still learning and growing as a film photographer, but this was a great experiment that I’ll definitely continue working on. I’d encourage everyone to get out and shoot at night, regardless of your gear or skill. It’s a beautiful artistic expression, and a great way to learn more about your gear.
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