An exposé on exposure.


Over the years of working in photography and photofinishing I have seen a lot of changes.

I remember being in a meeting over 20 years ago with a Kodak rep and a Fuji rep. They were introducing us to APS film and explained this new film was going to be an intermediary until digital took off and film went away. I remember making a comment that film would never go away. Was I wrong! It wasn’t the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. I remember thinking Y2K was going to be a big deal and I would never go bald…

Okay, in reality people still shoot film, in fact film has had a big resurgence in the last 5 years with millennials, but most people, including pros, do not shoot film anymore.

Well, today I was doing a maintenance visit at a 1 hour photo lab. A customer came to the counter and pulled two rolls of film out of his pocket. He then asked if we could tell if this film had been used. The young man working the counter had no clue, so I stepped in. I explained that short of developing the film there was no way to tell. This customer who was probably in his 50’s did not want to believe me. I explained film isn’t digital and it must be developed to see any image. He huffed and walked away. I thought to myself “he should know better, he grew up with film.”

Boy did this bring back memories. I have had so many instances over the years where customers would not believe me when I tried to explain to them why their film or pictures did not turn out. One time a neighbor of mine dropped some film off at a lab I ran. She asked me not to look at the pictures because there were personal things on there. I immediately thought “that is why we have Polaroid cameras!” Anyway, she picked it up later, and about an hour after that her husband called me.

“Tom, why did you delete one of my images off my film?” I explained I could not delete images off his film, the whole process of developing film did not work that way. He tried to argue with me. I asked, “What was the picture of?” He said his wife in the bedroom. I asked if he used a flash. He said no. I asked what ASA the film was. He said 400. I asked if he had any lights on in the room. He said yes, one small lamp. I explained that film is exposed, no pun intended, by the light reflecting off the subject, through the lens and onto the film. Proper exposure is the right amount of light reaching the film to produce enough image so all the details can be seen. I then told him that if that one little lamp had been in the picture with 400 speed film you might see the light bulb, “might” being the key word. I again explained that the process of developing film involves running the whole roll through the processor. All the images develop at the same time. It is scientifically impossible to “delete” just one image on a roll of film.

I find it very interesting that the whole art of photography has always been and still is a scientific principle. With film, the image is recorded in such a way that developing the film through a chemical process is the only way to see that image. With digital, the image is recorded on a Charge Coupled Device (CCD) and then stored in memory on the camera. Photography is an art, but it is also science. Maybe that’s why many “artists” don’t consider photography art. Hmmm… I will save that for another post.

I also find it interesting that people who have no concept of the science involved in developing film or photography in general will try to argue with those of us who do. I guess the general public has had to deal with one too many kids standing behind the photo counter at the local big box store who don’t understand basic photography let alone the science behind developing film.

So, the moral to this blog post is to make sure you have a proper exposure when taking pictures, especially if your subject is exposed!!

Happy Trails!!


A self portrait I did when I was in my mid 20’s. I took a picture of a tree in my mothers front yard and then had my daughter...
Tom's Elf Portrait

A self portrait I did when I was in my mid 20’s. I took a picture of a tree in my mothers front yard and then had my daughter, who was 5 at the time, take the picture of me. The portrait of me was shot on black and white film and the tree image was shot on color. I then sandwiched the negatives in the dark room to complete the double exposure. Because the image of me was on black and white film the skin tone is slightly sepia. My eye was also sepia in the original print. I then painted the eye color in with retouching paint. I like to call this my “Elf Portrait” because it has such an elvish, fantasy look.

Posted in Articles and tagged photography, exposure.