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Film for your travel pictures

Film you are accustomed to using is best


It's hard to tell how many pictures you will take on holiday. It may depend on how much fun you're having, weather conditions and how many interesting things you do.
It's hard to tell how many pictures you will take on holiday. It may depend on how much fun you're having, weather conditions and how many interesting things you do.

If you shoot only with a digital camera, this article will not be of much practical use to you. However, traditional photographers whose cameras are loaded with film will benefit from its information.

ARE YOU USED TO ONE TYPE OF FILM?

There is much to be said for shooting the film you regularly use and rely upon for results you like. Go with what you know. A holiday or travel occasion is not the time to be testing out a new film, although the risk of disappointment is low since most brand name films are of excellent quality. You would be hard-pressed to detect differences among similar types from different makers.

However, if you plan to switch to a film you haven’t used before, you should shoot and process a test roll well before you leave to be sure it meets your expectations. You may find you don't like the way it reproduces color or it may be too contrasty or too soft for your taste.

If you will be using one type of film only, you would be wise to purchase your 35 mm film in the 36-exposure size. If you are planning on shooting some color, some black and white and some color slide pictures, you may want to consider smaller roll sizes (12 or 24 exposures) to avoid wastage when changing types.

Make sure you bring along a supply of your favorite film. You may not be able to buy it at your destination.
Make sure you bring along a supply of your favorite film. You may not be able to buy it at your destination.

CHOOSING FILM WHEN YOU DON'T HAVE A FAVORITE

You may not regularly take a lot of pictures. Perhaps you just don’t have a favorite film you can trust for your travel photographs. How do you determine which film to use while traveling or on holiday?

Begin by selecting one of the basic types. This really is your most important decision. Do you want color prints? You will need a color negative film. Black and white prints require black and white negative film. Color slides require color transparency (also called color reversal) film. The following discusses why you might choose one or the other, or a mixture of the types.

TRANSPARENCY (SLIDE) FILM

Transparency film is less expensive to purchase and process into slides than negative film is to buy and make into prints. So, cost is an advantage of slide film, but not enough of a reason to use it if that is your only consideration, unless you are going to shoot an awful lot of pictures and select only the best images for printing after the slide film has been processed.

There are also disadvantages to slides. Having prints made from them can be costly, so if you are planning to print the majority of your images, you will be better off shooting negative film in the first place. Prints made from slides often do not have the same quality and are not as sharp as prints from negatives, although the differences may be minuscule. If you are planning on scanning your holiday slides to send via email or store in your computer’s electronic family album, you will need a slide scanner. (If most of your images will be scanned and digitized, you may wish to consider purchasing a digital camera.) Most people today have print scanners, and would have to have prints made from their slides so they can scan them, or have their slides digitized by an outside service. Keep in mind that transparency film generally has less exposure latitude than negative film, therefore requiring more accurate exposure when shooting.

If you're planning on scanning your images taken on slide film, you'll either need to have a slide scanner, or make prints to scan, or have your photo dealer make the scans for you.
If you're planning on scanning your images taken on slide film, you'll either need to have a slide scanner, or make prints to scan, or have your photo dealer make the scans for you.

If you normally shoot negative film and are seriously considering bringing transparency film on vacation, we strongly suggest shooting a test roll beforehand and having prints made from your best slides. You will then have an idea of both the cost and the quality considerations to help you finalize your decision.

Most well-known film manufacturers produce excellent-quality slide films. There are some trade-offs between quality and speed, and different film brands tend to render colors differently. Your decision as to which specific slide film to use will depend largely on personal choice, and we suggest you test one or two brands before buying your vacation supply.

COLOR NEGATIVE FILM

By far, the most popular choice of film by vacationers is color negative film. One advantage of this type of film is its wider exposure-latitude – particularly to over-exposure – which is of benefit to the casual photographer who takes pictures infrequently and may not be as aware of the importance of proper exposure. Operators of fully-automatic or semi-automatic cameras (that make exposure decisions for you) will find that color negative film will generally produce good results in uncertain lighting. Printers in photo labs can also make limited adjustments when printing from color negatives to correct color cast.

The choice of color negative film for your vacation pictures will depend on your subject matter and on your personal preference for the colors from one or another brand of film. If you expect to be shooting fast-moving objects in low light, you will need a fast film to provide you with action-stopping shutter speeds, ISO 400 or greater. If you wish to capture the vibrant colors for which your holiday spot may be known, select a film that renders strong colors. Whichever film you select, if you have not used it before, we strongly recommend shooting and printing a test roll before you leave to avoid disappointment.

Black and white images can be best for revealing the human condition - the actual lifestyle situation in which local find themelves.
Black and white images can be best for revealing the human condition - the actual lifestyle situation in which local find themelves.

BLACK & WHITE FILM

Some serious photographers travel with only black and white film. They tend to look more for the details of a foreign place rather than photograph the obvious attractions that adorn the place’s postcards. Black and white film is often ideal for intimate pictures that show the way of life – the human condition – instead of panoramic vistas or beach beauties. Color can detract from the intimate mood of a captured conversation, or the starkness of a local family’s living conditions, or any setting that shows the reality behind the glitter of many vacation spots. Black and white film can contribute drama and a sense of realism. If you are a serious photographer interested in capturing the feel of the land, the mood of its people and the way of life in a foreign country, perhaps in a photojournalistic or documentary way, black and white film may be your travel film choice.

Don't get us wrong. Black and white film can also be used by the normal holidaying traveler. It presents somewhat greater photographic challenges, particularly if the vacation spot is noted for its colorful scenery and wildlife, and also because black and white photography has intrinsic differences from color picture-taking. One advantage of black and white film, though, is its greater exposure latitude, providing a sense of security that scenes with tricky lighting will still probably make acceptable pictures. Numerous amateur photographers also have their own black and white darkrooms at home, and are able to save money by doing their own processing and printing. And finally, black and white film can make excellent travel pictures that compete with color images any day, often conveying more feeling, drama and interest.

Sunny conditions don't require a film that is faster than ISO 100. If you will be shooting in a variety of lighting conditions, faster film may be called for.
Sunny conditions don't require a film that is faster than ISO 100. If you will be shooting in a variety of lighting conditions, faster film may be called for.

WHAT ABOUT FILM SPEED?

If you will be vacationing in a sunny locale where either direct sunlight or brightly-overcast conditions are normal for the time of year, and if you expect to be shooting during daylight hours, then film with a rating of ISO 100 or ISO 200 should be adequate. Darker, uncertain or changing lighting conditions require a faster film, and film with a speed of ISO 400 should do the job. There are other considerations besides light level when deciding on the speed of your film, and we suggest you check out our section on Film where you can compare your holiday shooting expectations with the capabilities of different films.

WHAT ABOUT DIFFERENCES AMONG BRANDS?

It's true that different manufacturers produce films with different characteristics. Many photographers express brand preference, saying they only use film from a certain maker, or certain types from this maker and other types from that maker. The only way you will truly come to grips with the differences between brands is to sample the products - for example, to try two different manufacturers' ISO 100 color negative films - and then to compare the results. The good news is that the well-known brands are all good quality, and in most cases, you will find it hard to discern how one brand varies from another.

If you don't have the time, the money or the inclination to pre-test various brands to see which one best suits your tastes, don't give it too much thought. Your pictures will still turn out fine with any of the brand name films.

TAKE YOUR FILM WITH YOU

Buy your film at home at a reliable photo shop so you know it’s fresh, particularly if you are traveling to a remote area or a place where the quality of film supplies may be in doubt, where the particular film you like may not be available, or where film prices may be exhorbitant. You may think you should have no trouble finding your film at popular tourism destinations, even those in your home country, only to discover supplies have run out because so many vacationing photographers thought the same thing.

If you take several pictures of the same subject at different angles and exposures, be sure you have enough film to last through your holiday.
If you take several pictures of the same subject at different angles and exposures, be sure you have enough film to last through your holiday.

HOW MUCH FILM SHOULD YOU TAKE?

Take as much film as you think you may shoot, plus an extra supply. You can “guesstimate” the amount by figuring how many days you will be in places where you will want to take pictures, and how many shots you might take in a day. If, for example, you realistically expect to shoot twenty pictures a day on a two-week holiday, that’s around 280 exposures, or 8 rolls of 36-exposure film. How much extra should you bring? If you are the type of holiday photographer who takes only one picture of a scene and moves on, you should probably bring 25% more as insurance against running out of film. If, on the other hand, you typically make a number of exposures of the same scene, perhaps varying your shooting angle, bracketing exposures or just generally wanting to make sure you have the shot, you may need as much as 75% more film to provide you with security that you will have enough. Our recommendation for the average photographer on holiday is to bring 50% more film than you expect to shoot. You can always bring home unused film, but you can’t always find film in far-away places.