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Specific Look

Rob Webster

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Hi Everyone, I have a project coming up that requires a very specific look. We are trying to create a monochrome (not necessarily B&W) look that replicates a photographic large format silver gelatin print, akin to the photography of Sally Mann.

I've had a couple of ideas on how to get close to this but was wondering if anyone had any tips! Shooting 16mm or Digital is an option, but of course we are on a budget.

Shooting on 16mm film probably seems counterintuitive given the reference images are all large format, but the director loves the gate weave and dancing grain of film, along with all of the artifacts that film provides- i feel this part of the aesthetic is essential. I was considering shooting 16mm Tri-X B&W, and then scanning on a Scannity 4k to get the max sharpness.

In terms of optics I am going to test some old Darlot portrait lenses, as well as some other adapted cooke and zeiss lenses from Keslow, as well as Super Baltars. I feel the optics are key here to get that slight soft vignette, almost a portrait lens look that you get from Large format. I feel if we compose carefully in the middle of the frame and shoot wide open we may be able to replicate that out of focus vignette.

Few factors at play here, any advice much appreciated!

1- Format- Film or Digital?

2- If film, do we shoot B&W or Colour and desat?

3- Lenses- Regardless of format, older, softer lenses are key here to replicate the large format look.

4- If film, are there considerations to be made with the kind of scan we get?

The other unspoken option of course, is shoot digital and make the look in post but we won't talk about that untill its the only option!


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Even though it's not ideal, if you end up having to do the digital option, you could use any sort of modern large sensor camera and then use lenses that are meant for smaller sensor sizes to create that vignetting look and then regrade it in post with FilmConvert to get the gritty B&W film look.

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Mann has often mentioned that she loves to use old, damaged lenses.  She scours market stalls for just the right sort of damage - peeling coatings, fungus, cocked elements etc. The vignetting and corner softness is either from using a lens that doesn't quite cover the format, or from an old Petzval or Rapid Rectilinear style lens (or both). Or if particular lens elements are shifted, it can introduce field curvature, which can dramatically soften the corners. Or certain wide angle lenses can introduce corner distortion and softness. Ultimately, you need to experiment with what you can get your hands on, like Mann does.

Large format photography is not soft by nature. Manns photos have a different kind of softness (and grain structure) compared to 16mm for example. I don't think 16mm would work particularly well to replicate the look of her photography. 

The trailers for "The Lighthouse" are some of the closest I've seen to replicating a certain kind of large format B&W photography, truly gorgeous. That was shot on 35mm Double -X.

Check out DP Jarin Blaschke's comments in this thread:



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Thanks for the tips guys, also fascinating article on "The Lighthouse", good to see classic techniques in use.

I actually tested the Hawk F1 lenses at their new facility in LA yesterday- they are surprisingly sharp, and very interesting wide open. Much less of a novelty than i thought they would be.

I'm moving more towards a full frame digital capture with older lenses such as Baltars or S2 Panchros at the moment.

Thanks again for the help! I'll keep you all updated.


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Panavision’s Primo Artiste lenses are an interesting large format choice that combines modern mechanics with a “detuned” optical formula that introduces some lovely imperfections. Worth checking out if you go the large format camera route. Vignetting can easily be added in post.

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