There Is No ISO - Clear Photography

You are driving alone in your car on a picturesque bit of road. There are no other cars. There are also no posted speed limits. The choice is up to you, how will you make your journey? Shooting black and white film is very much like this illustration. The choice is always up to you. The kind of image you see in your mind’s eye can be recorded onto film. You can go very fast and only see the large, major points or you can crawl along and really get a true feel and sense of where you are. This is the kind of freedom that choosing your own ISO, and forgetting about what the box says, gives you. We want to move past the visual and strive to capture the feel. For the same reasons that we don’t shoot our cameras on the auto setting, choosing our own ISO, with balanced metering and development, opens up another level of self expression. In this way, the camera is no longer a mechanical device that records reality but becomes a projector of your own consciousness.

For today’s blog, I’ve included two frames both shot on the same Hasselblad 500 C with 80mm F2.8 lens. The film used is LUCKY SHD 100 and developed in Kodak D76 at 1:3. The only difference is one image was developed for ISO 25 and the other for ISO 40. The purpose of this experiment is to determine the limits of LUCKY SHD 100 and see which chosen ISO can give the best shadow detail and fine grain sufficient for printing upwards of 18×24 inches or larger. The scenes range from very dark, moody alleys to open-air streets. Yet, I always try to maintain the same balance in the negative.


The first image was developed for ISO 25. The scene is of an elderly Chinese man, resting on the steps of a temple in the Ganding area of Guangzhou, PRC. The light at the time was quite bright and harsh. I metered the shadowed side of the man’s face for Zone IV and set my exposure. I had previously shot this film at ISO 25 but with unsatisfactory results. A careful check of my notes, some minor tweaks and I feel this negative is quite strong and can easily be printed. There is some blocked highlights on the man’s “pillow” but otherwise, it appears balanced to me.


For image #2, I decided to go into the darkened, damp, moody alley-streets of Ganding itself. The light is very dim in these places and careful attention must be paid to your meter. This frame was developed for ISO 40 and required quite a long exposure. For F16 it was something like 6 or 7 seconds. I metered the shadow under the table near the parked bicycle for Zone III and made my exposure based on that. When doing this kind of photography there are not a lot of road maps. Because it is so personal, it takes careful attention to your meter and development. Detailed notes should be made with no detail too small…remember, these are your images. I tend to shoot in similar locations under similar conditions, but I am careful about things like time of day, how the light falls on the subject and composition. There is always something new to learn.


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