Soundwave 2013 on Film

Slayer - Soundwave 2013 @ RNA Showgrounds, Saturday 23 February 2013

I can remember saying when I got my first digital camera that I saw no reason to stop using my film camera and expected to keep using both cameras side-by-side.  For a while I did keep photographing gigs in film and digital but it didn’t last too long.  Since that time I’ve had rolls of random film taking up space at the back of my fridge, all of which, as the years have gone by, have gone well past their use by date.  Whenever it gets to festival season, I always declare that this year I’m going to take my film camera and clear out some space in the fridge by shooting a few rolls of film.  A number of times I have got as far as carrying all the extra gear in my bag but without actually loading some film and using my old Minolta 5 in anger.

Festivals present the best opportunity but it can still be hard to find the time in a three song, no flash situation to put the DSLR down. Sometimes those three songs goes by in what feels like the blink of an eye. Despite all the advantages of digital and being able to take endless photos, it can be hard to stop photographing, going far beyond the point you need to and just adding to a ridiculous number of photos of an act, 95% that will never see the light of day and be stored until the end of time on an external hard drive.  Back when I did use film, I would often use a single roll of 36 photos over the whole night, maybe 8 shots each for the support acts, 20 for the headliner.  If I was really enjoying it I would sometimes push the boat out to a second roll of film and end up with 72 photos from the night.  I still don’t think I take a lot of photos compared to a lot of my contemporaries, typically 50 to 100 in three songs but it still seems ridiculous compared to the good old days.

I finally got around to using some of my film stock at this year’s Soundwave.  I didn’t give it much thought, which is how I ended up shooting three different film types at three different ISO settings.  I didn’t give much thought to who I was going to photograph, it was random and based a lot more on who I was bored of photographing with digital (i.e. I had more photos than I would ever know what to do with), rather than wanting to get film of particular bands.  The day started with Ilford Pan F. Being smart I decided that rather than risk it at ISO 50, that I’d push it to 200 and that would give me more freedom in terms of aperture and shutter speed settings.  That was all well and good until it was time to develop the film and I found out that you’re not meant to push Pan F and that there’s no official development time for using it at ISO 200.  In the end I just had to use the Massive Development Chart and calculate an approximate time that might work (and luckily it did).  The Pan F was used for the photos of The Blackout, Anthrax and Kyuss Lives.  Ilford HP5 at the standard 400 ISO was used for the photos of Slayer and Sum 41. Finally Ilford Delta 3200 was used at ISO 1600 for the Garbage and Metallica photos.

Given that I had to basically make-up a development time for the Pan F, I was surprised that the negatives didn’t come out too badly.  They were maybe a little flat in terms of contrast, but as the film became out of date back in 2007, getting anything was a bonus.  The HP5 photos of Slayer came out best.  From previous years’ experience of photographing Soundwave, the late afternoon slot on the main stage, when Slayer played, is the optimal time for lighting; earlier in the day the sun is too overhead and the light too harsh, later in the day it just gets too dark.  The Delta 3200 photos were the most disappointing, even at ISO 1600 they were very grainy and the in a lot of them my metering was really off, with the highlights really being blown out.  A couple of the shots were ok but it was disappointing to end up with so few usable photos of Metallica.

Developing was done using a very DIY approach of loading the development tank under a duvet in a dark room at night.  It seemed pitch black at first but as your eyes adjusted you realised that wasn’t really, but still dark enough to work in and the negatives didn’t suffer from the low light leak.  The rolls were all developed using ID11 at 24 degrees and then digitalised  using a negative scanner.  It was at this point in the process that I found out that my scanner doesn’t work with updated versions of both Windows or Photoshop.  Luckily my almost 10 year old laptop had all the necessary software to be able to scan in the negatives.

From the 108 (3 x 36 roll) photos taken on film, the first pass through them resulted in over 52 that were worth progressing, a pretty good return considering once-upon-a-time getting half a dozen good shots from a roll of film would have been cause for celebration.  The negs weren’t cleaned with film cleaner so they’re presented in all their watermarked and dust affected glory.  Some tidying up was carried out in Photoshop to reduce the worse affected areas but they’re far from perfect.  Even in their imperfect form, I’m really happy with how they turned out.  I especially love the tone of them.  It’s strange to look at them compared to digital images and consider that this was how it was all done less than ten years ago.

Back when I made the move to digital, they were almost giving away film.  Looking at prices now, you’re talking $12 to $15 for a roll of 36.  In thinking about replenishing my film supplies, the best option looks to buy in bulk from overseas, and get it down to about $8 a roll.  There’s still almost six months until the next festival season starts again but having taken these photos at Soundwave, I’m eager to take some more film at next year’s festivals and maybe a few smaller shows as well.

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