Film Photography

Casual portraits on Kodak Tri-X 400

We had another pitch-in recently at church, and I took my camera along again. I was thrilled when several members were very happy to see my Pentax ME hanging from my neck and asked if I’d be sure to photograph them at some point during the meal.

Morris was first in line, asking me to photograph him with his wife, Diana. I love the expression on Diana’s face, though I wish the lighting were a little more flattering on Morris.

Morris and Diana

Mitchell was eager to flash his muscle for the camera. All the teenagers were pretty animated for my lens.

Mitchell's muscle

These boys were eager to be photographed together, and sat very nicely for me. They asked to see the photo right away, which of course wasn’t possible with my old film camera. My explanation was met with puzzled looks, so I showed them that there was no screen on the back of the camera. I wish I could have photographed the surprised looks on their faces! They simply had no concept of a film camera.


The boy on the left sat with his mother for another photograph. Can you tell by his body language that he loves his mama?

Keela and son

I was shooting with a SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/2 lens. Even using moderately fast Kodak Tri-X 400 film, the available light let me shoot only at f/2 or f/2.8. That made depth of field pretty shallow, leaving little margin for focusing error. I’m pretty sure that the lens goes a little soft at f/2, too. Both may have contributed to this shot being a little less than crisp. I have an SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.7 lens; I might try it next time in hopes that its f/2 is crisper. I might also move up to ISO 800 film to give myself another stop of headroom.

Father and children

This is Rob, our pastor. He’s been my friend and a mentor for years.

Pastor Rob

I had prints made of these and gave them to all the subjects. They were delighted. In an age when digital photos are so disposable, there’s still something a little special about a black-and-white print, even if it was just a quick print from the Walgreens photo center.

I’ve been shooting more black and white film lately. See more b/w shots here.

Get more of my photography in your inbox or reader! Click here to subscribe.


14 thoughts on “Casual portraits on Kodak Tri-X 400

  1. Lone Primate says:

    I don’t know that much at all about film (aside from what you meant by ISO 800), so I ask in all earnestness: was the film itself monochrome? Or was it colour film and you wrought the monochrome images you wanted from scans of colour prints? I’m just curious about the process.

    So we’ve reached the point where film cameras are an cultural blind spot. That didn’t take long, did it? I only bought my first digital camera in 1996. :) …Mind you, people born then can drive now. Aye-yi-yi. You’re gettin’ old, Jim. :D

    • I shot black-and-white film. You know, the original kind of film! I sent it out to be developed and scanned and did a little cropping and a little tweaking here and there of the contrast in Photoshop.

      And my son was born in 1997, and he has his learner’s permit. You know, I think I’m happier now, at 45, than at any other time in my life.

  2. Lone Primate says:

    P.S. Oh, by the way, I MEANT to say off the top that you’ve got a good looking group at your church there. I don’t know what I was expecting, but whatever it was, these folks pleased me. A nice slice of life in Indianapolis. I can see what brought you there at long last.

  3. Nice work on the portraits. At f2 the zone of sharp focus is less than two inches deep at four feet, so it takes a cool head to stay in the zone even when using a very competent camera like the Pentax.

    • Thanks Mike! That’s why I’d like to bump up to ISO 800 film, to open up that aperture a stop for a little more focusing latitude. I bought a four-pack of Fujifilm Superia X-tra 800 the other day for the next church event.

  4. Great pictures, Jim. Cute story about the boys’ surprise about not being able to see the picture immediately. My first foray into photography was film and I still get nostalgic when I think of that old dark room, the red light, the smell of the chemicals, and the excitement of seeing my photo come to life from a black sheet of paper. Digital is easier, but it isn’t the same.

    By the way, I’m Holly V. from way back when. I’m glad to be back and reading your blog again! I hope you’re doing well :)

    • Holly, I’m happy to see you back around these parts. I’ve only ever developed one roll of film and didn’t enjoy it much, but I’m thinking about trying again if nothing else to manage expense and get my photos faster. That said, I’m an equal-opportunity photographer, shooting as much digital as film.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.