Film Photography

Shooting Kodak Portra 160 NC

Kodak doesn’t call it Portra for nothing — it’s meant for portraits. And that’s what I used it for, mostly. I’m trying to build my portraiture skills, so I loaded a roll into my Nikon F2AS and shot more than half of it on my sons. I hoped for some good shots of them to printĀ for the family. I finished the roll on the kinds of subjects I usually shoot.


This film ran cold — every photo had a blue caste to it. Portra 160 NC is said to tend naturally toward low color saturation. Maybe that’s Kodak’s interpretation of “natural color,” which is what the NC in the film’s name stands for. Kodak also offered a VC (“vivid color”) version of this film that boosted color saturation. I say “offered” rather than “offers” because both of these films were replaced a few years ago with a new formulation simply called Portra 160.

Also, this roll was expired, and I don’t know how it was stored before I got it. Careless storage can lead to shifted colors, which might also explain the blue caste.

Photoshop’s Adjust Color for Skin Tone tool warmed the portraits up right away, especially bringing out the chestnut highlights in my youngest son’s hair. Unfortunately, I won’t be showing you that, as I don’t share photos of my sons online. They have asked me to let them decide when and where to share their faces online. Fair enough.

I shot some of the portraits in cemeteries near my home. This isn’t out of the ordinary for us, as we walk through cemeteries all the time. We once even rented a house on a cemetery property. And cemeteries frequently have quaint benches, ornate chapels, or other not obviously death-related structures that make great portrait backdrops.

One visit was to Crown Hill Cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries in the nation. This shot looked as lifeless as its dead-tree subject when it came back from the processor, so I adjusted color temperature to bring it back to life — the photo, I mean, as the tree is beyond my help.

Dead tree

I gave this scene the same treatment. This monument is on the ascent to the highest elevation in Indianapolis.

Short steps

I thought this looked okay as shot, so I left it alone. It’s not a great shot, but I liked this very old and twisted tree and all the great detail in its bark.

Tree trunk

I shot my 50mm f/1.8 Nikon Series E lens in Crown Hill, but switched to my 135mm f/3.5 AI Nikkor lens for a walk through Washington Park North, a cemetery within walking distance of my home. It’s nowhere near as interesting as Crown Hill, but it’s certainly more convenient to me.

St. Matthew

I’ve shot Washington Park North’s replica of the Liberty Bell a number of times this year. Here’s one; here’s another, from two different cameras but both on Ektar 100. I adjusted color temperature a little to warm up this shot, but it still doesn’t approach the warmth of Ektar out of the box. Do compare the Ektar shots to get a good idea of how these two films’ color signatures differ.

Pass and Stow

I wasn’t wowed by Portra 160 NC as processed and scanned. The blue nature of the shots generally didn’t appeal to me. Someday I’ll buy a roll of the reformulated Portra 160 and see how it compares.