On Film: DC Joseph, Executive Director of the Columbus International Film & Animation Festival (CIF+AF)

Published on April 10th, 2019

On Film is a new series exploring my growing interest in film photography, motion pictures, and the compelling narratives expressed through both mediums.

It seems appropriate to begin this series with a quick feature on my portrait session with DC Joseph. Recently appointed executive director of the Columbus International Film & Animation Festival, DC (aka Doug) is tasked with bringing fresh perspective and relevance to the oldest film festival in the United States. He has already proven himself in the world of advertising and branding as the founder/ CEO of Serif Creative. It seems the festival, established in 1952, is in great hands as it celebrates its 67th anniversary while looking toward a new and evolving future. Similarly, I believe the approach I took to this assignment marks a new chapter in my career as a professional photographer.

I had already been considering shooting film again when the call came to create a portrait of Doug for his press release. My mind immediately went to CineStill 800T. It's a tungsten balanced color negative film for still photography based on Kodak's Vision3 motion picture cinema film. Basically, it's the exact same stock used to shoot major motion pictures such as The Wolf of Wall Street but with the rem-jet layer removed so it can be processed in C-41 chemistry (follow the links if you want to go down the rabbit hole). I chose this stock because 1) its relationship to motion pictures seemed appropriate for the subject 2) the high ISO and tungsten color balance made it easier to mix available light in a dark theater with studio strobes 3) it just looks fantastic.

Here's a diagram of my light setup. I crafted the exposure ratios a few days in advance back in my studio and used a light meter to dial in everything on-location. I knew we would have a very limited window to work in the theater and I wanted to be respectful of Doug's time. With the game plan established, my assistant and I had everything staged in just a few minutes. We used four strobes and color correction filters to push the practical lights in the scene. The key light was set camera left with a medium octabox and CTO, fired a fill light into the theater’s white [“silver”] screen directly behind me to open up the shadows, another fill light w/reflector dish and CTO in the far back corner, accent light w/reflector dish and 5 degree grid in the back of the theater to emulate a projector, and bounce reflector camera right of the subject. We wrapped on the entire session within 20 minutes.

In the example above, you can see a digital vs film comparison of similar shots with no processing. Since this was my first commissioned assignment on film, I did bring a digital camera as a backup. It was certainly useful for test shots and about half the final selects were digital outtakes. I would have shot more on film (only burned through 1 roll with 36 exposures) but decided to play it safe. In my opinion, the film outtake on the right is the clear winner but that’s just my taste…

It’s important to note that shooting on film can be expensive — #staybrokeshootfilm exists for a reason. My hard cost for 1 roll of CineStill ($11.99) + development and scan ($11) + shipping ($10.49) came out to be $33.48. You can certainly save a lot of money by developing it yourself. It’s also possible to use a bulk film loader with 100ft rolls of film to fill reusable cassettes for significant cost savings. As for digitally scanning your own negatives, you will still need to send them out or be prepared to make a hefty investment when purchasing your own equipment (upwards of $15k).

The film bug officially bit me after seeing the results of this session. I immediately went to Midwest Photo and traded my old Canon 5D Mark II and Canon 24mm Tilt/Shift lens toward the purchase of a Mamiya RZ67 Pro II. I will certainly continue shooting digital because it’s essential to my workflow as a commercial photographer, so I am by no means declaring film superior nor myself a luddite. I believe there is tremendous value to be found in a hybrid approach to image-making. With that said, I am extremely excited about the possibilities offered by older camera systems, film, and digital scans.

Stay tuned for future posts in this series as I delve deeper into film photography and motion pictures. In the meantime, here are more outtakes from the session with anamorphic-style crops and b&w processing applied (can you tell the difference between digital and film?):

Tech Specs: Canon EOS-1 N (film camera), Canon 6D, Canon 85mm L, Canon 24-70mm L, Profoto D1 Air system, Profoto 7" Reflector w/5 degree grid, LumoPro medium octabox, CineStill 800T, developed by IndieFilmLab and scanned with a Noritsu HS-1800.

Shoutouts to my incredible team at the studio, Haley Cordle and Joshua Moore, for inspiring my journey back to film. I’ve barely touched film let alone set foot in a darkroom since my foundation studies in college, but their enthusiasm and knowledge convinced me of its strengths.

Connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mattreesephoto

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