Photography has too many rules. Leading lines, rule of thirds, portraits require bokeh, avoid this, enhance that; so demanding! Okay, these guidelines can help beginners get started in the craft, especially early in the journey to finding their own creative vision. So learn the rules, yes. But remember that rules are meant to be broken.
I don’t care for the rule of thirds, as I like to center my subjects. Sometimes, I go against the rules of normal framing and strive for unique angles. I like contextual portraits. I break the “rules” to conform to my style and that’s the way it should work for any photographer.
However, some of the most important rules can be hard to break. For example, when composing a photo, it can be difficult to stray from what the light meter is telling you, if you want your image properly exposed. The thing is, even these extremely important rules about exposure can be broken.
Take my experience with Cinestill 800T, a color negative 800 ISO tungsten-balanced film stock. The thing about certain specialty film stocks, especially in a 35mm camera where it’s not easy to change film mid-roll, is that they limit you. If you’re shooting a 50 ISO film meant for daylight, it’s gonna be a heck of a lot harder to shoot at night. You’ll need all the light you can possibly get. Sure, if you have the resources it could make for interesting results. But in my experience, shooting a 50 ISO film at night will result in nothing but underexposed and blurry garbage.
Cinestill 800T is meant for “difficult low light tungsten situations,” according to Cinestill’s website. Most pictures I see composed with this stock include dimly lit indoor shots, suburban gas-stations, neon lights, or street photography – usually all shot at night. The tungsten balance makes for some extremely interesting results, and it’s true that photographers can make pictures with 800T that we can’t make with any other stock. The rule with Cinestill 800T is, in most people’s eyes, that it’s a film not meant for daylight photography. Obviously – it’s formulated for Tungsten, or artificial light. And Cinestill also sell a film for daylight shooting, naturally named Cinestill 50D (Daylight).
Clearly this story is heading in a very specific direction – I wanted to use Cinestill 800T, a high speed tungsten balanced film stock, in the daylight! Maybe I wasn’t breaking any specific rules. But, I was going outside of what I felt were the “accepted guidelines” of only shooting 800T at night or low-lit indoors. So, I did what any experienced photographer would do – I experimented. And it was worth it.
I didn’t have much Cinestill lying around my living quarters to experiment with at will. Task number one was to get ahold of some. Since I understood I could possibly be wasting some frames with my experiment dangerously looming towards over-exposure, I wanted a hefty number of rolls. I was extremely lucky with the timing of when I thought of this idea because I did what any normal person would during Christmas – I asked every relative to gift me a roll of 800T. I made out like a bandit, with my parents, aunts, and uncles all sending copious beautiful red boxes my way. By New Year’s Eve 2020, I owned just about a dozen rolls of Cinestill. A jackpot for those of us, like me, who take more than a week to shoot one roll. At the beginning of January, I loaded my 35mm SLR and went to the park (during the day).
I’d describe the experiment as a success, though I’ve gotten a number of different results. To start, the photos came out quite bright, a tad over-exposed. I suppose that’s the price of shooting with such high ISO in rather harsh lighting conditions. Another note, each picture I took had a very slight overcast of the color green. I mainly associate this result with the tungsten balance. Whatever process is used to balance really low light situations within this stock seemed to cast a nice, light green hue onto whatever landscape, portrait, or candid I captured in daylight. And to be honest, it’s a very unique look. However, these results are not for everyone – especially those who love the bold colors that Cinestill 800T offers in the situations the stock is meant for.
Aside from the green overcast, which can be easily color-balanced digitally by adding hints of magenta, there is another extremely unique result that shooting Cinestill 800T in daylight has to offer – a desaturated image. It could be the color-balancing that offers the bluish, greyish, desaturated look, but whatever the case, the natural effect is magnificent! Shooting in the daylight reminds me of the pastel colors that Kodak Portra offers with a bright, grey desaturated effect that allows one to focus more on actual features as opposed to how vibrant colors can be. It’s definitely not how these colors are supposed to look to the naked eye, but that’s the price (and joy) of experimentation.
For many of us, I’m sure it’ll be a tough sell. It’s hard to fall in love with this look. But I like it. It offers a strange nostalgic take to family photos or even staged portraits. It’s weird to think that I’d rather capture a family ski trip in extremely bright conditions, light reflecting off of the snow, with an 800 ISO speed, tungsten-balanced film as opposed to a film stock meant for daylight and proper skin tones. But here we are.
I mentioned earlier that I’ve gotten many different results. Next to the green cast and desaturation, I’ve noticed a beautiful yellow glow when in direct sunlight. This stock seemed to handle the color quite appropriately and very much to my liking. One of Cinestill 800T’s most unique features is its red halation around glowing highlights. Something I’ve noticed that could be related to this effect is a sort of ethereal glow found in daylight shots when made in open sunlight. I tested multiple different compositions and my favorite was in the woods, sun rays shining through the trees. The trees and leaves on the ground had the desaturated effect mentioned earlier, but there’s also an ethereal glow surrounding the trees and where the rays hit the leaves. It’s breathtaking. All it took was breaking a few rules to discover this look.
On the whole, I’d never have been been able to incorporate any of these unique effects into my photography without stepping outside of my comfort zone. Of course, what I’ve discovered isn’t for everyone, but I walked into this experiment with an open mind and I left with images that made me extremely happy. My final advice when it comes to experimenting and trying new things with different cameras and different stocks: don’t be afraid to break a few rules and don’t be afraid to enjoy breaking them.
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