Retropan 320: Soft, Modern Vintage Portraiture

All images and words by Alasdair Dougall. Used with permission.

While being at odds with itself, the title is the best way to describe Retropan 320 Soft, the film Foma released in 2015. Being an avid film photographer, I was very pleased to introduced Retropan when dropping of some film of for developing. I use Blanco Negro to hand develop my film, and while more expensive than lab processing of film, the owner, Christopher Reid, is one of the unsung heroes, who quietly promotes the film cause. It was his recommendation that lead me to try Retropan, and armed with a couple of rolls, I decided to see just how good the film really was for portrait photography.

I work with digital and analogue when shooting, but I have rediscovered the joy of film photography and the discipline it demands. No more quick test shots to see if things are working. It is now a case of planning the shot and checking all settings are correct. The research needs to extend to the film you plan to use, as well.

So, armed with the film and a need to know more about the characteristics of Retropan, my first task was to research just what type of images the film produced.  Foma’s Website provides a good starting point for a quick summary, but I certainly needed more details. So, on to the web and searching for Retropan I can across a section in APUG which discussed real life experiences with the film.

With all the insights gleaned to the nature of the film, the first portrait taken were inside a pub in Vancouver. I was after somewhere that controlled the amount of light, and allowed the lowlights provide the tone of the image, and have Peter ‘pop’ out from the background.

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The first shot show excellent skin toning and still having reasonable contrast. This is where those whom love dark greys and blacks will love work with the film. Limiting the highlights gives us reasonable contrast while still being a soft, almost nostalgic looking film. As you can see in the unprocessed image, there is a reasonable amount of grain in the shot, but with subtle use of noise reduction, the image becomes suitable for publication and enlargement. I was told by Christopher from Blanco Negro that the more extreme grain can be controlled by using the matched chemicals during development.

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Peter – With a small amount of highlights and good amount of lowlights, this is where Retropan comes into its own. Very little processing is required to get the best out of the photo.

Tools:

Macphun Noiseless 2016: Lightest Preset at 100%

Macphun Tonality 2016: Clarity +10

When moving to the outside on a very sunny day, the film really finds it’s niche in creating very soft, highlight sensitive images, giving us ethereal, dreamy feel, of the 50’s. Now, I understood that the film will produce a soft feel, and that is certainly true at the highlights, while the mid to low tones are contrast softer than Kodak T-Max 100 they are still strong enough to pull the image together. This allows for some especially beautiful images to be created straight from the camera, which should be the plan when shooting film.

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Again, the soft effect can be enhanced with some subtle changes, in this case done in Macphun’s Noiseless to reduce the grain and Tonality to deepen the blacks, which adds to the dreamy look the film delivers.

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Kristina – With sun to her left and majority of background in shadows.

This is the sweet spot for Retropan 320. It has a relatively small area of highlights, but large ares extending from the mid range down to lowlights.

Tools:

Macphun Noiseless 2016: Light Preset at 50%

Macphun Tonality 2016: Tone:Black -40

So, how does the film fair when shooting directly towards the sun? Well, as you can see from the shot of Kristina taken on Water Street, in the Gaslight district of Vancouver, there is a beautifully soft background, while she pops out from the image due to the very good separation between the highlights and her. This allows us to separate the image from the background easily without any editing required, bar some subtle adjustments to slightly deepen the subject.

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To bring out Kristina, a mask was applied to the Tonality adjustment. This was to pull the separation from the highlights on the subject only, but in my workflows I apply the change to the entire image first, then see if a mask is really needed. In this image, I wanted to keep the highlights in the background, avoiding any distractions from taking away from Kristina.

 

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Kristina – Standing with sun behind her, spot meter on her face.

Given the highlights within the photo, I have applied an increase in blacks to compensate for the soft contrast of the film.

Tools:

Macphun Noiseless 2016: Light Preset at 100%

Macphun Tonality 2016: Exposure:Adaptive -32,

Tone:Black -60

So, as a final word, I really like Retropan 320 Soft Film. It gives a great result that is not necessarily pin sharp, but more capable in telling a story. The truth is that, as Keith Carter said, “Sharpness is overrated!” This film makes us more introspective, in that we need to understand what we are trying to achieve before taking photograph. That is true of film photography in general, and certainly true with Retropan.

I certainly see Retropan being avoided by those who have grown up with super sharp digital camera, and those whom the requirement is a non thinking film. I would suggest that no matter what your background, if you have a 35mm film camera that you grab a roll and shooting in a variety of lighting conditions. If you are like me, you will be blown away by the beautifully retro images that this film gives. So, while I won’t shoot exclusively with Retropan, I will certainly use it for clients that need a dreamy retro feel to their portraits.

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Kristina – Shaded with ambiant light.

Given the very neutral exposure profile of this photo, the image shows a low contrast softness. To add some punch, but without taking away from the shot, I have increased to contrast a little. Also, applied very little noise reduction, to keep the film grain.

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Tools:

Macphun Noiseless 2016: Lightest Preset at 100%

Macphun Tonality 2016: Exposure:Standard +8

Exposure:Adaptive -22

Contrast:Standard +34

Contrast:Smart -13

Tone:Black -60

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Kristina – With sun to on her front, shot side on.

This is the sweet spot for Retropan 320. With its small area of highlights on her hat and front, but mainly having midtones.

Tools:

Macphun Noiseless 2016: Light Preset at 75%

Macphun Tonality 2016: Contrast: Smart +20

Tone:Black -50

 

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Kristina – With sun to her right and majority of background being high midlights.

When there is excessive highlights, I was advise to expose for the most prevalent tone and it would balance out the highlights. Given the wall behind Kristina was cream in colour, shooting to tone it down worked with the film.

Tools:

Macphun Noiseless 2016: Light Preset at 50%

Macphun Tonality 2016: Contrast:Standard +16

Contrast:Smart +12

Tone:Black -50

Clarity: +15

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Alasdair Dougall started photography in high school, where the only option was film or sensitised paper. His rediscovery of film has allowed him to question his approach to taking photographs in both the analogue medium and the digital one.

He currently resides in Sydney Australia, and can be contacted at adougall@artandphotos.co.uk