Street Photography Review - A Year on Black and White Film with Ilford HP5 Plus

All film photographs were shot on Ilford HP5 Plus pushed to 1600 with the Leica M6 TTL and Leica 28mm Summicron f/2 ASPH lens, developed at home with Ilfotec HC and scanned with the Kodak Pakon f135+.

Singapore, 2015

Singapore, 2015

The Introduction

I spent a year shooting street photography on black and white film. That experience completely changed the way I understood photography. 

I started taking photos 11 years ago on a Canon 400D. Since then I've travelled to Barcelona and Paris shooting with 7D's, 6D's, zoom lenses and prime lenses.

I've been to the streets of New York and Vietnam with the Sony A7R equipped with fully manual focus, vintage lenses.

I've shot full wedding days with 1DX's, 5D's, and Fuji's like the X100T and the XT-1. But nothing comes close to experience of shooting black and white film.

Singapore, 2015

Singapore, 2015

The end result is one thing, but the experience of taking a photograph is another. 

Most people obsess over one aspect of the photography. They focus on things like resolution, high iso performance and focusing speed. Some wiser photographers understand the need for good technique. They focus on how to actually take the photograph. They know composition, framing and lighting.

But very few people really care about how it feels to take a photograph, and thats is what black and white film photography taught me. 

Singapore, 2015

Singapore, 2015

The Experience

It's just another day and you're heading for lunch.

You have your camera by your side and everything is ready. Your film is rolled and loaded. You wonder, is HP5 plus the best black and white film for street photography? It doesn't really matter, it will work.

You look around to see what kind of day it is and its really sunny, so you go for f8.0 and 1/1000th shutter speed. Your lens is set at 28mm and you know what the frame size is going to look like the moment you raise the camera up to your eye. 

Singapore, 2015

Singapore, 2015

As you walk down the road you see a lady holding up a piece of paper. She's trying to block her face from the glaring sun.

You quickly set your manual focus to 0.7 meters and at that exact distance, your raise your camera to your eye and take the photo. You don't need to worry how fast your focusing speed is.

You're already in focus.

You two cross paths and she lowers the paper as she walks into the shade. That moment has forever passed. You advance the film and continue on, looking out for where your next photo might be.

Singapore, 2015

Singapore, 2015

You see that no one is around, so you lower your camera to your side. 

Your camera is small and doesn't get in your way.

Instead of having a really big camera that you're always aware of, your film rangefinder is always there, waiting for the next interesting moment. 

You're on a bus and you see skateboarders coming down the side walk. You raise the camera to take a photo, and one of them happens to see you. 

Singapore, 2016

Singapore, 2016

Instead of thinking about which focal length on a zoom lens you're going to use, you've already picked your favorite focal length, and its not going to change. 

No putting your eye to the camera, zooming in and out.

You already know what the frame is going to look like. 

You see a man carrying a baby. Theres something about his eyes.

Singapore, 2016

Singapore, 2016

At the food court you notice two old men sitting alone on opposite tables. They could have been friends.

Instead of thinking about settings, you've already metered to the shadows, and the film stock has enough tolerance to deal with any overexposure. 

You've already set your exposure.

Singapore, 2016

Singapore, 2016

It starts to rain, and instead of thinking about which ISO setting to use, you only have one. It is HP5 pushed to 1600. You adjust your camera to f2.8 and 1/250th shutter speed. 

A lady cycles by. Her mood seems to reflect the rain.

After you've taken a photo, you're not wondering what that photo looked like. The moment has already passed by, and you're looking for the next one.

Singapore, 2016

Singapore, 2016

After 6 months, your camera batteries start to die. You head into a nearby convenience store and buy a replacement for $2.

You won't be thinking about batteries for the next 6 months.

Singapore, 2015

Singapore, 2015

In Conclusion

That's what shooting black and white film feels like.

It's simple, you don't need to worry about settings, and it puts you in the moment. It allows you to focus on what is in front of you, and it allows you to experience the real world. 

It doesn't allow you to go back to little screen on your camera which has already passed. It allows you to pay attention to what truly matters in photography.

Is it going to give you the sharpest photos? Nope. Is it going to give you the best high iso performance and dynamic range? Nope. 

But the experience it gives you is worth so much more.

Jeremy T.

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Singapore, 2016

Singapore, 2016