Film Overexposure Comparisions

As a continuation from the last post, I figured it would be nice to have some actual photos to show the wide exposure latitude of color negative film and what typically happens when you overexpose it. I really should have taken these photos on a tripod but being the lazy ass that I am I didn’t do that of course. But I think these photos will at least get the point across.

With the two side by side photos shown below, the one on the left was the original and the one on the right was taken with a 1 stop overexposure. Using a tripod would’ve helped as the focus is a bit off on the second photo, but anyhow you can still see the subtle differences when you overexpose your film. Many people may prefer the exposure on the right, as overexposing the film helped to open up the shadows a bit. For that reason, many film shooters will choose to overexpose their shots by at least 1 stop always.

However, some shooters may even prefer to expose their shots by more than just 1 stop. In the example below, the photo on the left was overexposed by 1 stop and the photo on the right was overexposed by 2 stops. As you can see, even a 2 stop overexposure can look fine with color negative film. The shadows are opened up just a tiny bit more on the second photo and you can see that the details in the highlights (near and in front of the window) are still retained in the photo.

Crazy enough, I went ahead and took a third shot and overexposed it by 3 stops! Below is a comparison between the 2 stop vs. 3 stop overexposed shots (the photo on the left below is the same one as the photo on the right immediately above). So what do we see? Well if you look at the window, you can definitely tell that the whites are even brighter on the photo on the right. However, the fine details in the highlights are still there! That’s really the beauty of the exposure latitude in color negative film. It just has this ability to cling onto the highlights despite being 2 or 3 stops (perhaps even 4 stops) over. I should note that the person scanning your film also plays a big role in all of this. While the information is all captured on your negative, the quality of your digital scan really depends on the skills of the person scanning it. So sometimes if you get some horrible scans back, it may not be that you took horrible photos but instead it may be that the technician just did a crappy job. It appears the person scanning my film didn’t fall asleep on the job.

Below is another example. The first photo was the original exposure, followed by a 1 stop overexposure and then a 2 stop overexposure.

The photo on the left below was overexposed by about 1.5 stops, and the photo on the right was overexposed by 2 stops. They don’t look too different (and yes shooting on a tripod could’ve given a better comparison) but there are some subtle differences. I personally would prefer the photo on the right.

In the photos below, the one on the left was the original exposure and the one of the right was overexposed by 3 stops. Instead of changing the shutter speed I changed the aperture instead for these two photos, as you can tell by the blur in the second photo. The one on the left was shot at f/4.0 and the one of the right was shot at f/1.4.

The photo on the left below was overexposed by 1 stop and the one on the right below was overexposed by 2 stops.

Again, in the two examples that follow below, the photos on the left were overexposed by 1 stop and the photos on the right wereoverexposed by 2 stops. The person scanning the film did a good enough job with these photos that I can’t even really tell them apart. In both examples, the photos on the left and the photos on the right look pretty darn similar.

Finally, here’s the last shot on my roll that I killed. It’s overexposed by 2 stops. Personally, I always prefer to give my photos a 2 stop overexposure in most situations. The shadows are opened up and the colors still look great.

show hide 6 comments

October 1, 2012 - 6:50 pm

Elijah Out of curiosity, what do you meter to determine exposure? Do you spot meter something that looks roughly %18 gray (like green grass)?

October 1, 2012 - 8:36 pm

terrini For film, it’s best to meter the shadows because film has wide latitude. So you’re essentially telling the camera that the shadows are middle gray. On digital this would result in overexposure, but in film it’ll turn out fine.

August 9, 2013 - 2:12 am

Abby Do you usually set your film to box speed and then overexpose w the shutter speed? Or what are your settings?

August 9, 2013 - 10:11 am

terrini I like to rate my color negative films a full stop slower (e.g., setting 400 film to 200) and then meter for the shadows. I adjust both aperture and shutter speed as needed depending on the situation (e.g., capturing motion vs. achieving a shallow DOF).

June 29, 2014 - 5:42 am

Steven Hi! Awesome article. Can you please explain to me why down rating from ISO 200 to ISO 100 is considered overexposing? I cant wrap my brain around it. I keep thinking digital, if I make that switch I end up a stop underexposed… Why is that rule different for film? Thanks in advance!

June 29, 2014 - 7:50 pm

terrini The rating of film on your camera to overexpose only works if you are using the light meter built into your camera. If you’re using a handheld light meter, then it doesn’t matter what your ISO setting is on your camera since you’re not using it. But if you are using your camera’s in-built meter, then by rating your film from 200 to 100, you’re essentially telling the camera it has 100 film in it when it in fact has 200 film. So when you shoot a scene, the camera is going to expose the scene thinking it has 100 film. But since it’s actually 200 film, you’re getting an extra stop of overexposure.

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