When the new Portra 400 emulsion came to market, I didn’t pay much attention. I was deep in to a months long commitment to shoot one camera, one lens, and one film. I didn’t deviate from that path for several months.
When I finally finished that exercise, I decided to see what the new film could do. I hit Flickr and looked for images shot on it. It looked very, very good.
The wedding shooters who still used film were all very psyched about the new film’s abilities. They went on about the film’s great latitude, how you had a couple of stops over and under with no worries. How if you shot it at ISO 1600 and developed at box speed, without any push, it gave everything kind of a early 70s French film look. Washed and with a decided shift towards blue. Even at box speed it has a muted palette that I love. It produces the kind of shot the guys who wrote some of the iPhone apps wish they had done.
I’ve never really shot it at a pulled speed, since I would just rather use its higher speed sibling Ektar 100 in situations with more light. The examples I found of pulled shots on Portra 400 looked good, but it also comes in 160 speed which can give you much the same effect.
I always and forever seem to be running out of light. The hike takes longer than expected, or the shoot starts too late, or life in general tends to happen. I just don’t use flash. I’ve watched people spend tens of thousands of dollars to buy lights and remote triggers and such just to make an image look like it was shot under daylight. I’ve always just shot things in daylight. But that does leave you at the mercy of clouds and rain, and subject to the tyranny of the sunset.
Some folks color correct the blue shift in their images, but I’ve always felt that was a quality to love, not erase. It does give it a bit of a cinematic look.
Portra 400 lets you squeak the last bit of light out of the day and get what you need. I’ll probably keep using this film forever. It comes through in a pinch and helps me finish what I’ve started.