What kind of color film do (did) photojournalists use?

Discussion in 'Color: Film, Paper, and Chemistry' started by BetterSense, Jan 31, 2009.

  1. BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    Youngster alert. I have never grown up around film photography. I didn't even start thinking about photography until the early 00s. The only color film I've shot is color print film from the drugstore. I've heard on the internets that 'real' photographers shoot slide film for greater color control, rendition and finer grain, or something. I accepted this because in most things, professionals use different stuff than hobbyists and grandmas and such.

    But then I got to thinking about the images from the '80s and '90s 35mm photojournalists and reporters, such as the pictures I saw growing up in National Geographic and Outdoor Life as well as action photography in skateboarding magazines and such. I'm not saying it was all 35mm but some of it was and surely most of newspaper-type people shot 35mm. Anyway, I was wondering what kind of color film that the DSLR-equivalent-toting professionals of 20 years ago (excluding lanscape and portraiture photographers) used for color film? Did they shoot plain old Fuji or Kodak C-41 print film, like I do now? Did National Geographic provide the film, or did it mandate a certain kinds of film be used, or could their labs pretty much handle whatever the photographer wanted to shoot? What about newspaper labs?

    If someone who knows what was 'normal' in the late 80s and 90s in media photography could chime in, I would be very interested.
     
  2. Venchka

    Venchka Member

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    Even Nat'l. Geo. is about 99% digtial now. Once upon a time, they were 99% Kodachrome and occasionally Ektachrome.
     
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    BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    I figured they would go digital if only for economic reasons. It's interesting if they really shot Kodachrome. Even as a small child I always noticed NG had a certain distinctive flavour about its photography. I wonder to what extent film choice caused it.
     
  4. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    At one time National Geographic had their own Kodachrome laboratory, and it was one of the highest volume 35mm Kodachrome laboratories in the world.

    My father worked for Canadian Kodak and was in charge of the customer service department at the North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada Kodak lab. That lab had Kodachrome and Ektachrome lines only - colour print went to Ontario.

    On a few occasions he had dealings with National Geographic photographers who were shooting in our area, and who wanted their work processed here, rather than sent to National Geographic's lab. The quantity of film shot was amazing!

    Matt
     
  5. alan doyle

    alan doyle Member

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    i have just been looking at a national geo magazine..august 1996..a special on mexico..
    as usual great images..in the on assignment section near the back it states that the office received 2850 rolls of film from 4 photographers..
    all looks like kodachrome to me.
    amazing shooting ratio..a heck of a lot of Bracketing methinks..all this film for one assignment...
     
  6. nemo999

    nemo999 Member

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    As others have said, Kodachrome was the #1 choice for feature work with 35mm where the processing time was not a problem. Features photogs also shot rollfilm whenever possible - think for example of the classic shot of Muhammed Ali (Cassius Clay at the time) knocking out Sonny Liston. I believe this was shot on a Hasselblad using slow Ektrachrome (ISO 64). Hard news guys used C41 neg film, Kodak for example had a film called Ektapress which came in speeds up to ISO 800. The reason for this was the relative ease of getting C41 film processed quickly in local mini-labs.
     
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    BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    Well, assuming the assignment was 3 weeks (guess), then that's about thirty rolls per day. If the film was free I suppose I can imagine shooting that much. Seems like a lot of reloading.
     
  8. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    It depends a lot on what you mean by "photojournalist". National Geographic seems to be the first thing that comes to many people's minds when they think of photojournalism, but not mine. I think of newspaper and wire service photographers. N. Geo. is a feature magazine published by a private society. A quick look on Wikipedia reveals the basic purpose in the society's own words: "...to increase and diffuse geographic knowledge while promoting the conservation of the world's cultural, historical, and natural resources." It is certainly one type of journalism, but the considerations are totally different than for other types of journalism.

    At any rate, I am sure there was a lot of variation in what films they shot. Different films for different situations, just like any other sort of photography. I know for sure from my close friend (who worked for Allsport/Getty for 12 years and recently moved to AP) that in the 1990s, consumer 800 films were extremely common, and that even into the 1990s, people shooting for the NYT still used b/w film, as the paper had not yet gone to its [ugly IMHO] color front page at that time. When transparencies were preferred, it was a matter of speed of delivery of the positive image more than anything else, plus their push and pull ability, and also the fact that in the early days of color neg. films, they were not as good as they are today.
     
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  9. accozzaglia

    accozzaglia Member

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  10. dances_w_clouds

    dances_w_clouds Subscriber

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    Makes my head go all fuzzy just thinking about that !:D
     
  11. bighilt

    bighilt Member

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    In the 80s I worked for newspapers, magazines and news agencies, covering the unfolding political situation in South Africa.
    Colour film used was primarily Fuji 400 ASA slides and sometimes 100 ASA.
    Black and white was always 400 ASA. Initially it was Tri X but later became Ilford and Agfa when Kodak withdrew from South Africa as part of a global political protest.
     
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  12. OP
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    BetterSense

    BetterSense Member

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    So basically the whole 'pros don't shoot color print film' was roughly true even in the height of professional 35mm use. Interesting! Very cool. I've personally never shot slides.
     
  13. Heinz_Anderle

    Heinz_Anderle Member

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    When Austrian newspapers converted to color printing in the mid-1990s, 400 and 800 ASA negative films were the common choice for photojournalism, especially from Fuji for the latter. There is a good reason why Fujicolor Press 800 (and Superia 800) has been or is, resp., still available in 20 roll packs. I think it must have been similar in other countries.

    It is hard to imagine today that all color pictures in magazines (as I remember from the 1970s onward) and later in daily newspapers had been shot on film.
     
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  15. Aurum

    Aurum Member

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    Photojournalists are a unique type of photographer.

    For those working on National Geographic, the picture quality was the most important thing, so in the 60's / 70's its not surprising that they were using the best media available at that time which was Kodachrome.

    For newspaper photographers, the main quality they were looking for was speed of turn around and flexibility. This meant black and white originally, as its only a few years ago (in my terms) that most of the dailies included colour.

    At that time C41 would have been used, as if all else failed, they'd find a 1 hour lab to do the work.

    These days, Digital is mainly used, as for this purpose, its strength is the speed to press and the flexibility as regards lighting. For daily paper use, the ultimate quality and nuances of film are not important
     
  16. alan doyle

    alan doyle Member

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    this is an impressive shooting ratio,we are talking about talented people here.not machine gun style paparazzi.
    especially if your using a leica or a nikon..
    for about 30 pages of great shots.
    you have to admit that the bean counters in the magazine, were probably very happy when the jump to digital happened..
    do the math on that amount of film,i bet you they were doing drum scans as well.
    but then again if the stock and processing was free then, i would have four cameras locked and loaded..
     
  17. markbarendt

    markbarendt Subscriber

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    You make a great point here, expedience/convenience trumps quality for news. For PJ the only real standards seem to be can you see what's happening (the news) and how fast can I share this. At 72 dpi and 2 columns wide a cell phone cam is good enough if you can get close enough.

    The expected output required, defines the minimum input required; for news that's pretty low.
     
  18. SuzanneR

    SuzanneR Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    When I was a photo editor in the 90's at a national news magazine our staffers, contractors and freelancers routinely shot a variety of Fuji E-6 films. We kept it in stock, and had an in-house lab that processed E-6 and C-41 films. We used C-41 films when we needed higher speeds, or were shooting in mixed light such as hospitals, and couldn't bring in a boatload of strobes. When we wanted b/w pictures we used Ilford's XP2, the monochromatic film designed for C-41 processing.

    We found generally, we would get the best reproduction in the magazine from E-6 films, so it we generally encouraged their use whenever possible.

    And, yes, National Geographic used a lot of Kodachrome, but I think by the late 80's and early 90's they also had shooters using Fuji films, as well.
     
  19. cooltouch

    cooltouch Member

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    I did a fair amount of freelance photography back in the 80s and early 90s, specializing in motorsports. Back then, the editors wanted only slide film. I don't recall there being a bias toward Kodachrome. Ektachrome and Fujchrome 100 were certainly acceptable. I think their reason for preferring slide film was historical -- initially it was because detail was sharper and grain was finer. As color print film continued to improve in this regard, I suspect it was then just a matter of sticking with positive film because that's what their equipment was set up for. I'm far from an expert in these matters. I just made a point of using what they wanted -- slow slide film.

    Best,

    Michael.
     
  20. Mike Crawford

    Mike Crawford Member

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    Certainley, when I was at college, we were always told to shoot colour transparancies for reproduction and in the 80s when working for a studio photographer, it was always 5x4 and 10x8 trannies. A colour positive would give the most accurate colours and best contrast from the scanners then used. However, the printing industry went digital a decade or more before photographers, and scanning technology changed. In the UK for press photographers supplying newspapers and press agencies, I believe in the 90s it became more common to shoot C41, (even for reproduction in black and white), as it was easy to quickly process, scan, on to the Mac and get it in the paper. Fashion photographers at this time tended to shoot more colour negative and then spend a lot of time working on prints, (usually 12x16s) which were then scanned. I bet the people in charge of repro would have preferred transparencies though! A shame for us printers and darkroom monkeys that most of these photographers are now digital.
     
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  21. Photo Engineer

    Photo Engineer Subscriber

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    Nat. Geog. has used just about every film ever manufactured including Motion Picture films.

    PE
     
  22. wogster

    wogster Member

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    Colour magazine shots up until fairly recently were almost always on transparancy films, often large and medium format, Nat. Geo, photographers usually used 35mm, and it wasn't uncommon to spend a month in the jungle and return with hundreds of rolls of Kodachrome, out of 10,000 images they might use 8-10 in an article. Local newspapers would often use B&W film, Tri-X being one of the most common.....

    Now in both cases almost everything is shot digitally.
     
  23. mgb74

    mgb74 Subscriber

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    IIRC, most of the National Geographic Kodachrome was Kodachrome 25. Makes the photographer's skills even more impressive.

    My wedding was shot by a National Geo photographer (friend of my wife's family) in the early 70s. Kodachrome as well.
     
  24. alan doyle

    alan doyle Member

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    hi folks...
    found a great quote from national geo mag...
    before heading out,a photographer packs film-lots of it.
    in 1993 our photographers shot 46,769 rolls...thats about 1,683,600 frames..that year for 1,408 pictures published a .001 batting average.
    wow.....
    shame they shoot digital now cos they could keep kodachrome going all by themselves...
    if it is true that the usage is now less than 20 thousand rolls...
     
  25. cooltouch

    cooltouch Member

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    I'll bet that a lot more than 0.1% of the NG photos shot were keepers, though -- probably a lot more. I wonder what becomes (became?) of all the shots that didn't make it into the magazine for one reason or another? NG probaby has one of the largest archives of Kodachrome in the world.

    Best,

    Michael
     
  26. budrichard

    budrichard Member

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    Whatever would get the job done.
    In the late 1960's and early 1970's I used primarily the Kodak family of films with mostly K25 but K40 Type A when I could for indoor well lit buildings and High Speed Ektachrome Type B for indoor available light. I experimented with other fims such as Ansco 200 but Kodak films always had the best quality and availablilty. -Dick