Underexposure and Overexposure Film

Underexposure and Overexposure Film

  • Overexposure of black-and-white or color print film leads to black-and white negatives that are more contrasty and color negatives more color-saturated than normally exposed films. Some manufacturers purposely underrate their print films 1/2 f-stop slower than they really are. This works well for point-and-shoot camera users whose meters are not so accurate. Visually, prints made from overexposed color print negatives seem more color-saturated and snappier. The contrastier prints appear sharper.

  • Straight underexposure of print film is not a recommended procedure unless shadow detail is absolutely essential and highlights can be sacrificed. In any event, limit underexposure of color print film to no more than 1 f-stop. Underexposure of black-and-white print film without attendant processing adjustments will increase film speed, but at a price. Both contrast and grain grow in proportion to the degree of underexposure. If the subject is flatly lit, showing little contrast, and contains lots of detailed mid tones, uncompensated underexposure can generate "snap" in the image through increased contrast, while at the same time maintaining reasonable grain. Underexposing color print film by one or two f-stops still leads to acceptable prints because of the wide exposure latitude of the material.

  • Beyond two f-stops, underexposure color begins to wash out perceptibly.

  • Deliberate, uncompensated underexposure is most effective with color slide films. Used judiciously, underexposure increases effective ISO, color intensity, and contrast. Underexposures of 1/2 to 1 full f-stop can be tolerated by most slow- and medium-speed slide films. Underexposing higher contrast slide film like Fujichrome 50, Velvia, or Ektachrome 50 HC does indeed yield dramatic increases in color, but it does lead to decreased shadow detail to a point where important information may be totally lost.

  • However, if you seek graphic, intense color, just underexpose an ultra high contrast slide film like Polaroid Presentation Chrome Color should be as intense as it can be and contrast should compress considerably, adding to the drama.


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