Light determines everything. If I want a bright and colorful, happy image, then I need bright and colorful, happy light. This means bright blue skies, midday sun, and strong window light (if I’m shooting indoors). If it’s overcast, rainy, or otherwise gloomy, the images would reflect the moodiness in the light, and, while I think that’s so lovely (especially in black and white!), it’s not what excites me.
I feel like as photographers, we’re taught to fear midday harsh light in favor of soft, glowy evening light. I have a soft spot in my heart for golden hour light, but film is SO forgiving and versatile that shooting at midday in open sun is not a fear of mine!
I’ve also found location to be important. It might seem obvious, but murals and walls, bright blue skies and water (especially reflecting light!), and bright green trees and flowers definitely make an image more colorful.
It takes being mindfully aware of colors and shapes around you. What calls you to life in your work? Look for those elements and photograph them!
I’ve seen some truly spectacular work done in the most mundane places (a parking lot, for instance) that have been transformed by the use of color you find (bright blue sky), or color you bring along (towel, blanket, etc). Make your own magic!
3. Film Stock
Film stock is majorly important for creating colorful images. My favorite stock is Kodak Ektar 100 for bright and sunny outdoor photos (as Ektar loves lots of light!). I’ve always been really pleased with the result, especially bright blue skies at midday.
For indoors, I normally shoot Kodak Portra 400, but will shoot through things for an extra pop of color and tend on the side of overexposing a stop or two. I recently experimented with a roll of Psychedelic Blues #4 that I loved the results from as well!
Experimenting is vital. It is the heartbeat in any one of my images. I feel like picking up a film camera and taking a risk shooting a roll without instant gratification or the security of knowing if it’s even going to turn out the way you want alone is experimentation.
Playing with different film stocks and speeds, and under/overexposing to get a desired look has been helpful for me. Taking notes is also recommended as all those exposures often return without remembering exactly what was done to produce it!
Opening up the back of my camera for a light leak quick every now and then on a roll is common, and I’ve also started experimenting with the type of light I’m leaking onto the film. For example, the sun is going to expose the film to a yellowish color, but what about opening the back of the camera against a colorful neon light? (Read more about how to do light leaks here!)
I also do double exposures in camera with a desired exposure if I have a vision of what I’m wanting to create, but for a little more chaos (and therefore unique result), I’m known to shoot a roll, re-load it, and shoot it again. Sometimes many times! With my Canon EOS 3, the custom function button provides an easy way to tell the camera to automatically leave the leader out of the film once it’s wound back up.
Props have also been a fun way to incorporate what I love into an image, especially when it isn’t readily available around me. Colorful lights as a base for a double, or a neon light, colorful patterns on anything (clothes, balloons, etc) are all great things to use to add a pop of color to any image.
My main advice would be to take the time to see what works for you. First observe the type of light, shapes, colors you’re looking for, then play with different film stocks and see what works for you! Add in some fun experimenting and make some art that is truly unique.
Thank you so much, Elizabeth! You can see more of Elizabeth’s work on her on her website and Instagram!
Leave your questions about creating colorful images on film below in the comments!
You can also check out all of our film tutorials here!