Creating Beautiful Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce

35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
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Written by Alicia Bruce

Ask any analog photographer which film they recommend for portraits, and you’re bound to hear the same names over and over again: Kodak Portra 400, Fuji 400H, etc.

But say Ektar and portrait in the same sentence and you’ll be met with the twisted face of a skeptic. Ektar? For portraits?

Ah, but it doesn’t have to be this way! It’s possible to produce beautiful portraits with this saturated, contrasty film stock so long as you take a few things into account.

Find Kodak Ektar 100 in 35mm and 120 on Amazon.

How to Shoot Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 Film
How to Shoot Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 Film
How to Shoot Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 Film
35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
35mm film image of boys playing basketball - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film

Understanding Kodak Ektar 100 and Skin Tones

Ektar 100 is a color lover’s dream film.

Unlike most other film stocks, Ektar bumps up the saturation a notch while keeping hues mostly true to life (greens can run a little on the blue side, but not in an unrealistic way).

It also saturates some colors more than others – red being one of the more highly saturated hues – which means that whatever undertone you see on a person’s skin in real life, Ektar will make it more apparent.

Red is typically a problem on pale Caucasian skin tones, whereas darker skin tones might take on a more orange hue.

It’s the combination of saturation, contrast, and red tones that make Ektar more difficult to use when photographing people, but not impossible if you know how to work with its strengths.

35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
Ektar saturates reds and oranges more than other colors.
35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
Greens take on a blue hue.
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Metering and Exposing Kodak Ektar

First things first – Kodak Ektar 100 prefers being rated at box speed. Set your ISO to 100 and save the pushing for another film stock.

Like most other films, any amount of underexposure in Ektar will result in muddy shadows and dull contrast, so it’s best to err on the side of overexposure.

However, while Ektar can handle several stops of overexposure in general, the more it’s over exposed the more saturated some colors – like red and orange – can become. This is bad news when we’re talking about portraits of people.

35mm film image of a barber - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
This was an unexpected shot facing into a dark barber shop on an overcast day in Medellin. I was shooting handheld, so my EV was underexposed in order to avoid camera shake with a longer shutter speed. I was able to add some contrast back in post-processing, but further back into the shop remains flat.

Ektar performs best for portraits if shot at your light meter’s proper exposure or maybe + ⅓ or +⅔ of a stop, but not much higher than a full stop.

Because I avoid portraits in harsh light, I can get away with exposing for minor shadows or darker areas (usually no more than +⅓ – +⅔ stop) to produce a bright and colorful image.

35mm film portrait of a man - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
Overexposing this image and the one below would have left most highlights intact. However, the red in their skin would have continued to saturate.
35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film

Save Ektar for Sunny Days… But Seek Out Open Shade for Portraits

As much as I love shooting with Ektar, I do save it for specific conditions and locations where I know it will perform best.

This film stock loves light, so a bright blue-sky day will allow Ektar to really show off, especially if you’re photographing an aqua blue ocean or colorful architecture.

35mm film image of Palm Springs - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
Ektar 100 shoots colorful (non-human) subjects like a dream in full sun.
35mm film image of Palm Springs - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film

That said, Ektar is a high-contrast, high-saturation film – two things we don’t often want when photographing people.

As mentioned above, Ektar saturates reds in lighter skin tones and oranges in darker skin tones, and this effect is even more prominent in direct sunlight.

35mm film image of men swimming - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
I photographed these men on the beach in Italy in direct sunlight, which caused their skin to take on an unrealistic red hue.

Overcast days should work much better, right?

Not so fast.

Ektar 100 is hungry for light, and on days when the sun isn’t shining bright, you’ll be struggling to expose properly while keeping your shutter speed from being too long for hand held operation.

This often results in an underexposed image with lower contrast, relatively dull colors, and muddy shadows.

35mm film portrait of a woman holding a baby - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
This image, while adorable, feels rather dull thanks to the lack of ample sunlight at the time of shooting. The shadows are muddy, and there are no proper highlights. A film like Portra 400 would have produced a much better image in these conditions.

So when it comes to making portraits with Ektar, both direct sunlight and overcast conditions are out.

The solution?

Shoot on a sunny day and seek out open shade, an area that’s filled with lots of bright but indirect light.

I like to find colorful walls under an overhang so the subject is lit on three sides but still out of the harsh sunlight.

Even better if there’s a light colored building opposite them to reflect some indirect fill light back onto their faces.

35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
This women was photographed against a colorful wall – something I always look for when shooting with Ektar – and were both shielded from the harsh desert sun by an overhang on the building.
35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film

Even Light is the Name of the Game

With nearly any other subject, Ektar can handle overexposure and will continue to produce beautiful colors and a lovely contrast. But as mentioned earlier, when Ektar is overexposed the reds and oranges will continue to saturate, which causes a problem for portraits.

Therefore, the key to getting great portraits with Ektar is to look for even, indirect, bright light.

Shoot tighter if you need to; your goal is to fill your frame with the same type of lighting, negating the need to under or over expose the frame to account for hot spots or shadows.

35mm film portrait of a woman - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
Ekar produces lovely portraits when taken in even, but bright light. Greens and blues feel natural and vibrant without appearing too saturated.
35mm film portrait of a man - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
35mm film image of a man at a film stand - Portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 by Alicia Bruce on Shoot It With Film
Half of this photo was in open shade while the other half was in full sun. Over exposing the frame for the shadows caused the reds and oranges to saturate in the bartender’s skin. Ektar tends to blow out highlights when overexposed too much as seen on the right side of the image.

If you haven’t already figured it out, Ektar 100 can be a wonderful film for bright and colorful portraits if you stick within the confines of its sweet spots.

Box speed, bright, indirect light, and just a tiny bit of overexposure have produced some of my favorite portraits ever. I hope you feel more confident in trying to create colorful portraits on Ektar 100 without fear. Good luck and happy snapping!

All images photographed by Alicia Bruce on 35mm Kodak Ektar100 and a Canon Rebel 2000 35mm film camera. All scans were done on the Noritsu at The Find Lab.

Thank you so much, Alicia! You can find more of Alicia’s work on her website and Instagram.

Let us know any questions you have about shooting portraits on Kodak Ektar 100 below in the comments, and you can pick up some Kodak Ektar in 35mm and 120 on Amazon here.

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Blog Comments

FANTASTIC read! I have some in my fridge that I have never used and I think I will take a day trip to shoot some colorful buildings in Palm Springs!

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