Storms and chasing in the film era

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Jan 14, 2011
St. Louis
I happened to remember yesterday that I captured this image in Pittsburgh 20 years ago to the day, on Kodak 100ASA print film with a Pentax K1000.


I love the capabilities and advances of digital, but I'm really nostalgic for the film era. I used to carry a small lunch cooler with at least two packs of film (8 rolls), and would often burn through three of them in one storm. I usually had to wait until the next morning to take the rolls in for developing, which meant 24 hours or more would pass before I could see what I got. The wait was even longer when I switched to slides, unless I paid the lab extra to rush the order (which I couldn't help but do most of the time).

Lightning photos were somewhat rare back then and were valued chase prizes. It took work and a lot of film. A catch like this would put me on a high just like when I have a banner tornado day now.
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I was lucky at the time because I was working at a newspaper and I could use all the Fuji 50 film I wanted then come back to the lab and process it. However, we could not process the 645 format film so I had to wait for that. The exposures were often a good guess, especially when there was any daylight left. I was fortunate to have calculated correctly for my best shots, like the bolt hitting the light pole that launched my career. The best thing about film was that it took some skill to get good shots so the market was still wide open when I started. Good shots were still highly publicized and photography was appreciated. Unfortunately, I still see a lot of good lightning shots now days, but they are lost in a sea of junk images that have flooded the market. Welcome to the digital age!
Next day? I wish... I shot, and would like to still shoot, 120 film. I aint takin that to walgreens! I've gone through 4-5 pro labs in 15 yrs. A couple started screwing up, nothing like a scratch across a bolt, or they went out of business. Now I ship 10 rolls at a time to Chicago in a batch process. I still have film in the fridge from 2014! What's on em? Who knows. I don't.

I think film is better. Quality-wise. ALL of the pics on my sparks page are on 120, 6x7cm, film.
And no, I didn't spend hours in PS. I don't even have PS. :)

But it costs me $1.50 per picture on 120 film. Ya.... So this DSLR shot woulda cost me about $100 in film.
Short exposure, about 1/30sec, and just fire off one after another.... Hay! I got one. ;) I've fired off 300 pics on downtown OKC to get one spark pics that was decent. Can't do that with film.

But yes. The instant feedback of digital, combine with the ability to shoot 1000 pics a night, which I've exceeded, is hard to beat. I do miss the ability to leave it open on bulb for 5-10 min. Do that with a DSLR and even a small town will glow like Fukashima. Film doesn't do that. I guess 100ISO is 100ISO, but sure does seem DSLR are more sensitive to low light. Several DSLR pics I've shot and I can make out the foreground, even though shot at night. Film won't do that. Film will have a black foreground. Larger dynamic range...

So ya, I miss film. But then again, I miss free road maps at the gas station. Yep. Used to be free. :p
Speaking of scratches.... photographers would have a complete fit if a world class transparency was scratched or damaged. In fact, it was not uncommon for clients to pay thousands of dollars if an original was damaged or lost. The courts had set a $50k value on unique originals and at the time there was no way to make an "original duplicate." I had a client lose 5 so-so originals once and I was paid somewhere around $12,000 to settle out of court.

I'm sure many classic shots were thrown out.... because no one had any idea that Photoshop would come along in the future and those damaged images could be fixed. ):

Maybe I need to check the volumes of original transparencies I have stored away.
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