36 Shots in the Dark: Shooting Kodak Portra 800 At 3200

Some time last year I marveled at the resilience of color negative film after exposing a roll of Kodak Ektar (which has a box speed of 100) at 1600. I didn’t bother pushing the film in development; I was prepared to take the “L” and keep it moving.

Yet, when I pulled that 4-stops-underexposed roll of Ektar from the developing tank, I realized it wasn’t a total loss.

Contrasty? Yes. But it wasn’t terrible. You can see that post here.

More recently, I had another experience with underexposed color film. Kodak Portra 800 this time. And this time it was on purpose.

My initial plan was to do some night shooting, exposing my 35mm roll of Portra 800 at 1600. Perhaps overcome with a wave of reckless abandon, I decided to shoot it instead at 3200.

This was the evening of September 11 and lower Manhattan, specifically the area around the World Trade Center, was a bit busier than it would normally be that time of night.

I don’t usually like shooting 36-shot rolls of film. It just takes me too long to get through it. But I made relatively quick work of my Portra 800.

The next day I processed the film, pushing it two stops in development. I dried the film. I cut the film. I scanned the film.

I cheered.

Of course, the results are noticeably grainier and more contrasty than if I had shot at box speed, but I don’t mind a little extra grain. There were some color shifts and weird white balance in a few shots, but nothing that couldn’t be easily corrected in Lightroom.

Kodak Portra 800 isn’t a cheap film and not one that, in my budget conscious opinion, lends itself to experimentation. But I took a shot and had fun doing it. That’s all that matters this time.

All photos: Kodak Portra 800 @3200 | Minolta XE-7 | Cinestill Cs41 Kit

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