Shooting Kodachrome film in 2012

Yes, I am fully aware that getting those nice bright colors and greens of summers with Kodachrome film is currently impossible.  The last rolls were developed in December 2010 by Dwayne’s Photo in Parsons, Kansas.  Kodak’s not making the developing chemicals any more.  And even if they did, you can’t develop the stuff at home.  Many have tried.  None have succeeded.  I know.  I know.  It’s the current photographic equivalent of developing a perpetual motion engine, convincing FOX to bring Dollhouse back, or finding a left-handed pitcher than can win 30 games and hit 30 homers.

Even with all these barriers … as you will see in this blog post … not only was I able to successfully shoot a roll of Kodachrome film, I was able to produce color images with it that are, at least in its first step, an attempt to recreate the color of that iconic slide film.

Yeah, I figured you’d all call me a liar.  And verily, I telleth thee to taketh a five-mile walk off a three-mile pier.

It’s April 25, 2012.  Thanks to an eBay auction, I have an unused roll of Kodachrome 64 35mm film in my possession.  The film has an expiration date of I have no freakin’ idea.  I can certainly get 36 shots off of this roll without any trouble – well, if nothing else, at least I can expose the film.

I packed the Kodachrome in my Nikon F100; and for all photos that were taken with this roll, I used my Nikkor E-series 28mm f/2.8 manual focus wide-angle lens.

I took each picture using shutter priority on the camera, and shot the film as if it was an ISO of 50, rather than its printed ISO of 64.  Snap.  First picture taken.

Then, I put a red Bower 2 filter on the camera and took another picture.  Then I swapped out  the red filter with a green Tiffen 58 filter.  Another picture taken.  And then I swapped out the green filter with a blue Tiffen 47 filter.  Another shot taken.

Yep.  I knew that Prokudin-Gorskii Technique would come in handy at some point in time.  Moscow, meet Rochester.  Рочестер, встретиться Москве.

There are some companies that can develop Kodachrome film as a black-and-white negative product.  One such company is Film Rescue International, a respected photo developing company that specializes in pulling pictures from vintage film.  Did you find an undeveloped roll of film in an old camera in an attic?  Send it to Film Rescue International and they’ll pull something off of it.

At the beginning of May, I sent the roll of Kodachrome to FRI; on May 8, they sent me an e-mail that the film had been received, and although they can’t develop Kodachrome as Kodachrome film, they could in fact develop it as a black-and-white film, and would do so on the next print run.  To develop it as a black-and-white film, FRI has to carefully remove the Kodachrome film’s remjet backing.  Then they can dip the film in the proper chemicals.  It won’t be “slide” film any more, but it should produce acceptable images.

On July 12, 2012, the developed film arrived in my mailbox.

If nothing else, Kodachrome is a decent B&W analogue film.  But with all the work one would do to create images as B&W – especially when there’s Ilford and efke and Svema and Kodak BW400CN film – using Kodachrome as a B&W medium is like asking John Force to take his dragster for a grocery store run.

Still, if I did nothing else with this film, I could get some halfway decent B&W shots, like this picture of the sign up at Saratoga Race Course.

Saratoga 2012 Schedule BW LR
Saratoga 2012 Schedule. Nikon F100 camera, 28mm f/2.8 lens, Kodachrome 64 film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Now if I show you the entire scan of the picture – including the sprocket holes… look here.

Kodachrome Strip 2a KDR LR
Kodachrome Strip of film. Photo by Chuck Miller.

As you can see, it includes information regarding the Saratoga Race Course’s dates of operations for the 2012 racing season – July 20 to September 3.  And if you look at the top of the film strip, right next to the sprocket holes, is the designation “KR 64” – the abbreviation for consumer-grade Kodachrome 64 ISO film.

I show this piece of evidence to prove that these pictures below were not hand-colored, hand-tinted or manipulated by any Photoshop filters or other types of “trickery.”  I did not use an Instagram filter to create these images, nor did I take color pictures with another film and try to “trick” you into thinking I used Kodachrome.  All negatives used for this project are readily available for in-person verification.  You just have to come to Albany.  And bring cookies.  If I have to show you these negatives as proof, the least you can do is bring me some cookies.

You’ve seen the original B&W picture.  I then scanned in each of the three filtered images into the computer, and lined up as many common points on each image as I could.  Since my art graphics program can split a color image into three “red-green-blue” channels, I set it up to do the opposite – create a color image from three “red-green-blue” originals.

And with that in mind… here’s what I came up with.

Kodachrome 2012 Project
All photos taken with Nikon F100 camera, Nikkor f/2.8 28mm E series lens.
Four shots were taken of each object – in sequence: clear white filter, red Bower #2 filter, green Tiffen 58 filter; blue Tiffen 47 filter.
RGB photos were then lined up and combined by Prokudin-Gorskii technique.
Photos by Chuck Miller.
Look, it’s the Jericho Drive-In marquee.  And see the films on the marquee?  “American Reunion” and “21 Jump Street.”  Proof enough?
Jericho Drive-in Marquee 2012 BW LR Jericho Drive-in Marquee KDR LR
Here’s another angle of the Jericho sign.  The owners were kind enough to turn on the marquee neon lights for this picture.
Jericho Drive-in Marquee 2 BW LR Jericho Drive-in Marquee 2 KDR LR
And here’s a vintage sign from a long-ago shuttered 1950’s-era convenience store on Second Avenue in Albany.
Second Avenue Lottery Store BW LR Second Avenue Lottery Store 2012 KDR LR
I also drove to Saratoga Springs and took this picture from the intersection of Funny Cide and Bird Town, right at the entrance of the Saratoga Race Course.
Funny Cide Bird Town 3 BW LR Funny Cide Bird Town 3 KDR LR

Yep… all of these are Kodachrome shots.  They were not created by that Kodak EasyShare camera that has a “Kodachrome” setting on it.  I didn’t sit there and digitally hand-paint these pictures.  This is not some other brand of film that I’m calling “Kodachrome” just for laughs and snickers.

And in showing you how I did this, I explained the techniques used to create these final pictures.  Yeah, the description sounds almost like turning left three times because you wanted to make a right turn – but the fact is, I achieved my goal.

I’m going to work on this technique some more – I would have had more pictures to show you, but they were under-exposed.  Next time I’ll open the throat up on these images an extra step or two.  And I’ll try to avoid shooting on a cloudy day, unless I specifically want “cotton candy” clouds in the sky.  But if nothing else…

This should be another photo discipline for which I can have a lot of fun.