Get Them Tones Perfect! The Best Film for Portrait Photography

There’s something wonderful about the way that film renders skin tones.

When you shoot portraits with film, you’re expecting a specific look. This is so yearned for that there are digital presets created to emulate the look. But it’s never quite the same thing. Shooting with film is a lot more involved. But the extra work you do is always worth it. The reward is something worth bragging over. So we dove into our Reviews Index to find some of the best film for portrait photography. Take a look at our favorites!

The Phoblographer’s various product round-up features are done in-house by the staff. Our philosophy is simple: you wouldn’t get a Wagyu beef steak review from a lifelong vegetarian. And you wouldn’t get photography advice from someone who doesn’t touch the product. We only ever recommend gear that we’ve done full, thorough reviews with. If you’re wondering why your favorite product didn’t make the cut, there’s a chance that it’s on another list. If we haven’t reviewed it, we won’t recommend it at all. This method keeps our lists packed with industry-leading knowledge.

Pro Tips for Using Film for Portrait Photography

Here are some professional tips on how to shoot better portraits with film:

  • Load up your camera with film. Generally speaking, it’s a great idea to give it more light than what the box speed is. If your film is rated to ISO 400, then maybe shoot it for ISO 200 instead. You’ll get better tones usually. This is important for using film for portrait photography. It’s a lot less forgiving than digital typically is.
  • If you’re shooting with slide film (reversal film), try to shoot at maybe a stop more light.
  • An important thing about using film for portrait photography is the light. Therefore, try to go for something as neutral or silver as possible.
  • Did you know that lens coatings can affect the look? Newer lenses tend to be more contrasty and have more saturated looks. So, when combined with film, the look may be something you don’t expect.
  • The film emulsions we chose here are great because they give a look that’s seriously in demand.

Kodak Portra 400

In our review, we said:

“Kodak Portra 400 is a Daylight balanced film. To associate this with something in the digital photography world, consider your camera’s Daylight white balance. If you go around the entire world shooting with your ISO locked in at ISO 400 and with Daylight White Balance, all you’ll get are very specific looks.”

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CineStill 800T

In our review, we said:

“Photographers that will love CineStill 800T are the same ones that shoot portraits. In many ways, this film was made for studio shooting. Anything involving flashes will be great, though I’m not sure that I would use it for food photography. If you’re taking images at a wedding, try this film out.”

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Kodak Ektachrome E100

In our review, we said:

“For starters, remember that with Kodak Ektachrome and with slide film, you’ll do your best job when using an SLR and a graduated ND filter of some sort. With an SLR, you can see the effects of the filter through the lens. When shooting with a rangefinder, you’ll just need to be even more cognizant of the lighting situation. Before you even start shooting with this film though, I strongly recommend learning how lighting will affect your scene. I’m not only speaking to the quality of the lighting but also the color. This is a daylight-based film and, as I’ve encouraged so many of you over the years, learn to shoot with a locked white balance to teach yourself more about color.”

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