José Villa’s Colors

Posted by on Dec 3, 2012 in Tutorial | 113 Comments
José Villa’s Colors

After three years of trying to emulate film digitally, I finally resigned. I caved in and bought a Contax 645 with a Carl Zeiss 80mm lens and from now on I shoot film exclusively. I ship all my work to Richard Photo Lab and started working with them on my own personal color profile. For now, I am using José Villa’s colors.

Here are my first results from our most recent trip to France. This was shot with the Contax 645, Carl Zeiss 80mm f2.0, Fujifilm 400H Pro (rated @ ISO 200), scanned and processed by RPL:

You bought it for a second – didn’t you?

Of course that’s not true. But wait a minute, two steps back… in case you don’t know José Villa, which I doubt, please go check out his incredible work first. It’s really worth it.

José Villa is one of the best and probably the most copied imitated inspiring wedding photographer in the world. His excellent eye, unique style and beautiful bright pastel color palette define the term Fine Art Wedding Photography. He is also the reason why it seems half the photographers that are featured on Style Me Pretty have sold their digital gear on Ebay and switched to Contax 645 medium format film cameras. He was one of the first wedding photographers who re-discovered film and had a tremendously huge influence on the whole wedding industry and the general revival of film photography.

Photographers around the world are raving about the airy feel in José’s photographs and are trying to replicate his look for their own images and clients. José kindly shares his magic recipe in interviews, in his book and workshops.

So how does José achieve this distinct look?

I don’t want to dive too deep into his technique (if you would like to learn more you have to ask him directly, buy his book or attend one of his workshops), but the essentials are:

1. Good light

The non-plus ultra is good light. José Villa lives and primarily shoots in Southern California and makes extensive use of good light. Back lit subjects and warm directional light help a lot with a good picture.

2. Film on a Contax 645 with a Carl Zeiss 80mm f2.0 lens

Medium format relates to the 35mm format about how 35mm (full frame) relates to APS-C (crop). Film on a medium format camera gives you a wonderful latitude for exposure. The lens equals a 50mm f1.2 on a full frame camera. Shot wide open, this produces a extremely shallow depth of field. The Carl Zeiss 80mm f2.0 also has a wonderful bokeh and a great color rendition.

3. Overexposure

José usually shoots Fujifilm Pro 400H and rates his film at ISO 200. This means he overexposes by one full stop per default. He then exposes for the shadows which results in another one to two stops. In total, he overexposes by at least two full stops. If you try that with a digital camera you will very likely blow out all of your images. With film, it adds contrast and saturation and, depending on the light, colors get a brighter pastel look.

4. Good lab

Richard Photo Lab is one of the best labs available in the US and does scanning and processing for most well-known film photographers. A good lab is essential, not only for processing and scanning but especially for color work.

Do you need these magic ingredients to achieve this look?

No, certainly not.

I love and shoot both, film and digital. And as you might know, I am very interested in replicating the look of film in digital photography (here you can find my experiments with emulating Portra 400 NC).

The above image was shot with a Nikon D700 and the Nikkor 50mm 1.4 G lens. Here is how it looks straight out of camera:

How does José’s look translate into digital photography?

First of all: Good light is essential, no matter if you are shooting film or digital. If you are into a soft dreamy look for your images, you have to shoot a fast prime lens wide open (for example a 50mm f1.2 or f1.4). You need to be very careful with your exposure. Different than film, a digital sensor is not very forgiving. If you overexpose too much, you will blow out your highlights and lose a lot of detail.

You can see in the above example that I didn’t overexpose the original image. To get this bright look with pastel colors you only push your exposure by around 1/3 to 2/3 of a stop and work with curves and levels instead. Try lifting your mid-tones and slightly clip your highlights. You also have to add a little bit of color to the highlights. You can distinctly see in José’s images that his highlights normally look light caramel or pink. Then you add back contrast and saturation for the shadows and lower mid-tones.

To make your digital images look more organic you can also add a little bit of grain. It shouldn’t be too obvious, only enough to get some texture into the picture. You can also crop your pictures to the aspect ration of 6×4,5 (like I did with my first picture above to show off my imaginary Contax) but that would mean you lose information as that’s not the native ratio of most digital cameras.

Here are a couple of more examples:

Of course this look isn’t exactly identical to José’s. But it looks a lot closer to me than what a lot of photographers get out of their Contax 645. And that is what I wanted to demonstrate here: Color work is very important in both mediums.

This technique works especially well if you are shooting a Fuji X-Pro1/X-E1 as these cameras give you a very distinct Fuji color palette already. You can also push this a little further if you are into pastel colors. In the example below, the image on the left is straight out of camera, the one in the middle would be the technically correct one and the one on the very right shows an extremely bright and poppy result:

One of the most common misconceptions about film is that it doesn’t need to be post-processed. The opposite is the case. Film very often requires extensive color work, but different to digital, that is usually done by a lab and not by the photographer. A lot of good film photographers nevertheless invest a significant amount of time in their color work after they get their film back from the lab or work with the lab to get their colors right.

This is the very reason why Richard Photo Lab offers custom made color profiles. They help professional film photographers to find and reproduce their own personal look (even though they’re very often shooting the very same film as many others). A good lab also does exposure and color correction for each single frame.

Whenever you hear that film doesn’t require as much work as digital, keep in mind that that’s only half the story. In fact, someone has to do the work – whether it’s film or digital. If you shoot film, you simply pay someone else to do your post-processing and color work for you (which adds significant costs if you’re shooting professionally).

What’s the conclusion?

I think a couple of things are very important to understand and acknowledge. First of all it’s not necessary to shoot the exact equipment José Villa shoots to get colors that are somewhat comparable. It’s possible to get colors like that in digital photography as well. In my opinion it is worth spending time trying to understand colors and light. Not to copy someone else’s look but to be able to visualize what you see with your own eye when you are taking a picture.

José Villa’s work looks amazing because he is an amazingly talented photographer, not because he shoots a Contax 645 and has his own color profile with Richard Photo Lab. Your work will never in the world look like any other photographer’s work – because it’s not about film, the gear they’re using or their colors, it’s about their eye – and you can’t copy that.

I think it’s good to have people that you look up to and it’s ok to get inspiration from other photographers from time to time. But it’s important to find your own unique style that is an reflection of your personality – not a copy of someone else’s.
 
 
 
Update, 25.03.2013

Thank you all very much for your feedback on this post.

I received a lot of comments and emails from photographers who don’t agree that film does need to be post-processed and that it’s possible to get results like that directly from a lab, without any retouching.

To make my write-up a little more plausible I asked my wife to borrow her Contax 645 (no joke this time) and shot a roll of Fuji 400H with an exposure bracket of five stops. The results below show normal exposure (“0″) to four stops overexposure (“+4″).

These shots are uncorrected scans from a Fuji Frontier. You can see how film gets more contrasty and saturated the more you overexpose where a digital file would just get brighter and finally blow out.

The following image is a good example of what film can handle because of its superior tonal response curve and where you would need additional color work. The picture was shot with my Hasselblad on Portra 160, rated at 100 and exposed for the shadows:

2205

I also promised to share my workflow as a short tutorial.
Here are four simple steps that you can reproduce in any software. I personally use Lightroom 4.

1. The most important thing to get right in this workflow is the in-camera exposure. With digital it’s important to not expose too bright so that you have enough highlight-information in the picture while you brighten it up in post-processing.

2. The second step shows basic corrections for Contrast, Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks. I also adjusted Clarity, Vibrance and Saturation.

3. In step three I apply a special RGB-Curve to the picture. It lifts the mid-tones, softens the blacks and gently clips the highlights.

4. The last step is color work to give the final image more accurate film-inspired colors.

I share my exact settings for the series above and it shouldn’t be difficult for anyone to re-create the general look in Lightroom. If you shoot a Fuji X-Pro1, X-E1 or X100s, you won’t need step 4 as the Fuji color palette is great to work with.

113 Comments

  1. Stuart Godfrey
    4. December 2012

    Thanks for introducing me to José Villa’s work, it is beautiful as is yours.

  2. Christine
    4. December 2012

    Would you ever consider giving a photoshop tutorial on this?

  3. Becky
    4. December 2012

    Interesting. I didn’t know about Jose Villa until a couple of years ago but I do love the work of Tanja Lippert, Ryan Muirhead, and others who exclusively shoot film. I’m 30% film, medium format. I don’t use Richard Photo labs because I live in NorCal and there is an excellent lab in San Francisco. I rarely have to retouch my film scans and it reduces my time in front of a computer. I think your process is interesting: thanks for sharing.

  4. Ray Larose
    4. December 2012

    Great article, Johnny. You have achieved some amazing looks in the past, and this one is no exception. Love your tips on using light – I can never emphasize this enough in my blog either. Now, you make me want to take out my Rolleiflex and play!

  5. Johnny
    4. December 2012

    Thank you all very much for your feedback.

    Christine, thanks for your interest. This was done in LR4, I will probably post a more detailed tutorial about the process soon.

  6. Scott
    4. December 2012

    I agree. A LR tutorial would be amazing on how to convert your digital raws into film-like edits. Thanks for your articles.

  7. Chad
    4. December 2012

    Funny, I’m one of those photographers that sold his Contax 645 for twice the original cost to one of these Contax crazy wedding photographers.

    I can’t imaging buying one for a color profile. I can imagine buying one for the 80mm.

  8. Larissa
    12. December 2012

    Yes, I too would LOVE a tutorial! Thanks so much for all the info!

  9. Christine
    24. December 2012

    Oh! LR4! I’ve been wanting to learn how to use that anyway… seems now is as good a time as any! Looking forward to the update. Thanks, Johnny!

  10. Carolina
    29. December 2012

    Looking forward to the tutorial! :)

  11. Andrey
    25. January 2013

    Johnny, share tutorial with us!

  12. Bubba Johnes
    5. February 2013

    When you create the tutorial, please make it Aperture friendly as well.

  13. Johnny
    18. February 2013

    I don’t find the time at the moment to finish the tutorial. I still receive quite a few emails about this topic and would like to provide a solution for everyone who cannot wait:

    I created a Lightroom 4 and ACR 7 preset called “Cuba” for this post that is based on Rebecca Lily’s “California” preset (from her Pro Set I). If you don’t want to wait on the tutorial, please write me an email and I will mail you the “Cuba” preset for free (please provide your order number from your Pro Set I).

    The tutorial will be showing how to develop a preset for Lightroom 4, but you should be able to adopt the technique for other applications like ACR, Photoshop or Aperture.

  14. J
    7. March 2013

    Jose Villa is an absolute inspiration. I’ve been doing my own personal film emulation I call Filmtastic™ using Lightroom since 2009, and have not given in yet to the Contax 645 (i do use contax lenses tho)! I would love that CZ 80/2 glass anytime once I run into a good deal.

    Here’s my take on your photo :)

    Actually, film emulation is an art by itself. Especially if you choose not shoot to film because of its technical limits (i.e. lack of light).

  15. Johnny
    7. March 2013

    Thank you very much for your feedback, J.

    It’s really interesting for me to stumble open someone who is genuinely interested in this process as well. I think you have to love film yourself to get it close with a digital camera. Your results look pretty good!

  16. Elizabeth Sarah
    7. March 2013

    Well said! I shoot 100% film, mostly 35mm. Would like a better medium format… I have a Yashica a TLR… any suggestions for one that’s affordable?

  17. Johnny
    8. March 2013

    Elizabeth, I would go for the camera/lens combination that suits your photography best. For me personally it’s the Hasselblad 500 series with a Zeiss 80mm. A used 500 C/M is usually affordable and will hold its value.

  18. Rita Moreno
    10. March 2013

    Really enjoyed reading…

  19. Johnny
    25. March 2013

    The update including my workflow is finally online.

    Thanks for your patience!

  20. Stephanie Hunter
    26. March 2013

    So very cool how closely you get your digital files to emulate film! Awesome update w/ the tutorial.

  21. Johnny
    26. March 2013

    Thank you very much, Stephanie.
    I like your work a lot and I really appreciate your feedback!

  22. Darren Miller
    3. April 2013

    Thank you for sharing. I love the film look and have been enjoying emulating it and the masterful shooters I often am seeing the work of. I really appreciate your breaking it down and am getting more inspired to continue this path of learning.

  23. Marcelle
    9. April 2013

    Thanks for sharing your Lightroom edit workflow. I tried it and loved the outcome, but was wondering what I could do to preserve the original skin tones a bit more or have them be a bit warmer.

  24. Johnny
    10. April 2013

    Thanks for your feedback, Marcelle.

    Bringing out the best skin tones is the main idea behind these colors. If you don’t get good results, I suggest looking into exposure first. With the correct exposure, Caucasian skin tones fall on the upper third of the mid tone range. I work with RGB curves in that tonal range if I have to adjust skin tones.

  25. Curtis Wiklund
    20. April 2013

    Thanks Johnny for this post. Very helpful! The exposure bracket of 400H through me for a loop though. I see the change in color and contrast… but they all look equally exposed! Clearly, the last is 5 full stops overexposed from the first, but it only appears to be more contrasty and more saturated. Was the exposure corrected at RPL?

  26. Johnny
    21. April 2013

    Thanks very much, Curtis.

    You just made my very point: Film does not give you these exact colors unless you apply a custom color profile (while you scan or in post production), which is nothing different than applying a custom RGB curve in Lightroom. It very much depends on the light as well.

    The images in the exposure bracket are straight up uncorrected scans from a Fuji Frontier. With overexposing digital, your images get brighter and blow out at some point. Film saturates and gets more contrasty the brighter you expose.

  27. Ruben
    24. April 2013

    Love this blog. Really enjoyed reading it. Thanks!

    Best regards from the Netherlands.

  28. Josh
    3. May 2013

    Wow, I’ve not read a tutorial/review post in this length for a long time. Thank you Johnny. So very informative. Totally new to this film thing and I’ve learned a ton from this post!

  29. Nasser Gazi
    31. May 2013

    Just found this article. And now I love you.

  30. Nasser Gazi
    31. May 2013

    No but seriously. I was drawn to this fantastic article by the opening line: “After three years of trying to emulate film digitally, I finally resigned. I caved in and bought a Contax 645″ because that is EXACTLY what I did. The Contax with Fuji Pro 400H effortlessly produces colours that make my heart melt.
    However, I still haven’t given up on digital – Nikon in my case. In a recent tweet you said that you used Nikon for many years but hated the colour palette. Do you still maintain that it is absolutely not possible to produce the same colours with digital as with Fuji Pro 400H?
    Notwitstanding the greater tonal reponse of film, is it possible to emulate even this in digital with post-processing?

  31. Johnny
    3. June 2013

    Thanks very much for your feedback, Ruben and Josh.

    Nasser, thank you as well.
    The purpose of this blog post was to show that it’s very possible to recreate this bright Fuji 400H look with a digital camera and how to approach it. None of the above images are shot on film. They’re either shot with the Nikon D700 or the Fuji X-Pro1, except for the shots shown in the update.

    So it is possible and it’s also possible to emulate the color palette of a certain film. But it’s a lot of work to get right. If you shoot a Fuji X-Pro1 or X-E1, it’s a bit easier as the basic color palette is already matching.

    I personally shoot both, film and digital. I think none is a substitute for the other and both equally have their place.

  32. Steve
    5. June 2013

    This is excellent, thank you.

    One question… as with many other internet based articles, and in general on shooting col neg… when you say expose for the shadows, no one ever really builds on that and explains what that means. I take it you mean you are pointing your meter at the darkest part of the image and giving -ev of about 1-2 stops, so a zone 3 or 4 value?

    If you are using an incident meter, I’ve been told (and read in Canlas’ FIND book) to meter with the bulb in, and pointing the meter down at about 45 degrees. The bulb being in you are metering shadows? Pointing down you are given more compensation? Is that really correct? I did this and my images were dark, but I also rated the film at box.

    I see from above that your +4 stop overexposed image is looking great… but what does that mean? What did you meter? What were your light meter settings? If rating the film @ 200, I thought that would overexpose the image more… but people say rating film has no real impact… because you could rate it at box, and just overexpose in camera by 2 stops and thats it?

    Could you please elaborate a bit?

    Thanks,

    Steve

  33. Johnny
    5. June 2013

    Steve, thanks very much for your feedback.

    You are exactly right, there is a lot of information about shooting color negative film out there that is confusing.

    Exposing for the shadow means exactly what you wrote. An incident light meter always meters for neutral grey, which is zone “V”. Instead of zone “V” you assign zone “II” to “IV” by literally holding your meter into the shadow (the darkest part of the picture).

    The reason isn’t primarily to get a brighter result. With digital, blown out highlights are a problem if you expose too bright. With film, it’s the other way round and you need to make sure that you get enough exposure for the shadow detail. An easy way to make sure your film gets enough exposure is to rate it half the box speed. That leaves a bit of headroom and means that you set your meter to ISO 200 if the film speed on the box reads ISO 400.

    All the fuss about how to meter with bulb in and out and pointing the meter up, down or in whatever angle doesn’t work for me at all. I think that’s far too complicated. In theory metering with a retracted bulb reduces the amount of light that falls onto the cell of your meter and with pointing it down a little you take the proportion of the sky back a little bit. In reality you can see with my exposure bracket that it’s not really necessary.

    I meter all color negative film the same. I use a very simple analog incident light meter (Sekonic L-398 A), nothing fancy or expensive. I rate my film half the box speed. If I shoot Porta 400, that means I set the meter to ISO 200. Then I meter for the shadows, which means I bring my meter into the shadow parts of the image (the part of the image that has the least light). That’s it. I hold the meter in a standard 90 degree angle to the ground, which means nothing else than parallel to the subject. I do not fuss with the bulb as my meter isn’t fancy enough to do that in the first place.

    I metered the above shot from the Hasselblad exactly like that (the exposure bracket was shot at box speed without overexposure). If you meter like that and your shots turn out dark, it’s very likely that your lab doesn’t scan your images right. Very many mini labs have their scanners optimized for printing and therefore produce strange shadows and extremely deep blacks or have problems with density correction. Try checking your negatives against the light and see if they look properly exposed. If they look ok, talk to your lab. If you’re lab isn’t the problem, check if the shutter of your camera and the meter work properly.

    To give you a little perspective on metering:
    My Hasselblad has a maximum shutter speed of 1/500. When I’m shooting outside in daylight, I very often would have to set my shutter to 1/2000 (+2 stops) or even 1/4000 (+3 stops). I can’t because of the physical limitation of my camera. I still never once had a shot that didn’t turn out because of overexposure.

    Don’t be discouraged to experiment a little by the “film photographers know their crap” crowd. A lot of the times they don’t. Color negative film is extremely forgiving and very easy to shoot. It’s a lot more difficult to get a properly exposed image with digital than it is with film.

    I hope that helps a bit.

  34. Steve
    5. June 2013

    Thank you Johnny. You are the first ever photographer ever to give me any sort of reply that has made sense and encouraged me to keep going. Thank you.

  35. Lars
    9. June 2013

    So if rating at half speed and metering the shadow side is your standard way of exposing, is that how you measured the 0 or “normal” exposure above? Because that would already be way over in digital/slide land.

  36. Johnny
    10. June 2013

    Thank you for your feedback and pointing that out, Lars.

    For the exposure bracket I rated the film at box speed and metered using the in-camera meter without any exposure compensation.

  37. Mario Colli
    17. July 2013

    Great article Johnny. I really enjoyed reading, I was wondering if you could share the “Cuba” presets. Thanks a lot!

  38. Johnny
    17. July 2013

    Thank you too, Mario.
    I’m happy to share the presets, please send me an email.

  39. John
    18. July 2013

    Great info Johnny.

    I am a film shooter and have read, seen, heard, and been instructed to meter a certain way to attain a particular result. I sold all my digital cameras but now I am starting to see that it is possible to get similar results with digital. So I plan to buy a digital camera again. Thank you for the write up.

  40. Johnny
    18. July 2013

    Thank you, John.

    Yes, there are a lot of myths about shooting color negative film. I have addressed a couple in my blog post film is not dead in case you’re interested.

    Attaining these results with film is done during scanning and processing, not in camera. The easiest way to do this with a digital camera is by shooting a Fuji.

  41. Rebecca Lily » Pastel Post Processing and Fuji Colors
    23. July 2013

    […] Johnny Patience demonstrated this recently using Fuji Pro 400H film over a 5-stop range. You can see the pastel tones come out at about +2, and from there it gets more […]

  42. Carlo
    24. July 2013

    Thank you, Johnny.

    One major reason I’ve purchased a Fuji X-Pro1 is I want to replicate film tones. Your and Rebecca’s posts about simulating pastel colors and look will be very precious!

  43. Adam Fedrau
    28. July 2013

    Thanks for the post Jonny. Very helpful.

    One quick question though. I have a Fuji X-E1 and I’m wondering when you speak of the Fuji color palette as a great starting point are you talking about the RAW files or are you shooting in JPG?

    I’m guessing RAW but thought I would ask for clarification as the Fuji JPG files can be awesome.

    Thanks, Adam

  44. Johnny
    29. July 2013

    Thanks very much, Adam.

    Both have a great color palette but I shoot in RAW. If you don’t shoot in RAW it will be very difficult to make the adjustments discussed above. You will also lose detail and the ability to properly work with exposure, white balance and color.

  45. Robert
    6. August 2013

    Johnny,

    Deeply inspiring resource which has revolutionised my current thinking about post process and style.

    I had not encountered Jose Villa and the whole movement around film and shallow DOF which has complemented my own experiments with shooting into the sun and reducing contrast with creative flare.

    Thank you for sharing your experience with tone curves and colour palettes in such an open way, it has helped me immensely.

    My current challenge is to find the right way to bring out the softer colour palette with my Olympus as the superb lens coating and naturally punchy colour is resisting my attempts to create flare and warm colour washes.

    Very best wishes,

    Robert

  46. Johnny
    7. August 2013

    Thank you very much for your feedback, Robert.

    I’m happy that this was helpful for you. The color grading can be achieved with any kind of camera/lens combination. Lenses with good optical quality will help and not hinder you. As the color tones get lighter with pastel post processing, you need a certain level of saturation and contrast in your original picture to achieve a subtle and natural looking result.

    I’m not sure what exact camera/lens combination you shoot, but it’s possible to get flare with any prime lens if you shoot into the light at a certain angle without a lens hood.

  47. Robert
    7. August 2013

    A pleasure!

    I think a little more experimentation on my part is required. I will try to play with the angle a little and see how that affects the end result.

    Currently also experimenting with using the new RGB tone curve facility in Lightroom to soften and colour the highlights as described in your earlier posts. Quite enjoying the results.

  48. Roman
    22. September 2013

    I also made comparisons between digital and Fuji 400H. I myself use a Contax 645 when I shoot weddings and family, and I find yes there is a difference but very minute. Plus I’ve also compared the Kodak Portra 400 against Fuji 400H and the difference is really for me the more organic colors of Kodak film.

    Although all of these is mute if the light is sub par. With beautiful bright even light, digital, even on my Nikon 800E, is very close to film.

    Great site by the way. I like your color palette very bright and fresh.

    Roman Francisco

  49. Greg
    27. September 2013

    Awesome!

    I have been looking for the solution for months on how to create these lovely tones. Great article and tutorial, I will be reading your blog more often.

    Thank you.

  50. Istvan
    20. October 2013

    Superb and very informative article Johnny, thank you for this.

    May I have a question please:
    When you say you overexpose the film by shooting the 400 ISO roll at 200 ISO, do you then hand it over to your lab as shot at 400 or 200? And if you increase exposure even more by metering for the shadows, then again how does that change how the lab is dealing with the processing before scanning the negative? What is the speed they are processing the film for?

    Thank you,

    Istvan

  51. Johnny
    21. October 2013

    Thanks very much for your feedback, Istvan.

    The idea behind rating the film a stop slower is only to give it a full stop more of exposure with every shot (have a look here for more information). The lab always processes the film as usual, without any adjustments (in this case ISO 400).

  52. Istvan
    21. October 2013

    Thanks Johnny.

    Now, I am in no way an expert so I may say silly things, but if the lab develops for 400 ISO (and the film shot at 200), will that not cause loosing details in the highlights? As, the way I learned, if you shoot for shadow to let the shadow details register on the film then you develop for the highlights (shorten develop time) so that the highlights don’t overdevelop resulting in loosing details?

    Or is that 1-2 stops within the film’s limits and it will be just fine? Or is it what we want to get creamy highlights? (as per the Jose Villa’s look). Or is it the edit during scanning that puts the final touch on it? Sorry for asking many questions…

    Can you please help me to understand, how would you instruct your lab (after shooting at half speed and meter for shadows), if you wanted to achieve something similar to Villa’s creamy highlights and (slightly) saturated warm skin tones?

    Many thanks,

    Istvan

  53. Johnny
    21. October 2013

    Thank you, Istvan. Your concerns don’t sound silly at all, especially if you have been shooting mostly digital.

    Color negative film, especially medium format, has a lot of latitude. It’s no problem to rate the film at half the box speed, meter for the shadows and let the highlights fall where they may. I have mentioned in my above comment that I regularly shoot my Hasselblad +3 stops over (sometimes even more). Please read the blog post that I linked for you in my previous reply for more detail.

    The “expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights” rule was introduced with Ansel Adam’s zone system. The idea behind it was to cover as much dynamic range as possible. It’s a bit different with BW film and you would certainly not do this with slide film, but for color negative film it’s usually not a problem.

    José’s airy and creamy look is a mix between overexposing Fuji 400H (basic color palette), scanning with a Fuji Frontier SP-3000 (glow), density correction (pastels) and professional color grading (processing by the lab). You won’t be able to achieve this look with a drug store scan, no matter how you expose your film. That’s why I recommend working with a pro lab.

  54. Istvan
    21. October 2013

    Thank you Johnny.

    I will experiment using your suggested technique. I have a medium format film camera, although have been mainly shooting digital in the last few years, so overexposing by a couple stops sounds terrifying as we all know how digital behaves. But I will overexpose more confidently now. Not to copy someone’s style, but to learn more about film and how to gain control to get the results I am after.

    Finding a lab is another challenge, I have been using two local pro labs in the past, not completely happy with the results but it may be the case of needing to spend more time to build closer work relationship with them.

    Thank you for your advice,

    Istvan

  55. Johnny
    22. October 2013

    You’re welcome, I’m happy you found this helpful.

    Not all pro labs offer the same consistency, competence and experience. I suggest finding a film photographer who’s results you like and then trying their lab. Chances are good that they will do good work for you too.

    I invested a lot in trying to build a relationship with a local lab. That was a waste of time and money and it compromised my results in the meantime. I only know of three pro labs that deliver good work (I’m sure there are more). But I think there is a reason why 90% of all film photographers seem to work with either one of these three.

  56. Fred
    23. October 2013

    Hey Johnny,

    This is a great article and I really enjoy that you are sharing your knowledge with us.

    Since working with a good lab is of the utmost importance, what do you have to tell them and how do you work with them in order to have the results you really want? And what about doing your own scans? Do you think you’d be able to achieve the same look based on your knowledge and experience?

    Again, thanks so much for sharing.

  57. Johnny
    24. October 2013

    Fred, thank you very much for your feedback.

    You can just tell the lab your preferences, they should understand without you having to write novels. I don’t explain much, I just ask to please color- and density correct my scans if necessary and let the lab process my pictures to their liking.

    I have a lot of experience with digital color work, but not enough with scanning film. But I’m very happy with the results from my lab right now, therefore I see no point in trying it myself.

  58. Kurtz
    23. November 2013

    I was trying to emulate this look for awhile did few trial and errors. I had my ways, white balance, saturation exposure and highlights and also manipulating the greens and blues. Thanks for shedding some light on this, I will try your method!

  59. Johnny
    25. November 2013

    I’m happy you found this post helpful, Kurtz.
    Thank you for your feedback!

  60. Melissa
    30. November 2013

    Thank you so much!
    I’m fairly new to all of this, but I am super excited to give your tutorial ago.

  61. Youri
    2. December 2013

    Great article!
    Is there a way you can send me your ‘Cuba’ preset?

  62. Johnny
    3. December 2013

    Thank you, Youri.
    I’m happy to share the presets, please send me an email.

  63. Emma
    21. December 2013

    Hi Johnny, great article thank you very much. I’d love to try out your preset, but I use CS5 – do you by any chance have it as a Photoshop action?

    Happy Christmas!

  64. Johnny
    22. December 2013

    Emma, thank you for your feedback.

    If you work with Photoshop you can use the ACR version of the preset. I do not recommend using Photoshop actions in general as they usually don’t provide non-destructive editing. You will always experience quality loss if you don’t work with your RAW files.

  65. Hariz
    27. December 2013

    How do you process overexposed film? Say Fuji 400H rated at ISO 100 (2 stops overexposed), do you tell the photo lab that you overexposed the film, so that they will do any changes in developing time? Or process it the normal way? Thanks.

  66. Johnny
    28. December 2013

    Thanks very much for your feedback, Hariz.

    The idea behind rating the film slower is only to give it consistently more exposure with every shot (please have a look here and here). The lab always processes the film as usual, without any adjustments (in this case ISO 400).

  67. Ashley
    24. January 2014

    Amazing insight. Love Jose Villa! Thanks for this post!! Good luck to you! :)

  68. Johnny
    24. January 2014

    Thank you, Ashley.

    I’m happy you enjoyed the blog post!

  69. Ally
    30. January 2014

    Hey Johnny,

    Do you use an incident meter for every shot?
    Do you shot in AV mode or manual mode on the Contax 645?

    I got a Contax 645 recently and I read your article and the above comments but I’m still confused about the “exposing for the shadows”. Can I expose for the shadows in AV mode?

    Thanks! :)

    Ally

  70. Johnny
    30. January 2014

    Ally, thank you for your feedback.

    I shoot in manual. Shooting in AV can be a problem with film because it’s very important to understand and be in control of your exposure. AV also heavily relies on a working internal meter which is very often a problem with the Contax 645. The internal meter is often not very accurate.

    I use an incident meter but I don’t meter for every shot. It’s usually enough to meter a scene once and then stick to your settings unless the light changes drastically.

    You can expose for the shadows with AV, you would rate your film at half box speed and spot meter the shadows and then lock the exposure before you re-compose. I would like to encourage you to use an incident meter and shoot in manual. It takes a bit to get used to but in the long run it’s much easier than shooting in AV.

  71. Ally
    1. February 2014

    Thank you so much, Johnny!
    Your answer helps me a lot. I really appreciate it. :)

  72. Johnny
    2. February 2014

    That’s no problem, Ally. I’m glad I could help!

  73. Gonzalo
    13. February 2014

    Thanks so much for all these thoughts you share! They’re very helpful.

    I’m kind of new to film photography and it’s a shame there are no good labs in my city (I live in Lima, Peru!). I recently sent a few rolls to a film lab in Spain. They’re getting good feedback from photographers, so I hope I can get nice results.

    By the way, I’ve got many Ektar 100 and Portra 160 for my 35mm camera and I want to get the best from them. When you suggest to overexpose 2 stops, you don’t mean to shoot at lower ISO, do you? Sometimes this push/overexpose thing confuses me.

    Oh and is it possible to get the Cuba preset? I’d appreciate it a lot.

    Thanks again and I love your work, cheers!

  74. Johnny
    14. February 2014

    Gonzalo, thank you for your feedback.

    Finding a good lab is crucial with film photography. It’s not easy but I’m sure you will find a lab that you enjoy working with.

    It doesn’t matter how you overexpose your film. You can either do that by selecting a lower ISO (for example half box speed) or you leave the ISO alone and shoot with a slower shutter. Both does exactly the same, it gives your film more exposure.

    Pushing film is something different. While the lab would develop overexposed film as usual, development times need to be adjusted when you push film. If you shoot Tri-X 400 at ISO 1600 for example, you underexpose your film two stops and then need to compensate for that by over-developing it.

    I’m happy to share the Cuba preset, please send me an email about that.

  75. Misael Nevarez
    7. March 2014

    Hey, I was wondering if could please share your Cuba preset with me? Thanks and have a nice day!

  76. Johnny
    8. March 2014

    Misael, I’m happy to share the presets with you. Please send me an email.

  77. Scott Villalobos
    22. March 2014

    I’ve been working on similar presets in LR, but your’s is by far the closest I’ve found. Thanks for sharing!

  78. Johnny
    23. March 2014

    You’re more than welcome, Scott.
    I’m happy to hear you found this helpful!

  79. Chris
    23. March 2014

    Johnny, thank you for taking the time to write this article and to post the samples! Would it be possible to share your Cuba preset so I can try it?

    Thank you!

  80. Johnny
    24. March 2014

    Chris, thank you for your kind feedback.
    Please send me an email, I would be happy to share the presets with you.

  81. Fiona
    25. March 2014

    Hi Johnny, I’m Fiona Sng and I’m from Singapore. I came across your site and instantly fell in love with this post that you wrote about Jose Villa’s colours. I’ve been a fan for the longest time, but I’ve always shot on digital as I’m inexperienced with film. Would you be kind enough to share your preset with me so I could try it out?

    Thank you so much for sharing this article!

  82. Johnny
    25. March 2014

    Thank you very much for your feedback, Fiona.

    I’m glad you found this write-up helpful. You’re right, this look isn’t easy to replicate with digital. Please just send me an email so that I can share the preset with you.

  83. Karine
    17. April 2014

    Thank you for sharing Johnny!
    Could send me your Cuba preset? I’m curious to try it. ;)

    Thanks, Karine – a french photographer

  84. Johnny
    18. April 2014

    That’s no problem, Karine. Please send me an email!

  85. Johnny Corcoran
    24. April 2014

    When you mention four stops overexposure (“+4″) – what did you do? Using the dial, set the ISO down to ISO 50 on the camera?

  86. Johnny
    24. April 2014

    Thank you, Johnny.

    It doesn’t matter how you do it (ISO, aperture or shutter speed) – but I usually rate the film at half box speed and expose for the shadows. For an ISO 400 film like Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400H I set the meter to ISO 200 instead of ISO 400.

  87. Johnny Corcoran
    24. April 2014

    Sorry… I read all the others comments! :-)
    I have a Mamiya 645AF, it has a dial with -3,-2,-1,0,+1,+2,+3. Can I set it to +2 and leave it there for good?

  88. Johnny
    25. April 2014

    No problem, Johnny. :)

    You could do that but I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s better to shoot in manual and not let the camera decide for you. You will get a feel for your exposures quickly and have a much sounder technical base.

    You can always rate your film half box speed but I recommend using an external light meter to get a proper meter reading. Not every film needs the same amount of exposure to look good. Some film stocks are very forgiving (Portra 400 or Tri-X 400 for example), others need to be exposed more carefully.

  89. David Bell
    27. April 2014

    Great article. For someone like me thinking of trying a MF camera with some Fuji 400H, it is great.

  90. Johnny
    27. April 2014

    Thank you, David! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found it helpful.

  91. Heather Prescott Liebensohn
    17. May 2014

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    I have been trying for years to get this look, and you showing your formula was so incredibly illuminating for me. I’ve been using Lightroom for a looong time, but I still didn’t have a firm grasp on some parts and what they did. I am so grateful for having stumbled across this page!

    All the best to you,

    Heather

  92. Johnny
    17. May 2014

    I’m glad you found this post helpful, Heather.
    Thank you very much for your kind feedback!

  93. Pavan
    18. May 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    I found the tutorial really helpful and the pictures are beautiful. I have been trying to achieve these kind of subtle colors in my post and its always exciting to replicate film look via digital. These pastel colors are very pleasing and life-like. Thanks for being so kind and generous in sharing this post and yeah, most importantly, attending everyones request so patiently. Thats most rare but lovable thing in any artist.

    I’d like to know if you can share the pastel presets and any other related resources.

  94. Johnny
    19. May 2014

    Pavan, thank you very much for your kind feedback.

    That’s no problem. I got your email and will write you back shortly!

  95. Sarah
    29. May 2014

    Great tutorial! Can you tell me, when you rate a 400 film at 200, when you’re doing the metering, do you still put the info in as it were 400 ISO and then meter the shadows? Really puzzling me!

  96. Johnny
    30. May 2014

    Thanks for your feedback, Sarah.

    You set the meter to ISO 200 (instead of ISO 400) and then you meter for the shadows. Hope this helps!

  97. Suzanne Li
    5. July 2014

    Dear Johnny,

    I LOVE your post on creating colours in a way that looks similar to Jose Villa’s. I am extremely interested in creating this style however through digital, its taken me way too long to figure it out before but I have understood it a lot more when reading your blog, so thank you very much.

    There is just one question I’d like an answer to, if I may.

    My friend sold me her medium format camera last year and I thought now I would put it to use. :)

    I am looking at developing photos from a Lab in the UK, however I am extremely confused at the Push Stops 1, 2 and 3. To get the desired colours e.g like Jose’s dreamy over exposed look, do I set my exposure on the camera itself and when developing do I choose zero for push exposure? Or do I match it with what I’ve set it to on my camera (example if I choose +2 on camera I should send the form away to also +2 for push exposure or would that completely blow out my image)? I’m not sure if I am making any sense at all!

    I hope you can get back to me, I would really appreciate your reply. :)

    Have a lovely day,

    Suzanne Li

  98. Johnny
    5. July 2014

    Suzanne, thanks very much for your feedback.

    I suggest using an external light meter when shooting film, I wouldn’t use the exposure compensation in camera. If you overexpose 2-3 stops you would still develop the film as normal, so no pushing or pulling.

    But your lab also needs to scan the film properly. If you are interested, have a look here and here when you have time. It’s very helpful to understand the basics before you send your first rolls of film off.

  99. Suzanne Li
    5. July 2014

    Hi Johnny!

    I had just read them after I posted my first comment and it was such a great read! Thanks so much again for your quick response and time to reply.

    Suzanne

  100. Johnny
    5. July 2014

    No problem, Suzanne! I’m happy you found these posts helpful.

  101. Elaine Eppler
    17. July 2014

    Hello, Johnny.

    Thank you for this site: the beautiful, inspirational photographs that tell stories; the honest, informative and inspirational writing; the thoughtful, helpful replies to comments. I have learned so much from you and Rebecca. I first started following your work a few years ago when you were both active on Flickr. I’ve been a regular (but quiet until now) blog reader.

    I’ve used a D700 and 50mm lens for the past 4 years. I recently acquired a Fujifilm X100s, which I’m growing to love more and more.

    My question is about how to set camera calibration to obtain “accurate, film-inspired colours” with both cameras. I’ve saved your HSV settings (step 4 above) as a preset and apply it to all my Nikon RAW images. What is the best camera calibration (e.g. D2X, Portrait) to use as a starting point? And for the X100s, is it best to use ASTIA/SOFT or Adobe Standard (these are the settings I’ve been experimenting with)?

    Thank you for your time!

    P.S. A clarification: I shoot in RAW. I’m asking about the camera calibration to use in Lightroom 5.

  102. Johnny
    18. July 2014

    Elain, thank you very much for your kind feedback. I really appreciate it.

    I wonder sometimes who follows my blog quietly, because only a fraction of people interact or leave a comment.

    I didn’t consistently use the same settings while I was shooting Nikon. For most parts I used the standard setting in Adobe Lightroom and then later switched to the D2X profiles Nikon offers. Nikon mainly has problems with green and yellow. The color palette with the D2X profile and the “portrait” setting just looks slightly more natural to my eye. I shot the Fuji X-Pro1 with the “Adobe Standard” setting and never had problems with the color palette.

    Film inspired colors aren’t easy to get right, you can see that when you look at all the popular film emulation presets that don’t look like film at all. It really helps to shoot film along with digital to get a feel for how the results would have turned out on film.

    It’s also really important to get the base exposure and white balance right. Most photographers tend to underexpose with digital (shooting for the highlights), the majority of files that I see from other people are about 0,5 – 1,5 stops under. This isn’t easy to correct. 1/3 over or 1/3 under makes virtually no difference, but anything beyond that affects the results negatively and will introduce color shifts.

  103. Elaine
    20. July 2014

    Thank you for your helpful reply, Johnny, with these additional details and tips about base exposure and white balance. I hope to someday begin experimenting with a film camera, too.

  104. Johnny
    20. July 2014

    No problem, Elaine! I’m happy to help. :)

  105. Fabiana
    11. August 2014

    Hi Johnny,

    Thank you so much for sharing all this information with us, it’s so helpful. :)
    Do you have an action for Photoshop? Or a tutorial for Photoshop?

    Thank you again.

  106. Johnny
    12. August 2014

    Thanks for your feedback and your question, Fabiana.

    As mentioned above, I do not recommend using Photoshop actions. They usually don’t provide non-destructive editing and you will always experience quality loss if you don’t process your RAW files.

    If you work with Photoshop you can just follow the above tutorial in Adobe Camera Raw (or use the ACR version of the preset), the settings in ACR are exactly the same.

  107. Vadim Uvazhny
    19. September 2014

    Thank you, Johnny! This helps a lot! Thank you so much!

  108. Johnny
    20. September 2014

    Vadim, thank you for your feedback. I’m glad to hear that. :)

  109. Lena
    19. October 2014

    Hi Johnny, very nice article! I’m french, so sorry for my English.

    I love Jose Villa and pastels colors. I have the Fuji X-Pro1 since a few weeks and I absolutely don’t know what type of color to choose (for the film simulation mode). I have to choose between “Pro Neg Hi”, “Pro Neg Std”, “Astia” and Provia – I’m totally lost.

    What do you use, and what do I have to choose to be closer to the colors I am trying to imitate?

    Thanks a lot.

    Lena

  110. Johnny
    19. October 2014

    Thank you very much for your your question, Lena.

    The film simulation modes in the Fuji X-Pro1 only apply if you intend to use the in-camera JPG files. If you shoot in RAW (which I would recommend for the latitude of your files) the standard Lightroom setting is a great base to start with.

  111. Yury
    4. December 2014

    Turned out very beautiful. Could you please send me the preset?

  112. Johnny
    5. December 2014

    Thanks, Yuri! That’s no problem, please send me an email.

  113. Elena
    13. December 2014

    Thank you Johnny! Great article! Great job! Please, can you send me this preset too?

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