Fast film assignment sheet
Back of Fast Film Assignment sheet

The assignment sheet above gives the details for this task. The main points I took from it are the facts that we need to produce a contact sheet of our roll of 36 shots and select two for consideration to be developed. These shots are to be of activities at a bonfire event or Diwali celebration. I won’t be going to any of the latter so it’s bonfire pictures for me.


The first stage of my planning was to find bonfire events around where I live. After a quick Google, I found five that fit the bill. The problem was, though, that most were on Saturday, 3rd November, meaning I’d struggle to get to all as a means of maximising my chances of getting a wider variety of shots.

The bonfire events I found that suited me were:

  • Abbey Park – Saturday, 3rd November, 5pm-9pm, £4-£6 or £16 family ticket
  • Great Central Railway – Monday, 5th November, 6:15-late, £5-£8 or £21 family ticket
  • Leicester Racecourse – Saturday, 3rd November, 5:30-10pm, £6.50 or £25 family ticket
  • Golden Shield pub – Saturday, 3rd November, 6pm
  • The Gliding Centre, Husbands Bosworth, Saturday, 10th November – 3pm-9pm, £10 per car

I’ll be going with my family so the prices were something for me to consider. I’ll have to pick one for the Saturday before and, depending on what shots I get there, consider going to the Great Central Railway event on Monday 5th. Even though this assignment’s Viva is November 12th, I was pleased to have found The Gliding Centre in Husbands Bosworth are having their do a week later on Saturday, 10th November. At least I’ll have one more chance to get myself out of a mess, should I get nothing but poor images from my first two events. The chances of that happening are quite high considering the fact that I’ve never shot high-speed film before. Ignore this bit as I’ve realised I’d never get time to process and develop should I shoot at this event.

Another of the initial planning ideas is to go out and about with my DSLR setup to mimic what I’ll have to work with when I go out on the actual nights with the 35mm film camera. This will mean I’ll have it set to iso3200, shooting in black and white with manual focus. I’ll set the lens to 50mm (as this is the size of the prime lens on the SLR’s we’ll use) but allow myself to adjust the aperture and shutter speed, as I’ll be able to do on the nights. I’ll practice whilst out and about in the evenings/night but also in the garden with some sparklers and will have the chiminea on the go to see if I can get extra light into the shots from that.

Initial Ideas

My main initial idea is to have a picture of a bonfire in full swing with silhouettes of people around it. Hopefully, I can get the image to show the people behind ropes which should depict a feeling of people having fun safely. I’ll also try to get some shots of the people in the crowd from the front (as opposed to from behind causing them to be silhouetted) with happy faces to depict the fun element. If I can get shots with families out having fun at a bonfire, that’d be great also.

Another idea is to try a slower shutter speed with sparklers. This should cause some pretty cool light trails whilst also, hopefully, lighting up the face(s) of the people using them (a bit of creativity in my shots). I might also try this slow shutter speed method on the people around the bonfire as it could be quite good showing the trails of the embers as they come off the fire.

I guess a great shot would be to shoot from behind the crowd who would have the fire in front of them, causing them to be silhouetted, whilst some fireworks are going off on the far side of the bonfire. This would give me the people shown far enough away from the fire enjoying its warmth safely whilst watching the fireworks display, also from a safe distance. Right now, that is probably the shot I want the most. Even though it will be in black and white, I think it could be an ideal image for the brief we’ve been given.

Initial Test Shots

Well, who’d have thought it would be so difficult to find time to get out and practice taking night shots? We were given the brief for this assignment at the beginning of the week but it wasn’t until Thursday that I managed to get some test shots with my DSLR done. Even then it was only in the back garden with what I’d describe as a failed attempt to light a fire with not much to burn.

Black and white test shot 1

Test shot 1: F5  |  1/60  |  ISO3200

Black and white test shot 2

Test shot 2: F5  |  1/160  |  ISO3200

Black and white test shot 3

Test shot 3: F5  |  1/50  |  ISO3200

F5.0 was the widest aperture I could get on my 18-135mm Canon lens whilst it was set to the 50mm I’ll have to use with the prime lens of the SLR I’ll be using for the assignment. I wanted the aperture as wide as I could get it to let as much light in as possible so all shots used this setting.

The thing I’m thinking I might struggle with, on the night I actually take my assignment shots, is shutter speed. I took a lot more shots than just these three but these were the ones I considered to be the better of the bunch. Although it’s only a small sample size, the shutter speeds range from 1/50 to 1/160 with, what I’d consider, similar results.

I think the 1/50 is a little slow but I do like the motion blur of the flames. I would have to say that image 1 is probably the best from this small number of shots. The F5, 1/60 seems to pick up enough light and create a decent exposure on such a small and pathetic fire like this, so I’m hoping it will create the shot I want at a full-size bonfire. Luckily, on the 35mm film camera I’ll be using, I’ll be able to open the aperture up to F2. This should let more light in but it also confuses my testing somewhat as I don’t have a 50mm lens for my DSLR that can simulate this. Oh well, could make for some interesting results.

In all honesty, it’s difficult to come away from this test shoot with any firm ideas of settings as the fire was rubbish, meaning there wasn’t much consistency with the subject I was shooting. 

I think it’s time to get out and buy some proper materials and create a much better fire that will burn longer and allow me to get more test shots! With a larger fire, I should be able to add people to the composition and test the silhouetting and ambient light on their faces etc.

The Shoot

Right, after my dismal attempt at some test shots, I decided to live life on the edge and just get out and shoot with the film camera. I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved) that when I was around a full-size bonfire, the light-meter works perfectly well and allowed me to create what I expected to be perfectly exposed images.

A mistake I made on several of my shots was to point the camera at a lighter area so that I could see the light-meter needle as it’s black and impossible to see when pointing the camera at a dark/black scene. I’d then see where the needle was before pointing the camera back at my dark scene and try to guess the adjustments I needed to make in order for the exposure to be correct. This obviously didn’t work on many of my shots as can be seen with a quick look at my contact sheet. I’m not actually sure how else I could have approached this problem, though. I guess this is just one thing that separates a good photographer from someone like me.

I ended up taking most of my shots at the local pub bonfire, The Golden Shield. It wasn’t a great event if I’m honest, but it did allow me to get the shot I wanted, even if I did have to stand on my own like a sad loner out in the car park to allow me to fit everything into the shot.

I also took a few shots at home the following night with my wife and kids around a small fire with some sparklers. I considered one shot from this shoot to be a possible final print.

Sparklers round fire pit.

The image above is the one I considered from the evening at home. I spent most of my time in the developing process trying to get the exposure right but just couldn’t get it to where I wanted it to be.

By that, I mean that if I got the blacks to where I wanted them the people in the composure weren’t lit enough and the whole scene looked too dark. When I then exposed it lighter, I’d get the awful print as per the image above. Because of this, after spending a lot of my developing time adjusting settings, I decided to make a large print of it and move on to a different image altogether.

Another negative is the fact that the image is out of focus. I believe this was done at the time of taking the shot as I used the focus finder during the developing stage and could see the grain clearly when focusing during that process.

Contact Sheet

As much as I love the process of shooting with a film camera and then processing and developing, it’s a total pain in the butt when things don’t go well and the process starts to stretch. This was the case when I was trying to develop a contact sheet for this assignment.

Fast Film Assignment Contact Sheet

To me, this contact sheet is way too light but, to be honest, I’d messed around trying to create it for too long and decided to go with this one and move on to get the actual photo developed.

As can be seen from this contact sheet, I’d narrowed down my possible final image to be one of three. It was going to be one of numbers 20, 21 or 32. Frames 20 and 21 were both of the bonfire with fireworks (which was the image I’d originally thought of when we were given the assignment), and frame 32 is of my friend and family around a small fire with sparklers.

I initially decided to go with the frame of my friend and family around the small fire but I just couldn’t get the exposure to my liking. When I exposed it darker in order to get an overall better quality of an image, I wasn’t happy with how much light was on the actual subjects within the shot. I tried to expose it light but this just then made it far too grey and grainy for my liking. It also showed up the movement within the shot as I must have had the shutter speed too slow. After spending most of my developing time on this image, I decided to scrap it and go with one of the others. I had a final image of the sparkler shot developed as a final A3 print should I need it so I could relax a bit and crack on with the other.

Test strips of sparklers and fire pit

I did like the composition of the picture above and it looked great on the contact sheet, but the quality of my photography/developing let it down and so I didn’t use it.

The second image I decided to go with was frame 20. This was one of the shots of the bonfire with fireworks going off around it.

I guess the moral of the story here is that I just need to relax and enjoy what I’m doing and things will go ok. I did a couple of test strips which gave me near enough what I wanted.

Test strip

The test strip above shows that the darker of the strips is near where I wanted to be with this image (20 seconds). I did two larger tests that would be set to a slightly longer exposure times and it worked out that these would be good and reveal to me the final exposure I was after.

Final bonfire test strips

The exposure settings I used to get my final image for submission for this ‘Fast Film’ assignment were:

  • Aperture: f4
  • Exposure time: 25 seconds
  • Grade 110 (4.5). I was using the magenta on a colour enlarger

The aperture is very wide but this gives me a developed photograph that I’m actually very happy with.

Bonfire and fireworks

I couldn’t find anywhere to scan this A3 image so I just took a picture of it on my phone and put it in here. The lighter areas around the edges and across the bottom of the image are just reflections off the sleeve I put the image in ready for submission and aren’t defects within the shot.

Positives & Negatives of the Photo

A big positive about the image is the fact that it appears to be focused correctly. If you look closely you can see some slight movement in the silhouetted people but it’s not obvious and I think it adds to the image.

The biggest negative, for me, is to do with the silhouetting of the crowd. This isn’t to do with me and my camera skills or composition, but rather with the location. If you look to where the fireworks have gone off, you might be able to see a straight horizontal line in silhouette. This is quite a tall fence that we all had to stand behind. This is great for the health and safety message but crap for letting the light from the bonfire pass through the crowd and give them more definition. There would have been more light on and around the people in the crowd instead of just the blackness towards the very bottom of the shot. This is annoying me more and more each time I look at the picture now that I’ve thought about it.

Again with the health and safety message, you could argue that the fire looks a little too hot or close to the crowd due to the way its glow interacts with a few people at the middle, bottom of the picture. I did try a darker exposure which calmed the fire down but I didn’t like the rest of the image as it was too dark. I actually like the glow the fire gives off in this version of the image and decided to put the creativeness before the health and safety message on this occasion.

The positives:

  • As I’ve said, I like the glow of the fire as it looks strong and lights up the rest of the scene as I imagined.
  • I like the light on the trees, especially the bare tree to the left (as we look at the image).
  • I like the child sitting on his dad’s shoulders. This fulfils the brief of families having fun at a bonfire.
  • I like the grain in the smoke part of the image and around the firework.
  • Perhaps my favourite part is the different stages at which the firework is at. Some parts of it haven’t popped yet, some have just popped and others are glowing brightly as they are at their full strength before burning out. I like how the glowing ring shows around the ones before they pop.
  • At the very top of the image, we can see a rocket is still shooting its way upwards and off out of the shot. I like the trail it is leaving as it makes its way skyward.
  • The embers of the fire help to fill the image with a bit more detail.
  • The rule of thirds is adhered to with the firework hitting the left vertical line.

All in all, I really like this image and am glad I decided to develop it instead of sticking with my first image of the family with sparklers.

Final Grade: 68%

That’s a high end 2.1 which I could have argued was a little low and could actually have been upped by the two necessary to get me a 1st.