120 and 35mm Film Photographers please help me!

Why are the faces in my photos never crisp?

Incorrect focal point?
Bad Lighting?
My Camera is off ( i.e the focus or light meter are broken)?
Badly scanning in my film?

Please see my portfolio on here, the most recent project bummed me out so much because I want to start testing more agency models but I know from being a model that there's no way my booker would use any of the photos because when you zoom in on facial features it's all just grain.

I shot the recent one on Kodak Portra 800 during a sunny day, even brought my reflector, tried focusing on the model's face as much as possible ( although I do wear glasses so idk if my eyesight is interfering) . I scanned this film on a Epson v600 at 3,200DPI no backlight correction, dust removal etc.

I started shooting digital recently and never have this problem, but film is my preferred format.


  • Hey Emilia,

    Just passing through with my five cents. Sorry to hear about the film issues, but honestly it happens to the best of us– from 35mm up to Large Format, so you're in good company.

    It's hard for me to be more accurate without knowing the camera, lens and condition of the film you've used, but a quick look at your photos, I'd estimate that it's a lens issue, enhanced by the fact that the scans were done on a Flatbed. After years of using Flatbeds myself, I learned that they will do a decent job but never do near as good a job as drumscanners, Nikon Coolscans, Hasselblads etc... don't get me wrong, you can get good results, and it's nice to be able to scan from home, but they will rarely look super, super sharp or exhibition ready.

    Re: lens, you'd be surprised how many second hand cameras of all formats have lens issues and are sold as being in working order, even ones that are 'tested'— they're even harder to spot with Rangefinders too. Maybe run a cheap roll of film through it, testing different focal lengths and also check the aperture is fully working on all f-stops. It's worth mentioning too that Rangefinders both 35mm and 120mm are not perfect and often make imperfect images, but I suspect this is an SLR...

    Re: film, for me, ISO 800 on a sunny day would be a big no, unless you want lots of grain— IMO it's better to use 400 and shoot a bit over than use 800— it's way more expensive and grain on colour is often hard to work with. In any case, the lack of depth of field makes me thing this is a technical issue and nothing to do with your eyes. It could be that you're working on Automode and the camera isn't focusing as it should, but with most of the images being blurred, it's unlikely.

    As mentioned below, I would check/test the lens; if it checks out, perhaps get the film re-scanned at a photo lab. It's most likely to be one of the two.

    Hope this helps in some way.

  • I am also shooting film and learning trough my journey, so it’s helpful to see people’s replies to your issue.

    Does this come out on both 35 mm and medium format?

    You could have a problem with a lens, if there is fungus in it that would make your images hazy, you could try to borrow or rent a lens from lazy lama. Or if the lense from 35 mm can be put on you digital to see if that gives you the same effect then you will know if you need to purchase a lens in better condition.( I would investigate this first). If you can see well, take of the lens open it wide and look through it it should be clear if it looks soft then it’s probably done.

    If lens is ok I would suggest to splash out and scan one of your films in the shop to see the difference between your scanning and their scanning.

    In regards to Asa or iso for film, 100 speed is good for sunny days, but in uk 400 is the one to usually use , because it’s overcast so much, and 800 is for lower light.

    Not sure if that’s relevant.

    Last of all, if none of those things seem to be the problem, then buy a cheaper film and practice taking your time taking sharper shots, I also had this problem in the beginning but with practice got better. If you are using autofocus on digital maybe that’s the reason you don’t have a problem with that with digital.

    I hope some of this helps, it’s a pain to investigate what is the problem when something is wrong with film cameras.

  • @Emilia Trafalgar yeah, that DPI thing was something I didn't learn to much later on with my Epson too. Getting a light meter was one of the best things I ever did, especially when it comes to metering the shadows. Phone apps are good, but having something that I can use in a studio (when shooting digital as well as film) and outdoors accurately is a huge help.
  • @Kid Circus Thankyou, it could be that my camera is the issue, it was very dusty and not well looked after, maybe a light meter is the best course of action. I use my phone sometimes but not sure how accurte thos apps are. Also thanks for the info about DPI, that will save me a lot of time scanning!
  • It could be misfocusing. Especially if you’re using an older 35mm camera. I used to have that problem with my old Canon AE1 camera, if I wasn’t focusing in the centre of the frame.
    As regards the under exposure: Some cameras light metering can be suspect, which is why I always use a separate light meter.
    Also, scanning at 3200dpi won’t be any better or sharper than at say 2400.
    It could also be the quality of the film you used?!!

You must sign up or log in before you 
add a comment.

Post reply