Shooting Ilford Pan 400 in Shanghai

Classic Grainy Monochrome in China’s Greatest Metropolis

8 min read by

After testing out my charity shop film cameras with Kodak ColorPlus — because that was the only film they had in my local Tesco — I wanted to give monochrome a go.

So I bought some Ilford Pan 400 — a film that seems common in Asia but unavailable in the US or the UK — and did exactly that.

The main project for the rolls was shooting a trip to my better half’s home town, which I did.

You can see how that went here.

In the meantime, I’d returned to Shanghai with half an unshot roll still in the camera, which meant I could get some bonus photographs of what is really now my adopted home town.

And so, not really knowing how they would turn out, that’s what I did.

Shooting Monochrome Film Street Photography

When I say I didn’t really know how they would turn out, I meant in more ways than one.

The first was in not seeing the shots in monochrome through the viewfinder.

Yes, obviously, Lee.

When I shoot monochrome on my Sony NEX with my vintage lenses, the LCD screen shows me what the image will look like in monochrome.

There’s no guessing.

And it does matter.

Good monochrome photography is about more than just taking away colours. Similar tones of red and green are going to look the same, for example.

It needs contrast. Light. Shapes. Lines. And whatever else you care to list.

Shooting with monochrome film like Ilford Pan 400 means mentallyconverting a scene to monochrome. It’s not something I’d ever really done before.

Not every shot worked, but that’s not important.

That I found it fun and a good learning experience is.

Ilford Pan 400 Grain and Quality

Another aspect of not really knowing how the shots would turn out was due to never having shot with the Ilford Pan 400 film before.

I didn’t really know how sharp the images were going to be. Especially out of a £2.99 camera. I didn’t know how grainy they were going to be. I didn’t know if the exposure was going to be off.

Even shooting the ISO 400 film in good light, I was still hoping the shutter speed would be okay.

There’s also the matter of forgetting what you’ve shot as you reach the end of the roll.

It’s impossible to remember each and every one of the 36 exposures.

I’m not complaining.

All of this, especially being pleasantly surprised when you get your images back from the lab, adds to the fun of shooting street photography on film.

Especially when you like the grain and quality it gives you.

Adding Variety to Your Street Photography

One thing that could easily happen when you don’t remember what you already shot on your film roll is that a lot of your images look the same.

Or contain similar themes, at least.

I found that to be the case and so have split the images up here into batches that, I think, go together.

The first was just… people.

The second was shots where I’d found a background and waited for someone to feature in front of it. This style leads to a hell of a lot of cliché street photography right now.

Mine sometimes included, I know.

Especially the one with the lady walking.

The third batch was of more abstract images with no main human subject. I think these are my favourite ones from this roll of Ilford Pan 400.

The next batch? Another theme that’s so easy to shoot that it’s probably a cliché now too. Especially when doing street photography in China.

Bicycles and motorcycles.

Done well, these shots can still have value.

Whether you think these ones do or not, I will leave up to you.

Shanghai Street Photography With Ilford Pan 400

I was nervous about picking these photographs up from the lab.

Nervous because I thought I’d got some good ones and didn’t want the film or camera to have messed up for some reason.

I didn’t want to find that I’d messed up, either.

As said, despite being half-optimistic, I didn’t really know how they were going to turn out.

But I think we did okay.

Perhaps the most important thing my photography teacher taught me was light is always the subject of a photograph.

With limited shots on my film roll and wanting to maximise the chance of getting some good ones, I followed that advice above all.

I shot late in the afternoon on bright days. I looked for scenes while keeping the sun on my back. And I had a lot of fun doing it.

The Ilford Pan 400 turned out pretty grainy.

But I like it.

Pretty much everything about this set, from the shooting of the images to seeing how they turned out, and to the presenting it to you here…

I like it.