A new medium: the Olympus E-P3’s Grainy Film Filter By James McGirk

A new medium: the Olympus E-P3’s Grainy Film Filter

By James McGirk

A new medium: the Olympus E-P3’s Grainy Film Filter

My grandmother passed away last year and left me with a leather scrapbook containing snapshots of her first voyage abroad, into the Amazonian jungle (where my grandfather was an oil finder for Texaco). At the time, my wife and I had just moved from New York City to a small town in rural Oklahoma. I had been documenting the experience of moving in my own way—I’m a freelance journalist—but looking at those fading photos I realized how much nuance was slipping through my fingers.

So I bought a small mirrorless camera, a refurbished Olympus E-P3 with a 14–42mm kit lens, thinking it would give me a spur to help remember the way things looked. My expectations were low. I hadn’t owned a camera in ten years. My sense of composition is terrible. More than once I caught a family member discretely tearing apart a photo I’d been asked to take. We writers tend to be too literal when it comes to capturing images. There’s an extra layer of mental kruft to cut through: I tend to think about what something says before I relax and let the image speak for itself.

I expected a mindless device. A blunt instrument for recording of my surroundings; but found an entirely new medium to express myself with, one as frustrating, complex and exciting as writing has been, and all the more so because is everything is new for me and learning the basics opens up so much possibility.

The following images were culled from six months of shooting and all use the “grainy film filter”. Though it’s slightly affected, I enjoy the noirish, intimate feeling it seems to give an image. Plus, during a recent helicopter ride, I found another use: it was the only thing that could hack through the dense, pre-Monsoon haze over Kathmandu.








If you’re interested in seeing more photographs (including scans of the aforementioned Colombian snapshots) you’re most welcome to visit my Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesmcgirk/

You are also most welcome to visit my website, which has links to other stories and articles: http://jamesmcgirk.com

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  1. Very interesting shots – I suggest you to look at the works published on the old japanese magazine Provoke or the Flickr group with the same name. Probably that would interest you!

  2. Anyone that has ever used b&w film, and developed his films following his instincts, and printed them, choosing paper grades, dodging, burning, will take a less favourable view.

      • Well, I did some blown highlights in my film days ;-). But I guess if you know nothing about analogue photography and don’t have the inclination to delve into it, this is a shortcut.

  3. I like grainy film effects, too, to give atmosphere to some shots, but I don’t think “grainy” means blown highlights and blur. Sorry, don’t mean to sound sour, but I think your Olympus can do better than this.

    • Thanks for the feedback, John, which wasn’t sour at all. In this case “grainy” refers to the camera’s built-in filter, which does exactly what you say: blow out the highlights, boost the contrast and add noise to the image. It’s definitely a heavy-handed technique, if you can even call it a technique, but as an introduction to the way black and white images and digital “grain” affect mood, atmosphere and texture I found it rewarding.

  4. Some very interesting photos. I think you should try Ricoh GR ‘high contrast black and white mode’.

    • The filter was created by applying a photo of film grain so even if you shoot at 200 ISO it will be grainy, not digital noisy.

  5. Sometimes I use this art filter when taking portraits: recording the filtered JPEG + RAW allows to play with the raw file if not interested in the filtered image. Back to your post: I didn’t know it could see through the mist! (The woman portrait and the last candid are really nice!)

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