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What if I told you that there's a more expensive way to work harder in exchange for less predictable, and possibly much worse, results?

Would you be as excited about it as I am?

This pinhole photo was recorded on black and white film. It's a blend of three different exposures, each taken through a red, green, or blue filter. The resulting monochrome scans are then stacked and aligned, and each one is assigned to only its own RGB colour channel, creating a full colour image. In Affinity Photo it's a very simple process. The results can be tweaked a bit in the pixel editor by changing the curves for each layer if needed, and then I export a flattened tiff file for editing in Lightroom. These photos are all early results, made with fairly quick edits that undoubtedly need more dust spotting.

The different colours on the rocks in the foreground are from the shadows changing between exposures. The green and red ghosts on the right are from people wandering out onto the rocks and pausing for a few seconds in each spot. I tried to close the shutter when I noticed people lingering, but clearly I didn't do a great job of that. Each exposure was about 10-15 seconds long on Ilford FP4.

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It took some persuading to get this photo from my WPPD outing into something that I like, and clearly it's more interpretive than documentary. And most of my efforts at creating colour photos from that outing failed. But the nice thing is that if the colour merge doesn't work out then I still have the black and white photos, taken with some interesting filtration, which might have some merit. That consolation prize reinforces the point that each individual exposure needs to stand on its own without depending on colour gimmicks.

And I do like gimmicks.

These first two photos were recorded using my Reality So Subtle 6x9F pinhole camera, meaning that each finished photo takes up 3/8th of a 120 film roll. That's an awkward amount. And needing three frames per photo makes this process more expensive than just using colour film in the first place. But sometimes, with luck (me) or skill (other people, see below) it's worth it.

Predictable results come from a consistent process; when done well trichromatic photos range from stunningly creative to "yeah, it's a colour photo, so what?" Finding the sweet spot between those, and being able to create the style of results that I want, is the challenge. (One of my challenges.) My exposure durations with pinhole cameras are somewhat improvisational, and the results reflect it. That's okay – that's sort of the point of a pinhole.

After all, if I wanted controllable results then I'd use a camera with a meter and a lens, amirite?

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So, so what? Here's a more precisely controlled trichromatic photo, made using Ilford HP5, my Nikon F6, and 50/1.8G; all of these photos were done with a cheap set of filters I bought from an online bookstore. The red filter is decidedly orange, and the filter factor compensation values are a shrug emoji. But the results are close enough that I can use the fence to set the white balance, which is more than I can say for some colour films. The colour palette is still a bit wonky – again, much like many colour films – but these flowers really are purple.

It's an interesting photo… if you know (and care about) the technique that made it possible. The movement in the leaf at the bottom-left gives its origin away, as does the colour-speckle grain if you see it enlarged. But here I'm trying for a straight photo from a quirky process, which doesn't play to its strengths. If this was a digital or E6/C41 photo it wouldn't be worth showing. 

It is nice to know that I can produce boring, unremarkable colour photos for scenes that deserve that, though. It could come in handy for travel or certain rare emergencies. For high-fidelity results there are even specially balanced colour filters that match exposure and spectrum precisely – Red 25A, Green 58, Blue 47B –  and cost real money. Like, a pro-pack of Portra money.  I'm not there yet.

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I'd rather take quirky photos that finds creative uses for movement and changing light.

Here are the component exposures and the final result, again done with my F6 and Ilford HP5. The sequence is red (notice the dimmer green light on the traffic signal), green, and blue (the large shadowed areas are much brighter). The trichromatic rainbow in the foreground accentuates the flowers, and I had some fun waiting for people and cars to add to the frame.

It's not a bug, it's a feature.

The camera was on my Jobu Algonquin tripod, which is a massive foundation, and there's still some movement between the frames. It's probably from a slight jostling when I was swapping the filters. The upside of this is that if even that solid a support will show some movement then there's no need to use something so heavy. The photos will need to be aligned in post anyway, which adds no extra time or effort to the process, so I get to carry a lighter tripod and enjoy my day more. I just need to leave a little extra room when framing the composition, which is really only an issue when I'm composing to the edges with an SLR.

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As I mentioned, I'm a sucker for gimmicks. I love things that I can experiment with and explore, and then move on to the next new thing before I could be reasonably expected to produce something meaningful and expressive. It's a defense mechanism against criticism and a coping mechanism for not being particularly interesting. And yeah, I thought I'd delete this paragraph before publishing, but I also take comfort in knowing that few people will ever read it.

But with that being said, I do think these past two photos – the birds of yorkville and the four black cars – are good photos. They use the technique to express something more than a 'straight' photo would, in either colour or black and white. The birds are a commercial/art enhancement that's all about adding colour in the city, so going trichromatic is even more of what it is. (The scene itself isn't great, but that's the city for you.) Four Black Cars shows about five different street scenes, caught in just three photos, and then layers them in ways that a standard multiple exposure photo can't do. These people who were in the same space, but not at the same time, are brought into relationships that could never have existed otherwise.

The film photography that engages me the most – toy, pinhole, multiple exposure, and now trichromatic – isn't about using film instead of digital. It's about using film for things that digital does very badly, or can't do at all.

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These days I'm a resolutely black-and-white film person, but I do occasionally feel the lure of colour photography. The relentless greys of my lightroom catalog can be, well, relentless. So I'll find myself standing in front of the displays at the shop, inexplicably reaching toward a roll of Cinestill 50D or Portra 160… but it's so much more expensive, and needs lab processing, and the thought of dedicating one of my cameras to colour for the time it would take to get through a full roll just makes me sad. Trichromatic black and white solves two out of those three problems, while giving me some visual variety.

And I wasn't kidding when I said that I'm excited about the chance to work harder for less predictable results. I don't expect this to become a major new direction for me, but it's a nice option to have. It's another thing that appeals to my interest in multiple exposures, duration, and allowing randomness within an established structure.

It's also easier to commit to black and white film, as a thing, when it doesn't rule out colour photography as an option.

A big part of showing these very early results is that it's a chance for me to thank and give credit to the person who introduced me to trichomatic photography, the UK photographer Andrew Keedle. He was about a century too late to invent the idea, and there are others currently practicing it, but how he shares his exploration of the process and his analog-to-digital methods makes it approachable, while his results are something to aspire to.

I found him on twitter, then read through his website, and bought his Trichrome zine as soon as he brought it back into stock. I'd highly recommend all of those things to anyone who's been interested enough to read this far.

keedlemedia.com for the blog, portfolio, and prints;

@apkeedle on twitter,

keedlemedia on instagram.