Hasselblad 500 Selfie (1990)

Now that’s some real “old-school” film photography! 🙂

A few years back (OK, it was 30+ years ago), I swapped some high-end audio gear with a friend for a Hasselblad 500 C/M “6×6” medium-format film camera he wasn’t using. More about that in my post: The Back Story of Cameras+Films, including how I ended up un-swapping it (under protest) a few years later.

This is not my beautiful Hasselblad…

The camera shown is just a nice studio shot of somebody else’s Hasselblad 500C/M, which I found on the web (photographer unknown) and used here to illustrate my post. The camera in the photo has chrome trim and a black 80mm Zeiss lens, just like the one I used for a little while.

Anyway, I started out as the proud owner of this amazing camera, with no instruction manual, and no clue how to use it. Sure, I had a nice light meter, used for a few large-format (4×5 sheet-film) exposures in an advanced photography class at college, but my main shutter-squeeze for years had been a Minolta 35mm SLR with a built-in light meter. So, I was more than a little out of practice when it came to a fully-manual camera like this beautiful Hasselblad. As a result, it sat unused — in a box, on a shelf, in a camera bag — for a year or more.

The Hassy (official nickname, though some say “Blad”) finally came out of the cobwebs after I moved to California and took an advanced color photography class at San Diego State University. In the first class, students shared the film camera(s) they owned. This was to set expectations for student skill levels, not for “camera-shaming.” I told them about my Minolta 35mm, which was similar to what most other students had, but then I remembered the Hasselblad lurking in a moving box, and told the class about it. The students were wowed and the professor impressed. We only used 35mm cameras for classwork, but the professor reminded me repeatedly throughout the semester, that I “really should do something with that Hasselblad!” So, at last, I did.

How do you use a fully-manual, medium-format, film camera for the first time? Assuming you know photography basics, you dust off your light meter and try to figure it out. The Hasselblad 500 series are simple to shoot with, but loading film into them is a unique and quirky process. To make matters worse, I’d never loaded and shot 120 roll-film in ANY camera before, so my first time was going to be a grand experiment!

120 roll-film loaded? Check. Light meter with a fresh battery? Check.

I had chosen Ektachrome Professional ASA 100 slide-transparency “reversal” film for my first color shots on the Hasselblad, since I was familiar with Ektachrome in 35mm format. Experience told me I could expect generally neutral colors, emphasizing blue tones. As it turned out, I was very happy with the results, so Ektachrome (ASA 100 or 200) became my go-to color slide film going forward, especially since Kodachrome was a slower film and way more expensive to develop.

What to do and shoot first, learning how to use this camera? Instinct told me to “run home to momma” and return to basics: pick a colorful subject not in direct sunlight and “bracket” multiple exposures of the same subject, with different lens aperture and shutter-speed settings. So, I found a bucket of mixed flowers in the shade (indirect light) by a stone wall, which gave me an approximate “middle gray” tonal value for the background, and set the camera on a tripod. Here’s the best exposure from my test shots of the flowers:

After three “bracketing” exposures of the flowers, I had tested enough. What next? Ha! Maybe I should shoot a self-portrait leaning over the flowers, since the camera was already sitting on a tripod, focused, and I had my light reading. Not for vanity, but as a legitimate, creative, final test, right? So, I gave it a shot — literally!

Hasselblad Film-Selfie of Russ Murray @remages (1990-ish).

For this self-portrait, my arm is outstretched to either press the shutter-release directly, or to squeeze the short cable release hanging from it. The 80mm “normal” lens on the Hassy has a minimum focus distance of 0.9 meters (35.4331 inches). It would be difficult take this shot if the camera was handheld, though my fingertip-to-breastbone distance is 36 inches (exactly half my 72 inch height). There’s no way I could have held the camera steady and far enough away. But the shot is deceiving, don’t you think?

Almost like a mobile-phone, digital selfie, but way better! 🙂

I finished the roll of film with some hurried, lackluster landscape shots, none of which are worth mentioning. Except that if you read this far, you may wonder. My memory of that moment (30+ years later), is that I was so eager and impatient to see the results of the test shots, I rushed through the rest of the first roll, shooting indiscriminately.

Finally, the roll — test-shots, selfie, and bad landscapes — reached its end (12 exposures), was carefully removed from the camera, lovingly S.W.S. (sealed-with-spit), and eagerly delivered to my favorite lab in San Diego. They were usually quick, but also super-busy, so it felt like the longest week ever. (Was it only 3-4 days?) I was impatient and worried — an expectant photographer pacing outside the delivery room — I mean the lab.

When I got that first roll of 120 slide film back from the lab (despite the bad landscapes) I was thrilled, and I was hooked — on Hasselblad and medium-format photography!

I’ll end with a quote from my 21-year old daughter — her reaction to my film selfie:

“OMG — that hair!!!”

What can I say? It was the Nineties…

I hope you enjoyed this medium-format blast from my past, and had a chuckle (or two). Since I recently found all my old film from that period, there will be a few more posts with photographs I made using this Hasselblad 500 C/M camera.

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Thanks for reading!

[C+F] Cameras+Films

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