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In the footsteps of Steve McCurry – in McCurry Kodachrome

Steve McCurry – You’ve probably heard the name before, especially if you’re interested in photography. 

He is a very well-known, highly-acclaimed contemporary documentary photographer who has been shooting for National Geographic and American Magnum since the 1970’s. He has been capturing the human experience all over the world for decades and, during the height of the film era, he shot most of his photographs in Kodachrome 64. It was his go-to film and he probably shot hundreds, if not thousands, of rolls of this iconic and most significant film stock ever produced.

Kodachrome 64 was discontinued on 22 June 2009, a long time after McCurry stopped shooting on film. However, he got to shoot one of the last rolls of Kodachrome that was ever developed. National Geographic documented this epic six week project (very aptly titled “The Last Roll of Kodachrome”) that gives some nice insights into McCurry’s work, the film Kodachrome and its developing process. His roll of Kodachrome was a developed by Dwayne’s Photo in the US on 12 July 2010. You can check out all the frames he took here.

It is these photographs and their legendary history that are the inspiration behind a new film simulation recipe that has been released by Ritchie Roesch from Fuji X Weekly. You can read all about the fascinating story of this recipe in his article here.

Secretly shooting with McCurry Kodachrome

I feel very privileged to have been privy to this recipe for a few weeks already, as Ritchie offered me the opportunity to shoot and test it before its official release in episode 01 of season 04 of SOOC.

This was an incredibly exciting project to be part of. First and foremost, we’re talking Kodachrome. Anything associated with a Kodachrome film simulation recipe promises to be epic, fun, and, most importantly, has the potential to produce awesome-looking pictures, in-camera. Secondly, I love clandestine projects. Even if this one was not quite as monumental as shooting the very last roll of a discontinued film stock. I still got a glimpse of what it must have felt like to be on the inside track.

Kodachrome recipes are just awesome. The look is in a class of its own and they’re a joy to shoot with it. As a matter of fact, Kodachrome II was one of the first recipes I ever used to create straight-out-of-camera jpegs. My experience of this process was an important milestone in my photography journey that inspired what SOOC Live is today.

“A boat to nowhere” | Straight-out-of-camera jpeg from Fujifilm X100F in Kodachrome II

Since then I have shot with a few other Kodachrome recipes and no matter which one I choose, I love the results I get, the most stand-out characteristic being the cyan skies and deeply saturated reds. Great overall colour reproduction and contrast are its winning features. As someone unabashedly romantic, I believe that each exposure taken with any of these film simulation recipes honours the greatness of what the original film stock was, adding an extra layer of excitement to shooting with them. The newly released McCurry Kodachrome is no exception. It’s probably the most exciting recipe out of all of them, given the rich history.

The first frames

I received the McCurry Kodachrome recipe the night before a road trip to eSwatini. Too late in the day to test it straight away, I ceremoniously loaded the settings into my X-T5 to have it ready for the big reveal the next day. My husband and I left early the next morning and the moment we hit the open country road, I was finally able to satisfy my burning curiosity. I had never shot with a recipe without any reference images before. The first photographs I took were a series of shots of pretty clouds and green rolling hills (from the moving car). What revealed itself on the back of my LCD, was very unmistakably Kodachrome.

Kodachromy | Straight-out-of-camera jpeg from Fujifilm X-T5 in McCurry Kodachrome

As expected, the recipe handles landscapes very nicely and rewards with oh-so-kodachromy cyan skies. Also pretty obvious to me at that time was that this version of Kodachrome is not as warm as its predecessor Kodachrome 64. All in all, very pretty and pleasing.

A few hours into our trip, we encountered serious fog along the way. Not something I witness very often in Johannesburg and, however unexpected, this prooved to be a good opportunity to test how this new recipe handles these dimly lit landscapes.

Misty Chrome | Straight-out-of-camera jpeg from Fujifilm X-T5 in McCurry Kodachrome

With bright sunshine no longer part of the scene, the images leaned a little towards the greens which worked very well in that instance. It made me realise how fortuitous it was that I would be travelling in both hemispheres, and with that, in a variety of weather and lighting conditions throughout the planned testing period of this recipe. This would give me great insights into the characteristics and various looks that can be achieved by using it.

My findings

After a few weeks of testing and shooting with this new recipe, at home and abroad, I was able to capture many images that showcase the breadth of how well McCurry Kodachrome performs. Here are images that are examples of situations in which I found McCurry Kodachrome to deliver the best results.

Like me, McCurry Kodachrome loves lots of bright sunlight, blue skies and plenty of colour. Therefore, I would recommend it most for outdoor, travel, nature and street photography.

In Daylight Indoors

Curious as to how it would handle not so obvious use cases, I also shot it indoors.

It also does pretty well indoors in daylight, but stay clear of artificial light. Because the white balance setting of the recipe is K5900, it will turn images taken under tungsten light into a yellow mess. However, it works well for outdoor night scenes.

Outdoors in Flat Light

As mentioned, I didn’t only encounter bright colours, greens of summer and sunny days (thank you, Paul Simon), but also found myself in cold, grey-in-grey, and even snowy conditions while on Christmas holiday in Germany.

To produce bright and vibrant images in flat light is a challenge, and to be fair, for most recipes. McCurry Kodachrome is no exception. Due to its relatively narrow dynamic range (DR100), it tends to blow out highlights quickly, so one needs to keep an eye out for that too. Despite the lack of sunshine, I did manage to make images I like.

Snowy Conditions

Sadly, our holiday to Germany and The Netherlands ended a few days before a cold front brought heavy snow to many countries in Northern Europe. I would have loved the experience of shooting in snow and icy cold conditions with this recipe. At least we got a bit of a snow dusting on one of the days which was also really pretty.

A Kodachrome comparison

Since Ritchie has already created a number of Kodachrome recipes, I thought it would be really interesting to compare this new Kodachrome recipe with other versions, to see how different this new look actually is. To best showcase this, I used X RAW Studio to convert the RAW files of seven images into five different Kodachrome looks. I have done this test before for a selection of recipes suitable for rainy conditions and I loved how much insight this exercise gave into the differences of each recipe. For this test I chose the following recipes: Vintage Kodachrome, Kodachrome II, Kodachrome 25, Kodachrome 64 and of course, McCurry Kodachrome.

The test results

Judging by each of the recipe settings, I would have never expected such distinct differences, yet, as can be seen, each of the recipes produces a look that is noticeably different from the other. Don’t take my word for it though. Check them out for yourself and let your own results convince you. I can only recommend it. It’s a fun and rewarding exercise.

Closing Thoughts

It is safe to say that McCurry Kodachrome is fantastic and a strong contender as my recipe of choice for most situations. I love the colours, contrast and its clean look. Surprisingly versatile, it produces great results most of the time. It sure gets a double thumbs up from me and a prime spot in my custom menus, fosho!

Recipe revealed live on SOOC

If you missed the live broadcast of the first episode of season 04 of SOOC in which Ritchie and I revealed the McCurry Kodachrome recipe, you better catch up with it now!

Okidoks, it’s your turn! Now that the recipe has gone public, I strongly recommend that you shoot with it yourself and enjoy a dose of Kodachrome awesomeness! I would love to hear about your experiences! I invite you to share them with me in the comments or on my socials. And remember to tag @nathalieboucry @fujixweekly, @sooclive and hashtag them #mccurrykodachrome when you share images taken with McCurry Kodachrome so I can feast on your creations!

Geek alert: Did you notice that there are 36 images shot with McCurry Kodachrome in this article? Steve McCurry had one roll of film with 36 exposures, so I thought it would be neat to show 36 sample images in this article – all jpegs straight out of camera taken with the McCurry Kodachrome recipe ;-p


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2 Comments

  • Stanley-Carl du-Pont
    January 29, 2024 at 9:28 am

    Awesome article and recipe I’m looking forward to using. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Nathalie Boucry
      January 29, 2024 at 9:30 am

      So happy to hear that you enjoyed reading it and find the info useful. Can’t wait to see what you create with it. Don’t forget to tag the images you share online so that the community can enjoy them!!

      Reply

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