Film photography, it’s never boring. There are so many aspects of shooting with film that keeps me addicted to the medium. Of course there’s the look, but it’s really so much more than that. (although the look is one of big items on the list) But it really is the whole process.
I think that most humans in general are people who love to touch things. That’s how we start off as babies. Man, we want to touch everything. It’s how we learn and one way we connect with the things and people around us.
Shooting with a film camera is a much more tactile process than shooting digital. You’re loading the film. Advancing the film. Manually focusing (okay, autofocus film cameras do exist… I just don’t own any).
Even in post, you’re developing your film; hanging your negatives; very physical activities. I love every part of that. I do shoot digital, and am glad that’s available, but I just don’t get the same satisfaction from loading files from a memory card onto my computer and then just pressing buttons and moving a mouse around a bit. (okay, that’s kind of understating things, but know what I mean?) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with any of that, but it’s just not what stimulates my brain the way the film process does.
Anticipation of Film
Film is not a medium that delivers instant gratification (except for instant film, of course). Film makes you wait. Now, having to wait for something is usually not considered a good thing. With film photography though, it really is one of the plusses.
The anticipation, the excitement that builds in waiting to see how your negatives come out; then to see the actual photos themselves. To varying levels of degree, it is exciting.
It’s kind of like when you order something, maybe a favorite record/LP and you can’t wait until it’s delivered and you can unwrap it, slide the record out of the cover and hold it in your hands; lift the cover of your turntable; place the record over the spindle, lower the needle to album and hear that music you’ve been waiting for. Okay, it’s something like that. It is a thing.
Chimp much? Not with Film
Another part about not getting that instant gratification is not being able to instantly see the view on the back of the camera right after you take the shot. Now, I recognize that can be a benefit in certain situations. But for the most part, I feel like shooting digital cameras can make us less secure in our abilities as photographers. I heard someone else say that once and I happen to agree.
Why I (or the other guy, can’t remember who right now) say that is, when we shoot with film cameras we’re much more certain of our settings, exposure, depth of field, etc… When shooting film, especially with an all mechanical, manual camera you develop your skills in this area. You doubt yourself less; second guess yourself less. You develop more confidence in your abilities.
Confidence & Engagement
Shooting digital cameras, I think, seems to have taken away that inner sense of confidence. I know that when I go out with a digital camera, even though I shoot with film most of the time, I will tend to preview the shots from time to time. I’ll check exposure; could I have composed the shot better; etc.. When I’m shooting with film I know the photo will be fine. I’m not distracted from the moment and I move on to the next shot, staying engaged with the scene and my surroundings.
This is especially true when I’m on a photo shoot. Shooting film helps me stay more engaged in the moment, staying connected to the person that I’m photographing. That’s a huge plus and one of the greatest feelings that comes with shooting film.
Happy Accidents (ooops)
So after all my soapbox talk about having more confidence… things don’t always work out perfectly. There can be accidents from time to time. Sometime it can be a bad thing. But sometime it’s one of those situations in where you made a mistake, maybe messed the film up a bit; but when you see the results, there are those magical moments; those oooooohhhh, aaaaahhhh, woooooow moments that really make the accident into something very cool; something that you never could have created if everything would have gone smoothly.
And Yes, There’s the Look
Digital images can look amazing. There are times when I do want more of a contemporary, clean look. But the look of film; the feel can be almost palpable.
I learned on digital, shooting for years, editing my files, trying to reproduce that film look I remember from when I was a kid. It’s not that I hated my work but I just wasn’t achieving that sense, that feel I got from looking at the photographs from the past; the film photos. It was missing the character that I wanted to see; that I wanted to feel.
Man, when I started shooting film, only about four years ago, it all clicked. (Ha! See what I did there?) That was the look I’d been, well, looking for. The character; the grit; the lack of perfection. There was charm, there was depth.
I’m not saying people can’t edit a digital file to look like film. I could (and have been) fooled at times, looking at someone else’s photo and thought it might be film, when actually it was digital. They had just worked on it enough in post so that it had a film-like look.
But I saw the difference in my own work.
I know the difference in my own photography when I’m looking at it. And I really don’t have to do hardly any post processing on the photos. They already have the look I want, for the most part, anyway.
I scan my negatives so when I bring the scans into Lightroom I’ll tend deepen the blacks a bit, but after that it’s just making exposure adjustments if needed. I just love the way the film looks already. The more post work I do on an image just tends to take away that character I love so much.
I am very happy that digital exists. It’s a very important tool for me. But when it comes down to it, I just get so much more satisfaction shooting film. It’s an exciting, rewarding, fun, tactile process that produces some of my favorite work I’ve ever done.
If you haven’t shot film, or at least haven’t done it for a while, think about picking up an inexpensive film camera and a few rolls. There are so many intangible benefits that I really feel we’re being robbed of with all the new developments in technology. It’s fun stuff, but newer doesn’t always mean better.
As technology keeps making things simpler for us; creating machines that do more of the work for us; I think it’s also robbing us of the full experience from back when we used to do more of the work ourselves. It’s not a bad thing to do more of the work ourselves. It’ more rewarding.
Film Photography; it might not always be exciting… but it’s never boring.
My appreciation for your endurance of my bias. Have fun!