I’ve been hearing that from many of my photographer friends and acquaintances. “What’s the fuss” they say. “Why would you ever use film anymore” they say. “I don’t even want to see that old camera, it makes me shutter” they say “Get that thing away from me!” Yet there is this resurgence of people buying, using, and talking about film and film cameras again. Let’s see if we can figure out both sides of this interesting phenomenon.
But before we do that let me first let you know that I am a photographer who uses both digital and film. I should also say that my serious photography is done digitally. So what kind of photography do I shoot on film? Good question. I”ll explain during the course of this blog.
Depending on your age, you learned photography by shooting film because that’s all there was. Some of you learned photography on film in school while digital cameras were already available. The rest have only used digital for a multitude of reasons. The ones who are making the comments I quoted at the beginning are photographers who made their living making photographs on film. They tell me stories of long hours behind the ground glass of their large format camera, metering ever shot, taking test polaroids and sending runners to the lab to get the film developed and over to printing to meet deadlines or worse, doing all the lab work themselves. Why would they do that? Because it was how advertisements, catalogs, and everything else we looked at in books, magazines and newspapers was made. There was no other option. To all of you who I have just described, I salute you. Digital has many advantages that you’ve earned the right to embrace. Don’t look back. That is a choice you can make.
Now let’s talk about the people who use both mediums. For me and people like me, the decision to use film is a creative one. I don’t have to but I want to and like to. We’ve all heard the statement “shooting film slows you down”. To be honest, there is some truth to that. I have several film cameras that do not have meter built in. I enjoy the process of spot metering a landscape composition and making the decision on where my highlights and shadows will look. When I used to shoot landscapes digitally I just used a center weighted meter and hoped the dynamic range of my sensor would capture detail in the highlights and shadows that I could recover in post production. I have also enjoyed the process of learning which film stock works best for certain subjects and situations. I’ve ruined a lot of films along the way but I still love the learning process. People who know me know that everything I photograph is some sort of experiment.
The last group I will talk about are the photographers who only shoot film. The diehards, the people who never embraced digital and don’t have any interest in it. Look around the internet and you will find these photographers. They are out there still making amazing art the way they have always done. They are comfortable with their tools and see no need to change.
I follow some of them and watch their videos, and have learned so much about crafting a photograph from them. The time they take with their compositions is something we all should do more of. Every frame is important to them. There is no “spray and pray” with these photographers. If I have learned anything in my photography it’s that. That said, I will almost always take snapshots for fun. Why not. It’s my film and my time. I hope that’s not some sort of contradiction.
If you have never taken photos with a film camera, I hope you will, at least, consider it. I hope maybe something you’ve read here has inspired you to push yourself to make photographs rather than just take pics. Until next time, Happy Shooting!
Patrick Rapps says
Well written. Particularly the admission of spot metering, and hoping you got enough to fix in post. Film makes me try harder..and is not as simple as watching a YouTube tutorial, and a Photoshop class…and go nail an image. The failure rate of film, adds to the accomplishment when I DO capture a nice film image the way I envisioned.
Scott Hartwick says
Thanks for your comment Patrick. Keep shooting.
I learned on film, came back to photography via digital, and picked up film again about 2 years ago. I shoot primarily digital (since that’s how I shoot my infrared work), but am bout 70/30 digital/film for the rest of my work. I even shoot ‘serious’ work on film. Although I hate developing, and don’t have the money to send out my film, it’s something that’s been beneficial in learning how to create the negatives I like.
Scott Hartwick says
I’m glad to hear you are shooting serious work on film. I haven’t done that as of yet but I plan to. Thank you for the comment.
Jesse Castellano says
In a digital world we often forget about the tactile experience that film photography provides. This is mostly true for those who still process and develop their own film and prints. Loading a roll of film, with it’s light sensitive emulsion, into a camera in contrast to loading a memory card is an altogether event that simply cannot be matched. The same is true for making a print in the darkroom as opposed to printing one on a printer. I’m sure there are those who would argue this and will never go back to film for any reason which is fine. I am also sure that there are many former film photographers that have never experienced the magic of a darkroom opting to have a lab do all of the work. I still shoot film and I also have a very well equipped darkroom that I finished setting up in my new home a year ago. When I close the darkroom door behind me I am in different world. My world. I like that.
Scott Hartwick says
Well written Jesse. Thank you for the comments, we appreciate them. Keep creating!
Tim Weaver says
It’s interesting, because the ‘tactile’ aspect of film is of zero interest to me. I don’t really like developing or scanning, either. But, to be fair, I LOATHE editing even in digital…but it’s the only way to get the look I want, esp in digital infrared.
For film, it’s more because I’m unemployed, there aren’t any good local labs and I’m impatient, so I go through the process to get my images done. 🙂
Kevin Islander says
Good article, thanks. Seeing the images of the film boxes and prints hanging brought back some good ole memories. If only we could smell the chems. Every once in a while, every 10 years or so, I shoot some film. I had just bought a Canon EOS 3 before I went digital. Film makes one more intentful, studied, and causes one to pay more attention. I wouldn’t want to fire off images at 14fps with film for sure. But professionally and mostly otherwise, Digital is my choice. My knock about digital: Weddings were a lot easier to fulfill with film. Shoot film, present the prints, take enlargement order and print, deliver on more time. Way easier