Why I’ve started to shoot film

Why film? And why now?

It does seem a bit silly to invest in film cameras these days. My Nikon D7000 is an excellent digital SLR that takes really great photos. With that camera, I can see right away if my exposure was off, if I didn’t focus correctly or if there was too much camera shake. I can delete the photo right then and there if it gets too blown out or just isn’t a good shot. Then after I’m done, I can take whatever photos are left and load them onto my computer, run them through Lightroom and Photoshop, and come out with some great photos. The camera and software provide me with countless opportunities for manipulation to present the image that I want to present. This has allowed people that might have been previously apprehensive about photography as a hobby to go out and grab some gear and start shooting.

So, why go backward?

Recently I inherited my grandfather’s Canon AE-1 Program 35mm film SLR camera. It is a great little camera in that it is set up to figure out exposure/shutter speed all on its own, and as far as a film SLR camera goes, it is one of the easiest to take out of the box and start snapping some great photos. He kept this camera in meticulous condition. He even Kept the original warranty and *every* slip of paper and receipt that came with it. He bought this just a month or two before I was born, and while I have nothing to back this up, I can’t help but think that it was the coming birth of his first grandson (though not first grandchild) that inspired him to go out and buy this camera and the 3 lenses it came with at the local SEARS. Not only did he keep the gear in great condition, he also kept his notes with it. Seems he went out and talked with some local photographers to really get to know how to use the camera. This was classic Walt. I have all of his hand-written notes still to this day.

Nostalgia aside, there were other reasons to take up this camera. I’ve even added another lens that I was able to find on eBay for very cheap that will give me some more range with it. I’ve committed to use this camera when out and about for a few reasons which I’ll go into now.

First, there is speed. When using my DSLR, I generally snap a few photos of each shot that I want in case one isn’t that good. I tend not to take my time framing the shot as much as I should because I just think “hey, I can just go back and crop if need be”. And while yes, I can load my film photos onto a disc and take it through Lightroom (which I have done with these for a bit of noise reduction and exposure control is all) that isn’t really the point. Film forces me to slow waaaaaaaay down. I take a shot knowing full well that I’m not going to be able to crop it, so it better be framed correctly the first time. This forces me to move around, get high or get low, take my time really seeing what it is I’m looking at. And I know that I really only get one shot. Film actually isn’t all that cheap, and I don’t want to waste a roll taking a bunch of the same shots over and over.

Second, it is forcing me to get to know my equipment. While I understand the basics of exposure, f/stops, metering, shutter speed etc…, using film forces me to take all of these things into consideration before I press that shutter release. I don’t get to snap a few, look at the display screen and histogram and figure out if I need to adjust exposure manually or not. I have to be patient, think about the light and other conditions, and make any adjustments before I take that first shot.

Lastly, shooting film forces me to really think about what it is I’m shooting. My goal is to take only 1 picture of any shot on film. With digital I might shoot 50-60 on a hike, then delete about 40 of those and edit the rest. With film that just isn’t possible on my budget, nor is it the experience I’m looking for. I’m forcing myself to get those 20 great shots the first time. This has led to my passing up taking a number of photos, which is probably for the best.

While I’ve certainly taken some photos I’m pretty proud of with my DSLRs, I’m finding that shooting with film has been a much greater contemplative experience in general. It forces me out of my comfort zone, into an area where things aren’t as easy as they could be, and I find myself

Also – I’m really enjoying the process of film. I’m learning about the different types of film, and I’ve got a Holga with a bunch of random film to use (some expired, some foreign stuff etc…) and the experimentation has been a blast. Also using the Holga is another experience in itself, but I think I’ll talk more about that once I have those rolls developed.

I’ll be tagging all of my film photos with the “film photography” tag so you’ll know which ones I’ve shot with my SLR as opposed to my digital shots. I’ve also yet to develop a few rolls off my Holga, but those should be pretty obvious to anyone that knows what a Holga photo looks like.



4 thoughts on “Why I’ve started to shoot film

  1. Shimmering Grains

    I really enjoy reading your story of why you choose film!
    I recently wrote my page “Why analogue?” and there is much in common with your post here. But hey, please do not call it to go backwards! I think it is very much mowing forward to make an active choice of what media to use, don’t you think?
    “Yesterday” we had no choice, but we have today, and I agree, there is so many reasons to choose film!
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Stephen G. Hipperson

    I guess you’re going to be a photographer rather than a digital imager then?
    At the end of the day we use whatever we like to output our intentions – I can’t see any reason why people can’t use their i-phone, compact digital, DSLR, film camera or film – I know people who prefer to use a scanner to create images.
    But on the question of film, if speed and the number of shots aren’t an issue for you, can I recommend you go to medium format? The ramp up in the quality of images you can print out is remarkable – if you’re only scanning images for digital display then of course this doesn’t matter.

      1. Stephen G. Hipperson

        I recommend you do a little research and watch prices on ebay to give you a guide.
        Lomo are the cult cheap cheap camera of the moment – there seems to be a whole movement behind them.
        Then there’s SLR and TLR to consider
        Personally I use a Rolleiflex sl66, which is an SLR rollei – where most people are accustomed to the TLR versions.
        I hear Hasselblad made some good cameras (;)).
        Yashica (TLR) Mamiya (TLR) Bronica (SLRs)
        Pentacon (SLR) Kiev (SLR)
        There’s loads of info on the web.
        if you buy a camera with interchangeable lenses, you can build yourself a pinhole gizzmo attachment -great fun.
        I’ve also a couple of old folding cameras, but I’ve yet to do anything in anger with them yet.
        Personally I find medium format a lot easier to work with in the development side, not least because the films aren’t so long!
        Good luck.
        (I think this conversation will spur me on with my folders so thanks for that!!)


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