3 Reasons I Shoot Film // Education
Before I start listing & showing off what I love about film, an introduction: Some time in the 2000’s when I was too young & preoccupied to notice, analog film started to die away. Businesses closed & consolidated, film stocks were retired, camera companies stopped producing film bodies at all, & the world had to “move on” with DSLRs & digital point-&-shoots.
Obviously though, if you are here reading this, you are aware that #filmisnotdead. In my opinion, one of the best moves the hipsters of my generation have made was an underground, Instagram revival of analog film. There is still a vast minority of people who used film over digital, & even I only use film for about 10-20% of my work (this percentage is slowly growing), but I LOVE IT. While taking time to learn about film I’ve actively grown as a creative & photographer, & I wanted to share some of this with the world from an enthusiast’s perspective!
But First, The Gear
The most common question I get asked is what camera I use. This is actually the subject of THIS BLOG POST, but I hope you do realize that having the same gear as me will not mean your images look like mine. Whatever you utilize to capture images is just a tool. Camera’s should be treated as an extension of your eye that creates things the way only you can. But for the sake of subject matter- here’s what I’ve been using for film!
Canon AE-1 // You could luck out & find this camera for super cheap at thrift stores, online for $100 or less, or literally just ask relatives what old cameras they may have lying around! These things were super super popular for 30 years for all kinds of consumers & especially in education. As a matter of fact, the AE-1 I have used for the middle school yearbook where I teach full time!
Lenses I have are a 50mm f1.8 & a 24mm f2.8
Nikon F100 // This is my newer camera I’m super excited about. I found it online for only about $250 (I say “only” because that’s a fraction of what my digital gear costs), but my favorite aspects are the fact I can use all my auto-focus Nikon mount lenses I already own & use on digital! The controls are also super close to other Nikon systems like my D750.
Lenses will be listed in my next blog, but I really love the natural look of a 50mm for film.
Film Stocks // My favorite 35mm film by far is Kodak Portra 400. If I could only shoot one film that would be it. It fits my style with warmer tones, even skin, & a broad enough dynamic range that can handle most lighting conditions. For black & white I have most-favored Ilford HP5 400. In this blog you’ll see many different film stocks & processes I’ve experimented with over the past year.
This may seem like a strange thing to start with, but sometimes I see digital photos that seem “too polished” for my taste. My style just lends itself to a more raw & organic look. One of the best things about real film is that sometimes you do get weird faded shadows, ridiculous light leaks, & other imperfections without being contrived. If I miss focus with my digital camera it more often than not turns into an unusable image, but if I have soft focus on film, it suddenly looks like a painting or purposeful lens effect (examples below!). When you do get the occasional light leak, fade, or end of the roll strip, it only adds to the realness of the image to me. It lends itself to the authenticity of the moment.
Even in my digital photography, I edit in ways bring the realness back to the moment. I add grain, I clip shadows, I shoot movement, & I do the best I can to make sure the stories I document are told & the moments that unfold are FELT through my images.
2. Telling the Truth/Nostalgia
I like to capture moments as they happen. I always aim to tell the true story with my camera, & film helps me do that. I love how Kirk Mastin put it in this quote, “Film feels more like a memory than an exact recording of an event.” That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to start shooting film in my professional work too! Film has an aesthetic that seems familiar. I think it seems so because most of us grew up with family albums full of film photography, but to me a moment just feels more raw when captured on film.
As for professional work, I’ve actually never had a couple specifically ask me to use film. I don’t think clients really care “how” I get the looks that I do, as long as I deliver on what is consistent with my brand. Telling the truth is part of my brand, & not I’m happy to say that 35mm film is too.
3. Slowing Down
Maybe this doesn’t make sense at first, but as a photographer in the digital age we are able to rattle off 6 frames per second, then choose the best one to edit later. Film on the other hand requires me to truly be in the moment, slow down, & be much more selective with my choices.
Side Story: The first roll of film I ever shot was a cheap roll of Fujifilm 200 on the Canon AE-1 during a 7-day winter road trip of national parks in the Southwest US. Amazing memories in places like the Grand Canyon, Horseshoe Bend, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, & Canyonlands were on that roll of film!
Give me about a week after the road trip & I take the camera to a shop to have them help me rewind then develop the roll. Something wrong happens while rewinding, they open the back to investigate, & expose (ruin) the entire roll… I have none of those photos… they didn’t even send it off the be developed. Sounds like a nightmare, right?
Thanks to the nature of film photography though, I remember slowing down & savoring every single one of the 24 moments that I captured on that roll of film. I remember all the views, all the jokes, all the faces, & all the amazing things captured on that roll whether I got them back or not.
That story of my first roll of film changed my entire outlook on photography in general, especially when it came to personal memories & travel. What if my DSLR, memory card, hard drive, or computer fail to preserve those moments? Did I slow down enough to even enjoy them & soak in the moment? With film I feel like I’m almost forced to!
While shooting professionally, I’ve also learned a lot by slowing down my process with film. Not only does it help me be more selective while taking digital photos, thus saving me time culling/editing, it also forced me to be more intentional with my camera settings. I never wanted to get to a place where I was using editing to fix mistakes rather than enhance my images. Film has taught me the value of getting it right the first time in-camera. More than settings or technique, I think I am more deliberate with all of my photographic choices after shooting film. I’ve started taking my own advice to heart of using the camera as an extension of my eye, & using it to tell the stories unfolding in front of me.
I opened up the option of questions from followers & friends about shooting film, so here are few that were not answered already (gear, favorite aspects, etc.).
I really want to get into film, but I don’t know where to get started. What if I suck?
This is a totally reasonable fear, but I hope some of what I’ve already said makes you feel better about the availability of film photography. You more than likely know someone already with a working film camera (heck, I’ll let you borrow my AE-1!) & you can buy film on Amazon! As far as the fear of getting started, just know that 35mm film is super forgiving. Especially a film like Kodak Portra 400 can be easily saved if overexposed, not as much when underexposed, but the best way to start is to try it! Try a cheap roll like Fuji Superia Extra 400, rate the speed at 200 to purposely overexpose it, & get it scanned somewhere that knows what they are doing!
Do you develop film yourself or send it off somewhere?
After my first ever roll got ruined by a local camera shop, I send ALL of my rolls to THE DARKROOM LAB in California! They send free mailers so I don’t have to pay postage & they are super fast! They develop then scan my film, & upload it online as soon as they can - sometimes within 7 days of sending it off. They mail your negatives & a disk back with another free mailer for the next rolls! They’re seriously great. Full of talent & a wonderful resource for more tips about film.
Do you edit your film scans?
This is a question only a photographer would know to ask, but I do actually make minor corrective edits to my film scans! I get “enhanced scans” so the jpegs contain more data, & I usually only fix exposure, white balance, & sometimes fix the curve latitude to my liking. I really try not to ever alter the film too much because the film aesthetic is one of the main reasons I’m shooting it, but lighting & environmental factors can always use a little boost to get it how I like it!
Why 35mm film instead of medium format?
This is another question only a photographer familiar with film would ask! The industry standard is that medium format film is more professional, higher quality, & suitable for paying gigs. It is also more expensive (gear & film), less convenient, & a bit too polished for what I really want right now. I like that 35mm film can be cheap. I like that it can look cheap too! I like that the cameras can be small, simple, easy to travel with, & I like that 35mm looks like my childhood. I’ve gotten medium format fever before & almost spent TOO much money getting into it, but 35mm is just so simple & fun to me.
I hope I’ve left you with a better appreciation for 35mm film, whether you can out of curiosity & just wanted to see pretty photos, whether you need a kick in the rear to shoot your first roll, or maybe you’re a new photographer unsure if the investment would be worth it! If you have questions PLEASE ASK. Comment here, shoot me an email, DM on Instagram, I’m an open book!
If you have suggestions for future educational blogs please let me know as well. Until the next one, enjoy the rest of these film shots: