Isn’t it funny how quickly our culture said goodbye to film photography? The 2000s opened the door to a new era of digital ‘point-and-shoot’ cameras. A mere decade later, and the iPhone offered users all the quality of an upmarket DSLR all from their cellphone. When I tell people that I ‘shoot film’, I’m often met with quizzical looks. Some think I’m referring to shooting video, others have no idea at all what film photography entails.
I get it – as a child of the ’90s, my parents stopped documenting our family life on film when I was about 10 or 12. My mom’s a photographer who loves the spectacular quality that you get from shooting digitally. It baffles her that her retro-daughter would froth over her old camera collection! But I grew up looking at photos from my mother’s wedding in 1985. There is something enchanting to those photos – a crispness. A whimsey. A particular magic that comes from them being shot on film.
Other than the innate qualities of the film from a technical and artistic perspective, I have emotional and practical reasons why I choose to shoot film whenever the conditions for it are best.
So What Exactly Is Film?
Let’s talk about the technicalities of film photography.
‘Film’ is a strip of a substrate coated in layers of emulsion. Since it is extremely light-sensitive, it brokers a chemical reaction when the camera shutter opens and floods the film with light. The reaction imprints an image onto the substrate.
Digital cameras work the same, but when the shutter opens, light floods into the camera and hits sensors that save the image’s information digitally in 1s and 0s as a file on a memory card. Whereas you can plug in a memory card, take seemingly endless amounts of photos, and instantly see the results – film photography only allows you to take 16 photos on medium format cameras, and 36 photos on 35mm cameras, you have to send your film to a developer, and once the negatives are processed from the roll, they need to be digitally scanned by a specialized technician in order to see the final image.
Why Do I Choose To Shoot Film Photography?
Before I teach you more about film, how it works, what the differences are between film photography and digital, how you can choose different film “stocks” for different color tones and lighting situations, I want to simply tell you why I use it as an artist.
1) Artisan Imagery
Film fits my ideal look for my body of work as an artist and for my artistic process. I began my career as a photographer solely interested in how to make beautiful images by learning proper lighting techniques, composition, and framing. I took Art History classes in college and honed my craft rather than focused on marketing when I started my business full time.
Getting to practice the Art of photography and the psychology of portraiture is what I cherish about my job – and what keeps me feeling like an artist while running a business.
Photography on film feels right because it’s analog. Shooting film is a much more intentional, thoughtful process. You take the time to craft an image, consider your subject and framing and settings, then click the shutter.
In effect, you are forced to lean into your artistry and your knowledge rather than hoping Photoshop can fix it for you later. It takes talent and wisdom to understand the principles of the art form.
2) Film Photography Slows Me Down
I’ve been a digital photographer ever since I could get my hands on a point-and-shoot camera when I was in 9th grade. Digital photography is wonderful, but it’s a medium where you don’t necessarily need to take your time.
You can take a billion photos for just one perfect one and throw the rest away and it doesn’t cost anything but hard drive space. So, I fell into the trap of taking thousands of photos at a wedding and then wasting my time narrowing down which ones to edit and deliver.
With film photography, each photo costs about $2, so you can’t go crazy and take a billion photos. You have to mean that photo. Effectively, this helps me be a little less anxious on the wedding day and saves me time in post-production.
3) Film Photography Saves Me Time
Thanks to the amazing team at PhotoVision, my post-production time has been cut 80% whenever I deliver a full session of film photography. I take about 18 rolls of film per wedding to mix in with my digital photos, but I photograph all of my portrait sessions on 10 rolls of 120mm (medium format) film.
I have a terrible time culling my work, (choosing which photos to edit), so it always takes me forever to edit my digital photos (probably about 5 hours per portrait session and 12 hours per wedding total). With film, I send it to PhotoVision and they basically do all of the editing work for me.
When I get the scans back, I just spend about an hour fixing any crops, organizing them into the order I want them delivered, adding a bit of contrast or color correction, and they’re DONE. Hallelujah for time away from my computer screen!
4) Film Photography Keeps Me Creative
Shooting solely as a digital photographer started to grate on my emotions. I didn’t find photography as fulfilling and I didn’t feel like I was the artist. I would always get the photo right in-camera, and then feel annoyed that I would have to spend hours editing. The whole process was draining and unfulfilling as an artist who is very experience-focused.
Film photography was always something I did for me. I would take film on personal trips, but never for clients. Then I just gave it a try one day and shot a whole session on film. The “danger” of not knowing what the photos looked like immediately gave me a perspective I’d never felt in my 10+ years of photographing people.
I found myself intuitively working and framing the shot in a way that felt like me, that felt how I’ve always wanted to work. It was a major breakthrough in my creativity and a cure to a season of burn-out.
Giving It My All
Shooting film has taken my creativity and my career to a new level. There truly is nothing like the experience of shooting film – and watching my clients be wowed by the result.