Why I Shoot Film Photography
September 18, 2014
With a majority of photographers currently using digital cameras for their photographic needs, it might seem a little backward to write a blog about why I have recently started using film photography.
In 2009, I began taking photography seriously and purchased my first digital single lens reflex camera (DSLR). A short time afterward, I went back to the local college and enrolled in semester length photography, photojournalism and multimedia classes. I was briefly reintroduced to film photography in order to fulfill several required assignments using a medium format plastic camera. I also shot large format sheet film, 4 x5, using a Calumet viewfinder camera. During this time, I also spent time learning to develop large and medium format black & white film in photo lab on campus.
After my first film assignment, I purchased a used Canon EOS 1v, 35mm single reflex camera (SLR) with the same lens ring as my DSLR and shot a large amount of images with the camera. This was a good camera to start with and relatively inexpensive. I had a local photo lab develop my color film and I developed the black and white film. I realized how much I enjoyed trusting my technical knowledge and instincts to produce a great image rather than focusing on the image itself from the viewfinder of my digital camera. I also recognized film’s larger color palette and dynamic range improved the look of my images.
It wasn’t long after my purchase of the 35mm SLR that I became interested in expanding my use of film photography to medium format. I purchased a used Mamiya 645 Pro TL and quickly had to get used to the limits of just twelve exposures on 120mm film. The limit of exposures made me spend more time making my technical and aesthetic decisions before capturing my images, also called previsualization. I learned the photographic measure and the texture & detail techniques used for the Zone System. Using the previsualization technique and the Zone System for exposure took considerably more time to setup the camera. There is also the time to develop the film and the time converting the analog to digital image – at this time I do not print directly from film. Since I use photography as a form of art, I found the additional time slowed me down making the photographic experience more enjoyable. I know I have twelve exposures on a roll of film so I stay focused on going through the technical elements and make each capture count.
There are some exceptional film photographers who use film development techniques that produce some outstanding images. Most of these recipes are available on the internet. For this reason, I started developing my own black & white film at home. I loved the science of matching different types of film with developers to change the look of an image. I also enjoyed adjusting development times to change the look, or to address contrast issues for film shot out in the field. The combination of shooting medium format and developing film really took my enthusiasm for photography to the next level.
To close, I really love the organic look of film. To me, film grain looks superior to digital noise or the artificial film grain produced in Photoshop. I can visibility see the difference in quality and sharpness especially with my medium format camera. I like seeing the images come out of the developing tank for the first time. With color film, I enjoy getting the negatives out of the envelope and taking a first look at what I captured. Each shot is like a Christmas present—full of mystery and magic.