At the beginning of my career, I was just like any other person trying to grasp the ins and outs of using a digital camera. I got stuck on what settings to use and how to navigate manual mode. But then I came across a 35mm camera and started tinkering with it, applying everything I had happened to learn about film photography at university.
My friend and I planned weekly trips during which we would challenge ourselves to use only film cameras to document our travels. We had to learn to take a step back and really think about what kind of image we wanted to create before we took each shot. We had to consider composition, light, subject placement, and (most importantly) our settings before clicking the shutter.
This is why I love film. It pushes you to think when taking photos. You can’t just fire thousands of shots, one after another, because you always have a limited amount of images on your roll. There’s no safety net or memory card.
You only get one shot.
The benefits of using film
Whenever budding photographers ask me how they can better their work, I always push them toward film. With film, you can’t lean on automatic modes or Photoshop, so you have to choose your shots wisely. You have to think everything through and learn from your mistakes.
Film also changes the way you archive. Right now, there are literally thousands of digital images sitting on my hard drive, and it’s likely that I’ll never look at the majority of them. But film offers something simpler, something tangible that you can physically hold onto and cherish, and you never come home with hundreds of the same photos. There’s more of a permanence with film for this very reason.
That said, the outcome of your film photography isn’t always what you hope it will be — a shot can come out terribly, or it can turn out to be the best image you’ve ever taken. You never know which way it will go. But this element of surprise adds to the overall experience and creates a suspense while you wait for your negatives to be developed. You certainly don’t get that kind of feeling when using digital.
Experimenting with film
When it comes to choosing your film, there are several things to take into consideration. First, you have to think about the speed of your film. With digital, you can change your ISO on the spot to suit an environment, but with film, you have to choose the speed when you buy a roll. Your decision will impact an entire roll of photos.
There are a lot of choices when it comes to the color and tone of the film as well. You can go bold, with a completely orange image created from Lomography film, or you can stay subtle with a more professional film like Portra. It completely depends on what you want your photos to look like.
You can also experiment with expired film, but the result will either be brutal or amazing. I personally love the unique imperfection it brings to my images, with increased grain, color shifts, and light leaks.
Film vs. Digital
So should you stop using digital altogether? Of course not. These days, digital content is crucial for working photographers. Clients want images quickly and may not even consider the use of film. And in general, digital images are easier to edit and are more diverse in their use.
But, when it comes to shooting your personal projects, get out and experiment with film!
In the end, you have to be willing to take the risk. Trust me, the reward is worth it.