10 great reasons to shoot film
In our photo tip of the week, Bradley Zastrow explains why you should consider shooting film again.
Tell most people today that you still shoot film and eventually the question will be asked: Why? We live in a day and age where technology is advancing so quickly and cheaply that art has been democratised to the point where it’s hard to buy a phone without a camera! But it still begs the question – why the heck would anyone want to shoot film again when digital is so much easier and cheaper in the long run? Here are the Top 10 reasons on why you should shoot film again and how it can help improve your photography.
1) Slow down
Hard to do in a world where everything happens yesterday – but slowing down is good for your creative mind. Unless one has a motor drive, it’s simply not possible to machine gun through a million pictures the way it can be done with digital. This depends entirely on the scope of your work of course, live action sport almost necessitates this type of fast shooting, but it can be an overkill at times if you’re taking portraits or landscapes and still life. The slow down that occurs with the ritualistic process of film – the loading, winding, and the limited number of shots – provides an opportunity to stop and think about what you’re shooting.
2) Best gear
Now this depends entirely on what you’re after and the brands to which you’re loyal but generally speaking, high quality film gear can often be bought for a bargain. Granted the equipment can be quite old – but the manufacturing quality and design of older film equipment is such that they remain workhorses to this very day. The classic Nikon FM2 or Leica M series being excellent examples. My current kit consists of a second hand Hasselblad 503CX with a waist level finder, A12 back and Zeiss 80mm/2.8 lens all from 1995. 21 years old, entirely manual and the camera is built like a Sherman tank!
Unless you’re shooting Polaroid, film won’t give you instant gratification, you’ll need to wait. Wait until you have time to drop off your film to your local lab, and then further waiting until you get your developed film back. And you know what? It’s actually quite fun – almost like the kid on Christmas day. Others may disagree and of course for professionals, this is likely no longer practical (particularly photojournalism) but it goes hand in hand with slowing down. How will this make you a better photographer? You’re focusing on the process and the art instead of the immediate gratification of the results.
If you go the way I did – full manual Hasselblad – you will no longer have technology as an assistant or a crutch to help you through the difficult times. You’ll need to learn how aperture, film speed, and shutter speed interact to create a well exposed image. No meter? No problem! The sunny rule of 16 is highly practical (and works!) and with enough practice you will get to the point where you don’t need a meter for shooting as your eyes learn to read the scene in terms of exposure. Generally speaking, you will need to commit to your craft and understand it more when you shoot film because it’s not as convenient, it’s not as cheap, and it’s not as easy.
5) Instant archive
With cheap hard drive storage today, there’s no excuse not to have multiple back ups of your computer system and all files. But let’s face it, the administrative work that comes with the archival process is tedious at best. However, with film you have an instant archive with the negatives, plus with most labs offering scanning services as well, you’ll be left with two offline archival copies: The actual film negative itself plus a CD/DVD with the scanned images. There is simply no substitute for physical hard copies when it comes to ensuring redundancy within your back up system.
6) Be original
Life is too short to be like anyone else – here’s a chance to be different, to try different things, and set yourself a part from a sea of black plastic DSLRS and camera phones. Yes there’s the argument around the conformity of non-conformity, but it doesn’t matter for those wanting to try to step outside the square. Personally, this first step of breaking outside the norm has led down a wonderful rabbit hole in learning more about different aspects of photography and exploring new things.
7) No immediate feedback
Good or bad, depending on your perspective, but without the immediate feedback of what your shot looks like, you can stay more in the moment and capture the images you see in your head. The counter argument, of course, is that immediate feedback allows you to make adjustments and fine tune your vision on the fly. But it also cuts to the core of why you shoot: for others to enjoy or yourself? Do you actually enjoy the process of photography or just the end result? Shooting with film will help you answer those questions for yourself.
8) Film is expensive
In most cases this is a huge negative – and no doubt my own bank account would agree. But hear me out: Because you will have fewer pictures to potentially take – you will be automatically forced to cull your shots before you even take them. I have found this has resulted in me focusing more with my composition, essentially self editing my pictures before I even think about tripping the exposure. Out of necessity, you will simply need to think more and be conservative with what you shoot.
People have been predicting the demise of film since the first digital camera came out – yet like a cockroach, it has proven impossible to kill and instead has only multiplied. Look at what Leica has done with their recently released Sofot camera, or Kodak’s recent announcements on bringing back the Super 8mm film stock. This would not have happened if it wasn’t for the dedication of film enthusiasts around the world who have continued to provide a market for these companies. There is a wonderful sense of community and camaraderie that comes with shooting film.
10) Engagement with your craft
Photography has always been evolving, practically since inception, and digital simply represents the next step in that evolution. Yet there is a ritual one goes through when shooting film and re-engaging with the way it used to be done will give you a different level of appreciation, not only for the masters of yore, but on what it takes to take a great image. Using film is a way to help strip all the incremental “noise” away so that you can focus (no pun intended) on the unifying element of photography since its invention: Capturing light in a creative and emotive way.