When I shoot professional portraits, events, and even casual family gatherings, I almost always shoot with my digital camera. It allows for easy editing, quick turnaround, and seamless sharing with clients and friends. Nonetheless, I still enjoy shooting film for all of my personal projects – and I’m not alone. Over the past few years, film photography has made an impressive comeback, utilized by those looking for new artistic mediums and trying to explore technology of the past. Here at Spartan Photo Center, we’ve seen increased interest in all things film, to the point that we’ve started celebrating June as our annual Film Month. Clients across the country send us film for scanning and processing, as many film labs around the U.S. closed in the last decade. All of this begs the question: “Why do people still shoot with film?” Though I can’t answer for everyone, here are 10 reasons I still love to shoot with film.
1. It’s Nice to Have Something Tangible
In a world that revolves around digital life, it’s refreshing to have something tangible. Most of us have hundreds (and thousands) of photographs on our phones and in our cameras, but all it takes is a slip of the hand or a corrupted memory card for those photographs to be lost forever. Film, while temperamental, can easily last a century if stored properly. Film photography is also significantly more tactile than modern digital photography: loading film, advancing the exposures, manually adjusting shutter speed and aperture. It’s a refreshingly manual task in a touchscreen world.
2. It Keeps Me From Taking Stupid Pictures
Let’s face it – film is expensive. Though some might see this as a negative factor, I see it as a motivator against waste. I generally shoot with Kodak Portra, which tends to run a minimum of $10. At $10 a roll with $5 processing, I’m not going to take a picture every time my dog does something cute, and I’m not going to risk a shot that I think will be underexposed. As a result, my film exposures tend to be significantly more selective and fewer in volume than those I take with a digital camera.
3. It Forces Discipline
Another result of the cost of film is that I put much more thought into my film exposures, metering with available light and doing my best to compose my shot before I click the shutter. This additional thought forces me to slow down when I work with film, a welcome change when compared to the easy trial-and-error of digital photography. If I don’t meter correctly or if my shutter speed is too slow, I don’t get the shot. Not only will I lose my exposure, I won’t know about my mistake until I’ve finished the roll and had my film developed. It’s a lot easier to do all that waiting when you’re more confident in the product you’ve created.
4. Film Has a Unique Look
Whether you love it or hate it, film has a look that is just impossible to replicate with digital photography. The quality and texture of the grain, the general lack of color noise, the varied color palettes; all come together to make each exposure something amazing.
When shooting portraits for myself, I always use my film camera. The film lends an additional layer of personality to the subject, and more importantly, the small film camera apparatus with a prime lens doesn’t scare them away. There’s something almost friendly about a film camera that causes almost all of my subjects to agree to a portrait. I never had the same luck with my DSLR; I can only assume the zoom portrait lenses and overtly “professional” look of the whole thing made them worry about the context in which the photos would be used. Of course, this is all guesswork, but it’s worked without fail for me.
6. Lack of Immediacy
When I start a roll of film, I generally end up waiting at least a week before I can see any of the results. The longest it’s taken me to finish a color roll on one of my cameras has been 4 months. As a result, I’ve gotten good at waiting; both to take the right shot and to see how it turned out. In a society where everything is frighteningly immediate, this exercise in patience goes a long way.
7. Less Exposures Makes Printing Easier
How often do you print from your phone? From your DSLR? When it comes to film, the limited exposures make printing a breeze. You don’t have to spend hours sorting through hundreds of similar shots – you only have 36 choices. Due to this limited (and generally better) selection, almost all of my film exposures get printed, often as 6×8 with a white border.
6×8 is just my personal preference; it’s large enough to see the smaller details and really appreciate the texture of the film, something that is normally missed in the slightly smaller 4×6.
8. No Two Exposures are the Same
The two exposure below were taken with the exact same camera and settings: identical ASA, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. The only difference? One was taken five steps to the left of the other. As a result of this shifting light, the color balance and exposure of the two shots a far from the same, but each bring something unique to the way the photo is presented.
9. It’s a Challenge
I won’t lie – shooting film isn’t easy. With the exception of disposable cameras, there is no “point and shoot.” You have to learn your camera, and there’s no way around learning everything there is about manual photography you have to take care in the way you load your film and the kinds of exposures you take, and there is often a lot of trial and error, especially at the beginning. However, all of this additional work just makes the final product that more precious. Each exposure took time, learning, and a little more care than a digital exposure, and to me, it’s always worth it.
10. It’s an Art Form
Some bash film as being too outdated, too difficult, and too expensive, but what they fail to realize is that film photography is just another artistic method. Much like an artist chooses their canvas and paints, photographers choose their mediums for their work. Some photographers, such as Sally Mann and Bryan Hiott, even choose to use truly outdated photographic processes as a form of artistic expression. In the end, it comes down to this: photography is an art form; what will your medium be?
Want to get your film developed or scanned? Check out our Film Lab here.
Questions about film photography? Give us a call at (864) 583-6835.