Some reasons why I shoot film:
Film Is Tangible And Real
You can pick it up and hold it. And I like the idea that the silver halides in the film’s emulsion are physically altered when exposed to light. It’s almost like the light that reflects off your subject passes through the lens and touches the film to create the image. Giving the negative a direct connection subject that modern digital sensors do not share. Digital photography is always an interpretation of the data as seen by a computerized system.
Properly washed and stored negatives will last for hundreds of years before deteriorating. Finding a darkroom in the future is another story altogether but I like those odds in terms of archival stability!
Nothing else looks like film
No filter can duplicate the look of film. Sure, some might come close but nothing matches the organic gradation of tones produced by an actual negative. Grain simulation in Lightroom always looks like noise. Grain looks like grain beacuse it’s organic and it’s beautiful!
Film highlights have their own unique look. In the above shot, Trent Parke exposed for the shadows and blows out the highlights. The overexposed old man becomes almost ethereal as he glows white in center the frame. A digital version of this shot would clip and look like a mistake, but film’s specific bejavior creates the quality that makes the shot unique.
Advantages of film
Dan K. talks about this in his excellent article called Film For Digital Photographers:
In practice, having lots of exposure latitude means you don’t need to be spot on with your exposure. As you over-expose, you will lose highlight detail. Conversely, as you under-expose, you may start to lose shadow detail. It’s best to get it right, but when I am working with high-latitude print film in a meter-less camera, I tend to err on the side of over-exposure and give an extra stop of exposure for good measure. This is Old timers would say “Expose for the shadows”.
In fact, you are supposed to be using something called “The Zone System” to balance shadows and highlights. Read up on it if you want to learn more. As a general rule of thumb, if the scene has a high dynamic range and your key subject is not the brightest part of the image, then expose to keep shadow detail. Let the emulsion’s greater over-exposure latitude handle the tricky highlights. This is the opposite of the way you’d do it with a digital camera, where you might try to avoid blowing out the highlights. Try it and once you have the hang of it, it will make a lot of sense.
You have to know what you are doing
When you shoot film, you can’t see your images right away and that’s a good thing. Some people might panic a the uncertainty of not knowing if they got the shot. But film forces you to trust in your abilities as a photographer and concentrate on shooting. Forget about the image you just took, it no longer matters. All that matters is the next shot and you have to have your eyes on the street to see it coming.
You can try and chimp your film, but if you open the back of your camera that’s the end of the shot.
The funny thing is that I had been shooting film for decades before the advent of digital photography. The speed and ease of image making with digital almost made me forget what I liked about photography in the first place. I actually enjoy the technical side of photography in addition to the creative vision required to make beautiful images.
But we live in a world of digital distribution so after going to the trouble of shooting film and developing it I’m still scanning my negatives and using Lightroom to get them ready for output. I supposed I could make like many other photographers and print everything on silver gelatin paper then scan the prints to show them online. It’s one step closer to true analog but it seems that everything still becomes digital at some point.
When you Photoshop more than shoot remember this 102 rules.
1. A DSLR doesn’t make you a photographer.
2. Always shoot in RAW. Always.
3. Prime lenses help you learn to be a better photographer.
4. Photo editing is an art in itself, take better pictures so you can do less editing.
5. The rule of thirds works 99% of the time.
6. Macro photography isn’t for everybody.
7. UV filters work just as well as lens caps.
8. Go outside & shoot photos rather than spending hours a day on photography forums.
9. Capture the beauty in the mundane and you have a winning photograph.
10. Film isn’t better than digital but if you do film you know photography.
11. Digital isn’t better than film specially if you have to Photoshop every picture.
12. There is no “magic” camera or lens, a good photographer can shoot with almost anything
13. Better lenses don’t give you better photos, give you sharper definition.
14. Spend less time looking at other people’s work and more time shooting your own but learn new things through research.
15. Don’t take your DSLR to parties, if you do make sure you don’t shoot drunk people.
16. Girls dig photographers, specially if they are good.
17. Making your photos b/w doesn’t automatically make them “artsy”, b/w is an art itself.
18. People will always discredit your work if you tell them you “Photoshop” your images. Rather, tell them that you process them in the “digital darkroom”.
19. You don’t need to take a photo of everything, chose your subject, save your battery or film and storage space.
20. Have at least 2 backups of all your images. Like they say in war, two is one, one is none.
21. Ditch the neck strap and get a hand-strap unless you are working with heavy glass and a 5D MarkIII with the battery expansion pack 🙂
22. Get closer when taking your photos, they often turn out better, if you are shooting wild animals make sure your face is not the next meal
23. Be a part of a scene while taking a photo; not a voyeur, don’t over do it with matching clothes and shades.
24. Taking a photo crouched often make your photos look more interesting, perspective is for genius.
25. Worry about both technical aspects and composition aspects of photography,
26. Tape up any logos on your camera with black gaffers tape- it brings a lot less attention to you, only if you are doing Street photography.
27. Always underexpose by 2/3rds of a stop when shooting in broad daylight unless you are going for high key.
28. The more photos you take, the better you get but remember # 19
29. Don’t be afraid to take several photos of the same scene at different exposures, angles, or apertures.
30. Only show your best photos, I let the models decide from the batch.
31. A point-and-shoot is still a camera.
32. Join an online photography forum, be friendly and moderated with your comments, bar reputation is the easiest to gain.
33. Critique the works of others only if asked and be constructive don’t say anything about the pose, focus on the composition and technical details.
34. Think before you shoot so you don’t need to use Photoshop.
35. A good photo shouldn’t require explanation (although background information often adds to an image). *
36. Alcohol and photography do not mix well but when they do usually is the only thing that makes you remember what happened.
37. Draw inspiration from other photographers but never worship them unless they are some sort of demi-God.
38. Grain is beautiful if used as light or medium.
39. Photo backpack or Messenger bag. Whatever works for you
40. Simplicity is key.
41. The definition of photography is: “painting with light.” Use light to expose the colors if b/w to expose the shadows and tones.
42. Find your style of photography and stick with it, you can’t be good at everything.
43. Having a second monitor is the best thing ever for photo processing, keep one portrait the other landscape
44. Silver EFEX pro is a good b/w converter but use whatever you feel comfortable with including Lightroom.
45. Carry your camera with you everywhere. Everywhere! But remember points #15 and #36.
46. Never let life get in the way of enjoying photography.
47. Don’t pamper your camera. Use and abuse it but to the extend of the warranty.
48. Take straight photos weather portraits or landscape.
49. Shoot with confidence.
50. Photography and juxtaposition are best friends.
51. Print out your photos big. They will make you happy.
52. Give your photos to friends.
53. Give them to strangers.
54. Don’t forget to frame them.
55. Costco prints are cheap and look great.
56. Go out and take photos with (a) friend(s).
57. Join a photo club or start one for yourself.
58. Photos make great presents.
59. Taking photos of strangers is thrilling.
61. Natural light is the best light any strobist will disagree.
62. 35mm (on full frame) is the best “walk-around” focal length if you don’t have one 50mm is the next best choice.
63. Don’t be afraid to bump up your ISO when necessary.
64. You don’t need to always bring a tripod with you everywhere you go, use a mono-pod.
65. It is always better to underexpose than overexpose.
66. Shooting photos of homeless people is good don’t let a liberal tell you different.
67. You will find the best photo opportunities in the least likely situations.
68. Photos are always more interesting with the human element included.
69. You can’t “photoshop” bad images into good ones.
70. Nowadays everybody calls himself a photographer, remember point 1.
71. You don’t need to fly to Paris to get good photos; the best photo opportunities are in your backyard.
72. People with DSLRS who shoot portraits with their grip pointed downwards look like morons but who am I to criticize them.
73. Cameras as expensive tools, not toys.
74. In terms of composition, photography and painting aren’t much different but you still paint with light.
75. Photography isn’t a hobby- it’s a lifestyle to me a profession.
76. Make photos, not excuses.
77. Be original in your photography. Don’t try to copy the style of others but don’t worry if you copy them while learning.
78. The best photographs tell stories that makes the viewer beg for more.
79. Any cameras but black ones draw too much attention.
80. The more gear you carry around with you the less you will enjoy photography.
81. Good self-portraits are harder to take than they seem.
82. Laughter always draws out peoples’ true character in a photograph.
83. Don’t look suspicious when taking photos- blend in with the environment.
84. Landscape photography can become dull after a while.
85. Have fun while taking photos.
86. Never delete any of your photos.
87. Be respectful when taking photos of people or places, you have the right to take the picture your subject doesn’t know it.
88. When taking candid photos of people in the street, it is easier to use a wide-angle than a telephoto lens.
89. Travel and photography are the perfect pair.
90. Learn how to read a histogram.
91. A noisy photo is better than a blurry one.
92. Don’t be afraid to take photos in the rain.
93. Learn how to enjoy the moment, rather than relentlessly trying to capture the perfect picture of it.
94. Never take photos on an empty stomach.
95. You will discover a lot about yourself through your photography.
96. Never hoard your photographic insight- share it with the world.
97. Never stop taking photos
98. Photography is more than simply taking photos, it is a philosophy of life
99. Capture the decisive moment
100. Never ditch a creative idea, write it down and do it
101. Always have a plan, specially when you are shooting Editorial.
102. A Good photographer will use Lightroom instead of Photoshop.
For the purpose of this article I shot all models with 35mm film
Ilford XPS2 and Kodak Porta 160.