When people find out I shoot film, I often hear a response of shock and wonder (and sometimes confusion). Sometimes clients don’t even realize I shoot film until I’m reloading during a session. The people who think it’s cool love that it’s just so retro…so analog. (It’s maybe no surprise that in my house we also have a collection of records.) And to the people who are confused, I get it. Why, in a world of digital and all of its conveniences, would I CHOOSE (on purpose) to shoot film?
And you’d be right, digital is easier than film in so many ways, two of the biggies being that it’s more convenient and cheaper. Film shooters can’t chimp during a session and they have to buy film and pay costs associated with developing it and scanning it; why would anyone do this? It’s a totally fair question and I’d love to tell you why I still shoot film.
Dear film, you are amazing.
1. Let me clear the air of this right away: for me not being able to chimp is a feature, not a bug of film photography. When I shot digital I would leave sessions with hundreds (and I mean huuuun-dreds….sometimes over 1,000) shots taken in 1-2 hours. And it’s not because I was seeing 1,000 awesome moments to capture, it’s because I wasn’t taking the time to set up the shots I wanted to capture and then waiting for the magic to happen. This is not to say that I don’t have magical shots from my digital days, I do; I just know that if my face is behind the camera for 1,000 shots during a session, that means I’m less able to connect with my clients and that’s the opposite of my goal during sessions. Shooting film has just meant I’ve learned to become an artist with intention and that’s a win for everyone.
2. I think the real confusion sets in when I tell people that I scan my negatives so I can have digital files to edit and send to clients. Huh? Why in the world would you shoot film just to end up with a digital file? To the people who say this: you have good logic. To answer this (really good) question, let me first be briefly techie. When digital photographers shoot, most often they shoot in RAW and then take that RAW file into some sort of editing program to work with it. These RAW files are exactly how they sound; they’re like uncooked meat, they are meant to be edited before sending them to clients. This is when photographers spend money buying or time creating presets to get the look they want. I spent a lot of money on presets trying to get just the right look out of my digital files, and I was ultimately never satisfied with them; I still had to make plenty of edits after applying these presets and that meant a LOT of time in front of my computer.
With film, I scan the negatives to get a jpg file but the film emulsion does the work of a preset. I get a fully-cooked file when I digitize them. And when I edit, I’m often only tweaking the brightness, white balance, and maybe contrast. My husband loves that I barely spend any time editing and I’m HAPPIER with my final result.
3. Speaking of negatives, in this age of illusive files and things living on ephemeral technology, it is incredibly important to have something tangible. Obviously I encourage my clients to print their photos but unlike immaterial files living in a cloud, negatives are tangible and last a very, very long time. In 2011 my eldest son had his first Christmas and the digital images from that time are gone. I even had my computer backing up to an external drive, but due to the unpredictability of technology even those disappeared. If I had taken those photos on film, the images wouldn’t be lost forever because I could re-scan the negatives.
4. Film is nostalgic and imperfect and beautiful. It’s what the photos of our youth were taken on; having that connection to the past excites me. Taking photos of my children that they will cherish forever on a camera that was built before I was born and using a film that I used to buy at the local drug store when I was a teen links the past to the present to the future, and how beautiful is that? I also love that it isn’t as crisp and sharp as digital; the grain adds texture and dimension to images and makes them feel more like stolen moments and ultimately speaks to me as an artist.
5. Experimentation. Oh my word, I LOVE that film lends itself to so much experimentation. Light leaks! Fogging! Film Soup! I love it allllll! One of the signatures of my work has become light leaks (these are achieved by slightly opening up the back of the camera to get sweeps of color over an image). I love light leaks because they’re unpredictable and ramp up the emotion of any image they touch; they also add even more dimension to images (and clearly adding dimension is a fave of mine ;)
6. Ultimately it’s the medium with which I best connect. Some artists connect with watercolor, some with sculpture, some with words, some with digital cameras, and I with film. No artist should apologize for the medium they love!
This was about as concise as I could make my love of film. If you still have questions please drop them below! ,