I came back to filming recently and couldn’t believe how different the process was. It’s not just about taking a photo without the live view screen, it really is a different world. A world you should explore if you want to improve as a photographer.
Film photography has been around much longer than digital photography, that’s pretty obvious. But this isn’t always actual film, there are glass, metal, paper, and more physical media that you can use to produce a photograph. However, I will use the term film as a catch-all word for analog photography here.
I started filming in 35mm when my father first gave me a camera when I was six years old. I was incredibly lucky to be able to take pictures at such a young age, and despite using almost the entire roll of film before I even got to our destination (the train station), I had already started to learn some of the five reasons why I think you should try film photography.
Whether you’re used to filming like me, but have since gone all-digital, or have never shot a movie before, I encourage you to grab a camera and give it a try. I did this recently and was blown away by how much I had missed in digital-only shooting for so many years. Despite what someone else says I find it is different from digital shooting and it can hone some very important photographic skills that you would otherwise have underused. So let me describe my five reasons why you should go back to the movies.
Film photography forces me to become much more disciplined in my approach to shooting. I have to check my exposure settings three times, maybe use a light meter to analyze the scene, and before all that I have to decide if I’m shooting indoors or outdoors as the film’s white balance is preset – there is has no switching halfway. I can’t even take a test photo first to see what my settings look like because I can’t see it and would lose an image on my roll as well.
Because of the planning I have to put in place before I go, I have found a higher degree of success. Film permanence means there is less flexibility when it comes to editing, especially if you are using a lab to develop your prints and not doing this part yourself.
2. No recovery
Speaking of permanence, this is one thing that makes a huge difference in your approach to photography compared to the limitless nature of digital. Once you’ve taken the photo, that’s it, depending on how many rolls of film you have. Just like taking the trip of a lifetime to the place of your dreams, the image cannot be taken back once you run out of film. Because of this, I found myself being much more careful with my trigger finger. Only release images when I am completely satisfied with everything in front of me.
That doesn’t mean I have a cavalier approach to spray-and-prayer shooting when I have my digital camera, but because I have all the memory space I can want, I don’t mind not if I have to delete a Frame. Whereas with film, I feel like each shot costs money and time to develop, so I’m much more valuable with my shoot.
3. Stay in the moment
With no rear display of any kind with live view, I found myself taking pictures, then putting the camera away and re-engaging with my surroundings. Whether it was the incredible scenery I stood in front of or interacting with my dog on a walk. I didn’t have time to ‘chimpanzee’ because there is nothing to watch, so because of that I felt more connected to everything I was filming. In turn, it allowed me to see what I really wanted to capture, the essence of what made my subject matter interesting to me. Therefore, I feel like I was able to be more authentic with my photography and able to capture more of what interested me.
4. It’s cheap
Sure, you can spend a lot of money on high-end film cameras and premium film, but there are plenty of cheap used DSLRs and compacts out there for anyone to get started for just a few bucks. There are even some amazingly decent lenses available for a fraction of the price they were when they were new. The movie isn’t that expensive either if you’re not looking for the highest quality. I understand some might say it’s expensive per shot, but if you’re just diving into the world of film photography, it’s not that bad to get a few rolls and take some pictures. You could probably buy an SLR, lens, and roll of film for around $ 25 if you look in the right places. You could pretty much buy a memory card or bag for this these days.
5. Infinite resolution
Technically, there is no limit to the details you can capture with film as you are not beholden to pixel density, image resolution, or bit depth. This means ultra-realism and crisp edges that digital cameras simply cannot compare. Technically, the resolution is infinite with film, so no matter how much you “zoom” there won’t be any edge aliasing. However, there are limitations in other respects, for example, film grain and dynamic range. The types of film vary however, and getting the right one for the type of photography you want to do is crucial to improving your work.
So these are my top five reasons why you should get back to shooting movies, or if you’ve never shot a movie before, why you might want to consider giving it a try. It’s honestly not like digital, there are a lot more restrictions but because of those limitations you can become a better photographer. One with a sharper eye, more connected to your subject, and more disciplined with every shot. Then go back to digital and you might find that your workflow has changed. I know this is the case for me, now I have to sift through a lot less photos when editing in Lightroom at the end of a long day which saves time and money .
Main image made in part with content by Evan amos used under Creative Commons