Why I Shoot Film - Part I
A medium like no other
This blog post is not a film vs digital discussion. I don’t feel the need to justify why I use an outdated picture-taking process, but I do long to articulate and share the reasons why I am passionate about film.
For me, it is not about which is “better”. Digital photography has much to offer, but so does film. Yes, the latter is expensive, slow and often difficult to use well. And I want to photograph an entire wedding using this unwieldy medium? I must be crazy!
I can’t help it though. I love capturing weddings with analog cameras, and using film has revived me as a photographer. In 2009, after photographing weddings exclusively with digital cameras for three years, I’d become uninspired and overworked. Too much time in front of the computer editing my photos. Too distracted by following the latest digital processing trends, many of which didn’t last. I was burnt out and my passion for photography had taken a hike.
However, in that same year, I met the wonderful, kind, fine art wedding photographer extraordinaire, Jose Villa, and I attended his workshop in Mexico. What a great experience! I made new friends. I grew up as an artist. And Jose inspired me to return to my roots.
I remembered the reasons I became a photographer in the first place. I knew I had to return to what I loved - classic black and white, and natural colour with beautiful skin tones. I’ve always been obsessed with getting my skin tones right.
So I started shooting film again. It was a revelation. I’d almost forgotten that it was possible to create art with film. Indeed, nowadays we wonder how photographers captured anything back then. Yet the answer is simple. They worked with what they had. They just did it.
I shoot film because I love the process. Yes, film certainly can deliver beautiful skin tones, but for me, it’s also about the workflow and the deliberate process it demands. It forces me to slow down and curate my work during the moment of capture. It makes me stop and think about what I’m observing.
You’re probably thinking, “Surely you can apply the same principles while shooting with a digital camera?” Have you tried it? You can’t help yourself looking at your camera screen. It’s difficult to stop pressing the shutter and taking multiple captures of the same thing, without even noticing how many shots you’ve taken.
Maybe you could simulate film photography with a digital camera. Maybe you could modify a DSLR to act like a medium format film camera with a manual lens. Maybe you could cap the number of frames you take and apply a cost to each frame. Realistically though, when using a digital camera it’s unlikely you’ll apply the same mindful process you need to shoot quality film, 100% of the time.
I think this is partly because we’ve come to expect the instant gratification you get from digital photography. We can check the image in camera. It takes only a little time to process our images via our software of choice. Not so with film. Instead, I have to send the exposed rolls of film to my lab for processing and scanning. I don’t see the images immediately. In fact, I don’t see them for at least two weeks. I love that.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many applications where digital photography shines. Digital cameras are great when it comes to low light. Some weddings take place entirely indoors where the light is not the best and then digital is the only way to go. However, on average, I will aim to shoot about 80% of a wedding day on film.
Film photography is imperfect, organic, light and airy - qualities that lend shooting with film to the way I see the world. You might think it sounds naff… but I truly believe that film photography is a fine art. From start to finish.
I also shoot film because of its limitations. As an artist, I believe it’s important to be challenged and to engage in a creative practice that is thoughtful and authentic.
Above all, I would love my photographic legacy to be about keeping film alive for future generations of clients as well as photographers. Will you join me?