Monday, January 21, 2013

Why I shoot film

Last year, I switched from a digital workflow to a – for now – film capture, and a digital scan workflow. Eventually, I will ban the digital part out of my work all together. And print in a darkroom again. A lot of people claim I am nuts.

The reason why, for me is part aesthetic, and part emotional.

Don't get me wrong. Technically, my images aren't any sharper than when I photographed with digital (I would even claim the opposite) but that is not the point of photography I think. If you get hung up on technical aspects of photography (sharpness, noise, how big is your sensor and how many megapixels do other photographers have available, ... ) then you might be one of those pixel peeper persons. My tip to you is: if you want to grow further as a photographer, you need to understand that you will eventually have to let those ideas go. Why? It is my opinion that if you don't, you will never 'see' beyond what that craft has to offer.  

But let's not make this a digital vs film debate. Because that's not what this post is about.

But why do I like film? Well one of the reasons is it is a teacher of technique and pre-visualization that is UNFORGIVING. If you get it wrong. Your negative is toast. Everything I need to do before I press the cable release are mental exercises. In a way, it fuses my creative brain with my analytical brain. It makes me think about exposure, zone placement, aperture, depth of field, moment of exposure, the development proces, the printing proces, the emotional story I'm trying to tell, ... BEFORE I take the photograph.

Here's a portrait of me by Kris Schofield
while composing a scene with the film camera.  

My camera is a box. A 'dumb box'. With a lens in front, and a film holder in the back. There is no in-camera light metering. No electronic level. No nothing. Bare bones. I can't just take a few snaps and hope for the best, review them on my LCD and go from there. Nope.

Film is an incredible teacher. And it drives me to do everything better for the next frame, time after time. When I use it, it's me. If a negative didn't come out the way I envisioned it, I know it was me. 

I also take a lot fewer photographs with my Mamiya RB67 Pro-SD. I can take 10 on one roll of 120 film. I'm fortunate that film is still easily available. My film of choice is Ilford's Delta 100. It is contrasty just where I like it (in the mid-tones). Pan F plus (50 asa) is the film to go to, for a lot of landscape photographers. Part for the contrast as for the fine grain. And although it is considered a high contrast film, I don't like it. The contrast is in the wrong place. 

So as a conclusion I would say, film is making me a better photographer.

And I hear you say. 'But what you just said, can't you just easily adapt and follow that in digital photography too?'. Sure you can. I'm just telling you my story. With film I make 1-2 maybe 3 frames per scene. I used to do at least 10 with the digital. As a result, I am walking around scouting the surrounding a lot more now, usually before I pull out the camera.

I feel film is far more rewarding than digital. For example, when you develop your film at home, I love the moment when I open up my film tank after the final rinsing process and hang the film up to dry. You feel like a million bucks when everything looks like you had intended it to look like. 

You should give it a try someday. It's a lot more fun.