I’m not a pro working for a newspaper or network with deadlines, so making pictures can be my hobby, and the best part of that is: I can opt for film.
Photo essay and article submission by: Grant Petersen -- This is TheDarkroom.com Series on "Why I Shoot Film" Share why you shoot film. Contact us.
Pros can’t, not anymore. Not with deadlines, no more in-house darkrooms, and impatient clients. There are few exceptions. Roberto Dutesco still shoots it, but the horses don’t care because they never even see the photos. Sad! If you’re in NYC, go to 64 Grand Street and see what Roberto Dutesco + film can do. (Roberto Dutesco is a film photographer of landscapes, wildlife and horses. His Wild Horses of Sable Island has been on permanent exhibition since 2006 in Soho, New York City)
Everything starts with film, because without film, photographic processes don’t happen; there’s no chemistry, and that means—strictly speaking—it’s not photography.
Think about that. The “cameras” are just camera-shaped computers that use camera lenses. Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Minolta, Canon, Ricoh, Rollei, Hasselblad, Voigtlander, Mamiya, Bronica, and Zeiss don’t make cameras anymore. Leica makes one or two. Lomography makes some plastic models (good for them!), and doesn’t somebody like 1000 Impossible (name may be wrong) make a Polaroid? But the camera brands of the golden ‘70s are either gone or making camera-shaped computers for fauxtography. That is fine, I’m not saying it’s not a craft and doesn’t require skill. But it’s not as much of a craft, because the gear does too much of the work for you—as did point-and-shoot film cameras in the ‘80s. But at least they were cameras. At least the results were photographs. At least the negatives, with even only barely reasonable storage, will last 200 years.
I don’t hate digital “cameras,” and can’t imagine going back to film for business uses. I just hate what digital “cameras” have done to film cameras, and I can’t forgive them for it. Also, I don’t trust any crisp and sparkling image I see anymore. (Film vs Digital – A Photo Comparison) Remember when Popular Photography magazine used to list the camera settings for every published photo? That was neat and helpful. Hey, I have that film and shutter speed and aperture on my camera! Woo-hoo! But now when I see an image perfecto, I assume there was moderate skill in the shooting and composition and lots of mousing and clicking. If it’s a snapshot or a shot for a newspaper of refugees on a raft, OK, understood, you had to get the shot right now, digital excused. If it’s a recreational shot–sports, scenery, other—I see cheat. I know that’s bad, I know you’ll hate me for that, but I can’t get over it. Pity me and this personal curse. I don’t hate digital imagery; I just can’t warm up to it AT ALL. I know it’s great; I just cannot dig it. My bad, etc.
I like metal cameras with corners and vulcanite or leatherette, or whatever it is. The black crinkly stuff that sometimes lifts up and freaks out collectors. I have lots of cameras, but I don’t collect.
I really like, actually love, loading and advancing film.
I don’t like electronics doing that for me. I like the feel and sound of the lever. I sound dumb, like I’m trying to poeticize it, but all I mean to say is that I like it. How can I not like getting my hands on and even inside nicely made boxy machines? It’s actually heaven.
I don’t expect you to be able to relate to this, but I like the hassle and failures.
I’ve got enough automation in my life, and I don’t grow my own food. I compensate by using a camera that requires a little practice and skill.
I am totally in love with the results I get, even the lousy, blown ones.
You know, most of the actual photographs (with film!) you see are posted or printed and framed because they’re so perfect. They’re not my models. I’m happy to leave Half Dome to Adams, puddles to Bresson, and spooky Afghani woman eyes to McCurry. I never compare my private photos to theirs, because they were/are just too good.
I have a darkroom. I hate developing film—hate it!— but I love to print, and am only decent at that. Anybody reading this who hasn’t printed but gives it a sincere and conscientious effort will pass my skills on the 20th try. I’m re-doing my darkroom, and in the meantime I send in my film developing to The Darkroom and I always get back scans, which—yes, I know they’re digital—but I don’t shoot film as an homage to the ancients, so there’s no inconsistency there. I don’t feel it, anyway, and it’s my private matter. I shoot film for the process and the hassle, which I’ve already talked about loving, and the results, some of which I have here. \
These are neither my best nor worst photos. I threw out the worst negatives and scans, too depressing. Here’s just a range, with notes.
I wish my clients respected film photography. I mentioned it to one of my wedding clients and they practically laughed in my face saying they only want digital because they get so much more. These days it’s quantity over quality. My grandfather would be rolling over in his grave if he knew what photography has become.
Michelle, It probably depends what circles you run in. I shoot maybe 8 weddings a year, and when I mention to clients that I also bring a 35mm film a camera that is as old as I am (I’m 30), they always go wild for it. Guests and the wedding party really get really into it, too. Instagram was made on the premise of faux-film filters for your iphone to make them ‘stand out’. When I show them a gallery of my film photos, lots of people are interested in hearing about it and ask lots of questions. Guests will literally line up for photos. Most people under 35 have never advanced a film lever before. For weddings, I bring a Nikon F3HP because the metering is so reliable and the viewfinder is so bright when you’re in a hurry, I primarily use a 20/f3.5 ; 58/f1.4 ; 135/f2 manual combo, and even a few rolls of film during portraits or in-between moments can be a big differentiator from other wedding photographers out there. Because I shoot nikon digital bodies, I can consider my film primes my backup lenses. I could shoot a whole wedding with those three, easily. If I need something lighter, I pair my digitla D750 with a Nikon FG, which is basically as small as a Leica rangefinder, and a few small primes (35 1.8 tamron / 85 1.8 nikon). Bringing film into your wedding flow also allows you to get creative in ways that keep pushing you as a photographer so you don’t just keep getting the same shots over and over again. You are correct though, that I can’t imagine shooting film only. To get anywhere near the same number of shots many clients expect today, even if you had several relatively new autofocus film cameras with a high film advance rate and an assistant to load your film, it would be cost prohibitive to get 600+ good photos developed and scanned at quality… However, three rolls of 35mm good Fuji film + development and HQ scans are less than $100.. If you aren’t charging enough for your weddings to absorb $100 for film until you can make that a part of your brand and eventually charge more, you can’t afford to be in business. 🙂
I only shoot film, as well. One of the reasons I enjoy film is that, as a chronic over-analyzer, I have a tendency to spend to much time obsessively tweaking and re-adjusting things until they are “just right,” instead of just focusing on expressing myself and having fun. When it comes to all my other hobbies and activities—sketching, making music, academic writing— my perfectionism can at times be immobilizing, preventing me from ever completing anything, or even getting started.
With film, I don’t have the option to immediately review my photos, continuously mess with settings, or take dozens of photos of the same subject until I get the “right” one. I have to be judicious with what I want to shoot, make a few decisions, and then click the shutter, accepting that most of the variables after that will be beyond my control. What I get is what I get. Were I to be using a digital camera, I’d probably be twiddling with all the settings, and taking advantage of all that extra visual data stored in the RAW format to spend a good chunk of time editing levels in post. And after a while, I’d let the pressure of having to make things “perfect” deter me from engaging in my hobby all that often.
Despite being a film fan and never having done much digital, I still must object to the labelling of digital photography as “fauxtography.” Just because there aren’t any chemical reactions associated with capturing a digital image doesn’t mean that it is not, “strictly speaking,” photography. The word photography comes from “photo-,” a prefix with Greek origins meaning “light,” and “-graphy,” a suffix also given to us by the Greeks, meaning “picture” or “representation.” A photography is an image recorded using light. And though a digital photograph does not employ the state changes that silver-halide crystals undergo when struck by a photon, nor the subsequent chemical reactions between those altered chemical structures and an assortment of chemicals, digital cameras still use light to record an image. Only, instead of emulsion doing the recording, it’s an electronic sensor. Instead of tiny silver halides that become metallic silver when excited by a photon, you have tiny photosites that generate electric charges when excited by a photon. A different process, but just as “real” and “physical” as film.
I also disagree that digital cameras necessarily do “too much” for photographers. Even before digital, we already had SLRs with programme modes, automated film advancing, and even autofocus. No matter how great a camera one is using, no camera can give one good composition, interesting perspectives, or choose the most evocative moments to capture. Only the person behind the camera can do those things. And if the one behind the camera has not yet learnt how to do these things, their work won’t instantly “look better” just because it was recorded on film.
“Think about that. The “cameras” are just camera-shaped computers that use camera lenses. Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Minolta, Canon, Ricoh, Rollei, Hasselblad, Voigtlander, Mamiya, Bronica, and Zeiss don’t make cameras anymore. Leica makes one or two. Lomography makes some plastic models (good for them!), and doesn’t somebody like 1000 Impossible (name may be wrong) make a Polaroid? But the camera brands of the golden ‘70s are either gone or making camera-shaped computers for fauxtography. That is fine, I’m not saying it’s not a craft and doesn’t require skill. But it’s not as much of a craft, because the gear does too much of the work for you—as did point-and-shoot film cameras in the ‘80s. But at least they were cameras. At least the results were photographs. At least the negatives, with even only barely reasonable storage, will last 200 years.”
First of all, you sound like an elitist hipster jerk when you use the term “camera-shaped computers”, as if there’s no such thing as digital photography. Photography is photography, no matter how you spin it. And second, I have thousands of slides and negatives with severe fading and color shifts. I later found out that my film should have been kept at near-freezing temperatures or below at 30-40% humidity.
I shoot film
Ilford 21/4 film
Live in sag harbor
We as photographers can argue film verses digital forever it seems. What is important for me is the undeniable joy that capturing images with film brings.
I shoot both film and digital (I’ve been a non-professional hobbyist for 30+ years).
I choose whichever medium best fits the subject matter. At my family’s athletic events it’s digital ONLY! Same for photography in very dim available light (no contest here; digital RULES this realm!).
And I shoot digital for experimenting, or using techniques that have a lower chance of getting useable frames; such as panning, slow-shutter “zoom pulling”, and others.
For portraits, landscapes, candids, street photography, and where I want that artsy, imperfect, analog look, I will ALWAYS shoot film!