10 film photography tips for photographers

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Burnt out shooting digital? Want to try a new challenge or just interested in this “lomo thing” all the hipster kids are talking about? Ded...

Burnt out shooting digital? Want to try a new challenge or just interested in this “lomo thing” all the hipster kids are talking about? Dedicated film enthusiast We would like to take you'll through our top film photography tips why we shoot film in today’s fast paced world of technology.

Tell most people today that you still shoot film and eventually the question will be asked: Why? Not pejoratively, but rather in a sideways, curious and strange way. Kind of like you just told them you put tomato sauce on your steak. Let’s face it in many ways they are right! We live in a day and age where technology is advancing so quickly and cheaply that art of photography has been democratised to the point where it’s hard to buy a phone without a camera! It’s easy to take pictures and with only the sunk cost of the initial investment there is minimal incremental cost to shooting digital. Although whether democratisation breeds commoditisation is a valid topic of debate, by and large these are all very good things. But it still begs the question why the heck would anyone want to shoot film again when digital is so much easier and cheaper in the long run? Simple. Shooting film has the potential to make you become a better photographer. And if you’ve ever found yourself burnt out with shooting digital, or needing a new challenge or change, getting back into film photography could very well save your photographic soul. Here are the Top 10 reasons on why you should shoot film again and how it can help improve your photography.

film photography tips

Film photography tips: Slow Down

Hard to do in a world where everything happens yesterday but slowing down is good for your creative mind. Unless one has a motor drive, it’s simply not possible to machine gun through a million pictures the way it can be done with digital.This depends entirely on the scope of your work of course, live action sport almost necessitates this type of fast shooting, but it can be an overkill at times if you’re taking portraits or landscapes and still life. The slow down that occurs with the ritualistic process of film the loading, winding, and the limited number of shots – provides an opportunity to stop and think about what you’re shooting. Can you frame it a different way, what about a different orientation?




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 Do you even like the shot or is there a better one around the corner? Digital photography, with zero incremental cost of shooting, has taught most people to take the picture “just in case” or to take it with the intent to improve later in post production. Film turns that behaviour on its head because it’s not possible due to the cost and inconvenience of carrying around a campervan full of film. Besides, what’s the point of taking 10x more pictures than you really need? We all know Machine Gun Jack isn’t going to fix those 1000 pictures “in post”.

film photography

Gear

Now this depends entirely on what you’re after and the brands to which you’re loyal but generally speaking, high quality film gear can often be bought for a bargain. Granted the equipment can be quite old but the manufacturing quality and design of older film equipment is such that they remain workhorses to this very day. The classic Nikon FM2 or Leica M series being excellent examples. My current kit consists of a second hand Hasselblad 503CX with a waist level finder, A12 back and Zeiss 80mm/2.8 lens all from 1995. 21 years old, entirely manual and the camera is built like a Sherman tank! Yet this entire setup cost $1,200 and was serviced and cleaned prior to purchasing. Watching an image pop on a waist level finder with a wide open aperture is both surreal and unlike anything you’ll see on most DSLRs. Sure you can buy older digital equipment for even less but it’s arguably more useful as a collector’s item than a functional tool for photography. A Nikon D1 with a 2.7mp sensor or a Kodak DCS 420 with 1.5mp? Important pieces of technology from a historical standpoint sure, but that’s about it when it comes to usefulness today. Film gear, on the other hand, is rarely a victim of technological obsolescence because one is still exposing the same celluloid sheet coated with chemicals to a light source.

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Waiting

Unless you’re shooting Polaroid, film won’t give you instant gratification, you’ll need to wait. Wait until you have time to drop off your film to your local lab, and then further waiting until you get your developed film back. And you know what? It’s actually quite fun almost like the kid on Christmas day. Others may disagree and of course for professionals, this is likely no longer practical (particularly photojournalism) but it goes hand in hand with slowing down. It’s nice to sit back and enjoy the ride, and be pleasantly surprised when you get your film back. Maybe it’s tapping into the current new wave of nostalgia that’s all the rage currently but try it……you just might like it. How will this make you a better photographer? You’re focusing on the process and the art instead of the immediate gratification of the results. It’s like fine dining vs. fast food quicker is not always better.

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Commitment

If you go the way I did full manual Hasselblad you will no longer have technology as an assistant or a crutch to help you through the difficult times. You’ll need to learn how aperture, film speed, and shutter speed interact to create a well exposed image. No meter? No problem! The sunny rule of 16 is highly practical (and works!) and with enough practice you will get to the point where you don’t need a meter for shooting as your eyes learn to read the scene in terms of exposure. Not saying that one should throw away useful tools like meters and the like – but it’s amazingly free to be able to go out and take gorgeous shots because you understand the science, while your friends are waiting for their batteries to charge. Generally speaking, you will need to commit to your craft and understand it more when you shoot film because it’s not as convenient, it’s not as cheap, and it’s not as easy.

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Instant Archive

With cheap hard drive storage today, there’s no excuse not to have multiple back ups of your computer system and all files. But let’s face it, the administrative work that comes with the archival process is tedious at best and yet that fancy RAID-capable multiple volume storage array still has no defence to a 3 year old who enjoys sticking magnets to household objects. However with film you have an instant archive with the negatives, plus with most labs offering scanning services as well, you’ll be left with two offline archival copies: The actual film negative itself plus a CD/DVD with the scanned images.

There is simply no substitute for physical hard copies when it comes to ensuring redundancy within your back up system. In addition, since there’s no guarantee that today’s technology will work with that of “tomorrow”, having the physical negative is the ultimate in future proofing your work. Technology obsolescence isn’t typically considered when backing up one’s files, but think of it this way: Imagine if your only back up was on 5.25” floppy disk drives, how well is that going to work out for you? Remember, you can always rescan negatives.

film photography vs digital photography

Be Original

Life is too short to be like anyone else here’s a chance to be different, to try different things, and set yourself a part from a sea of black plastic DSLRS and camera phones (black and white photography tips). Yes there’s the argument around the conformity of non-conformity, but it doesn’t matter for those wanting to try to step outside the square. It may not appeal to everyone, and others may frankly not care. Especially for those wishing to find their own niche to explore commercially, film is one such way to distinguish oneself from the plethora of fluorescent Instagram feeds that exist today. Personally, this first step of breaking outside the norm has led down a wonderful rabbit hole in learning more about different aspects of photography and exploring new things. I enjoy it more, my work is more focused, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

No Immediate Feedback

Good or bad, depending on your perspective, but without the immediate feedback of what your shot looks like, you can stay more in the moment and capture the images you see in your head. The counter argument, of course, is that immediate feedback allows you to make adjustments and fine tune your vision on the fly. But it also cuts to the core of why you shoot: for others to enjoy or yourself? Do you actually enjoy the process of photography or just the end result? Shooting with film will help you answer those questions for yourself.

Film is Expensive

In most cases this is a huge negative and no doubt my own bank account would agree. But hear me out: Because you will have fewer pictures to potentially take you will be automatically forced to cull your shots before you even take them. I have found this has resulted in me focusing more with my composition, essentially self editing my pictures before I even think about tripping the exposure. Out of necessity, you will simply need to think more and be conservative with what you shoot. This goes hand in hand with slowing down but the added focus and thought that will go into your photography is a trade off worth making. Our friend Machine Gun Jack comes to mind here as well.

Community

People have been predicting the demise of film since the first digital camera came out yet like a cockroach, it has proven impossible to kill and instead has only multiplied. Look at what Leica has done with their recently released Sofot camera, or Kodak’s recent announcements on bringing back the Super 8mm film stock. This would not have happened if it wasn’t for the dedication of film enthusiasts around the world who have continued to provide a market for these companies. Not to say it doesn’t exist in other aspects of photography, but there is a wonderful sense of community and camaraderie that comes with shooting film.

Film photography tips: Engagement with your craft

Photography has always been evolving, practically since inception, and digital simply represents the next step in that evolution. Yet there is a ritual one goes through when shooting film and reengaging with the way it used to be done will give you a different level of appreciation, not only for the masters of yore, but on what it takes to take a great image. With today’s technology, sometimes it’s easy to be lost in a word of automatic exposures, filters, wifi file transfers, GPS tagging, etc… But film is a way to help strip all the incremental “noise” away so that you can focus (no pun intended) on the unifying element of photography since its invention: Capturing light in a creative and emotive way.

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