Why You Might Appreciate Film Photography

Film has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence recently, and you may be wondering if it's worth trying out yourself. This great video discusses some reasons why a film workflow is distinctly different from a digital workflow and why it can be more enjoyable. 

Coming to you from Ben Horne, this excellent video makes some very interesting points about working with film and why it can sometimes be the preferable choice over digital. In particular, Horne makes an excellent point about the ever-evolving standards of digital and how these can sometimes make photos that you took years ago seem unworthy in light of recent technological advancements, even if you did everything correctly technique-wise when you took the photo and took maximum advantage of the capabilities of the equipment you had at the time. I personally still enjoy shooting with film quite a bit because of a combination of factors ranging from nostalgia to the pace, and I agree with Horne that it tends to encourage you to focus much less on your gear and much more on the fundamentals of photography. Give the video above a watch for his full thoughts. 

Lead image by Little Visuals, used under Creative Commons.

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Ryan Davis's picture

Don't get me wrong, I shoot film on the regular, and I love doing it. But I find the rational of the "mature nature" of the technology to be unconvincing. Mr. Horne asks us to imagine looking at a photo that we took 10 years ago with a digital camera- I've uploaded one that I took 13 years ago (in 2005) with a Canon 20D. This is one of my favorite photos- despite the fact that it could be better and that I would change some things about it (like not cut the flag off in the upper left corner, and I would like to have shot it in RAW). But i don't "regret" having shot this digitally, and the problems with it are compositional, not really sensor related.

The cool thing about film is not that it is better than digital (although I don't think there is a digital sensor out there with the resolution of a 4x5 field camera). It may or may not be, depending on what the given value of "better" is. It certainly isn't "worse."

Despite what lomographers might lead you to believe, analog doesn't mean crap. It means chemical and stochastic rather than digital and algorithmic- these are very different in subtle but powerful ways.

Additionally, I find that the "ease" of digital photography can become a crutch- If I shoot purely digital for too long I find myself becoming lazy, and not progressing as a photographer in the way that I would like.

Every couple of months I like to put away my DSLR, and take out my TLR or my Praktica fully manual camera, and my lightmeter. Go out and shoot film until I need to look at my light meter less and less. I realize that every shot costs money. Every shot must be thought about. I become more mindful of what I am doing. I start to see differently.

This is great for getting me out of ruts.

And it just looks "different." That's cool as well.

Ludwig Hagelstein's picture

Thank You. Finally someone who talks of chemical photography rather than analog photography. Its a little difference, but it has huge impact.

Ryan Davis's picture

My Dad is a chemist who worked for Kodak for 30 years. It's how I think about it.

Rifki Syahputra's picture

..becoming lazy.. well said :)

Michael Holst's picture

"I realize that every shot costs money. Every shot must be thought about. I become more mindful of what I am doing. I start to see differently." You're clearly someone who values film and I love what you wrote here.

I think what Mr Hone is saying about digital is that even thought you can like older digital images it's hard to forget that had the photo been taken with a newer DSLR it would have most likely been better from a technical standpoint and only because it was a newer camera with little help from the photographer. I wouldn't stop someone from making a counter argument that even film cameras suffer from this because a newer digital camera would have made getting a good shot easier but there's a line one has to cross to shoot film. Accepting the technical restrictions and pushing onward.

It puts limitations where digital would let you do pretty much anything you want. Sometimes the best way to foster creativity is to limit what you CAN do because problem solving is usually were creativity begins.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

No longer shoot film and hope I never will again, however, it’s a good school to learn to become methodical.

The video does not point at a new problem for photographers as film almost all the time was about irreversible decisions. You would use 35mm, medium or large format for various reasons, and there was no going back either when all done. If you ever wished you had used a different format, then you made a mistake, same with the choice of emulsion or lab choice. Also we didn’t all have 35mm, medium and large format, so most of us had limitations to start with unless we grew our inventories.

Difference between film and digital, is that with digital you are most likely the scanning operator as well when this was mostly not the case with film. Most photographers did not process film themselves when it came to colors. This said, because I have worked for most kind of labs and drum scanned for a prepress house, I find the process nearly identical, only much more tedious with film.

Michael Holst's picture

Thats kinda the point.

michaeljin's picture

I enjoy shooting film because I find the mechanical nature of the process as well as the rituals involving the developing and darkroom printing to be rather relaxing. It just feels different working with real materials in your hands as opposed to clicking and dragging sliders in Lightroom.

Having said that, I believe that for most real work, digital is the far superior technology if only because of the speed and level of intricate control that a digital workflow affords you. No matter how good you are in a wet darkroom, there's simply no way that you can have anywhere near the control that you do in Photoshop or even Lightroom. Of course if you really want the look of film, you can employ a hybrid workflow, but then you're adding an additional layer of complexity in the scanning process. Getting a really good scan is an art in itself.

I had shot film for over 30 years before, thank God, digital photography came about. There is nothing magical about film and neither do I think there is anything romantic about film and I hope to never have to shoot it again.

David Pavlich's picture

I won't shoot film again because of my age. I don't think I can wait for the pictures to show up. :-) I'm being a smart a$$, of course. But there is truth to this. I don't have any sort of dark room equipment, never did. But now I have a computer dedicated to processing my stuff and I really enjoy that part of the photographic process. And I have a nice printer to complete the cycle.

I have a photograph I took with a Minota X700 with a motor drive and a Minolta lens (don't remember the focal length) of a 4 ship pass of the Thunderbirds. I had a fresh 24 shot roll of film just loaded and as they passed, I held down the shutter and did my best to keep things in focus. Of the 24 images, I got one that was framed and focused really well. The other 23 were not keepers. This speaks to the expense of film (and my lack of ability), but I did get that one memorable shot. Digital makes this way, way easier.

I've been shooting film since 1980. I bought a DSLR in 2013, so I am late to the game. But I enjoy photography; it doesn't matter if it's film or digital. I found that I wasn't using the image review on my DSLR, so I turned that feature off; I may review images in camera later, but I don't immediately check the screen to look at the photo. Another thing that I'll do when shooting outdoors is to change the color temperature to daylight.