Film Photography Challenge: Canon A-1 and Ilford HP5

With digital photography more accessible than ever, is film worth it? I picked up my film camera and shot my first roll of black and white film in over 10 years. 

After a decade-long hiatus from shooting black and white film, my husband, David, challenged me to shoot a few rolls. David constantly pushes me to explore unfamiliar camera setups to keep me on my toes, and this time, he challenged me to photograph a portrait shoot using the Canon A-1 and Ilford HP5 film. David bought the Canon A-1 years ago off eBay, but I'd never used it before. It was just sitting on a shelf collecting dust, so it deserved to have a little fun.

As a former photography major who shot film regularly on everything from 35mm to large format cameras at one point, I was surprised by how out of practice I had become, but I had fun with it and embraced the opportunity to explore film photography and go back to my roots. It was my love of film photography that started my entire photography career after all. 

The Canon A-1 camera set the tone for the shoot, inspiring a desire to capture the essence of the late 70s. I aimed to infuse the images with grit and raw emotions, knowing that black and white photography has a unique way of evoking meaning and depth. For my backdrop, I choose a textured wall on a side of a building in downtown Richmond, Virginia filled with vertical lines. 

Other than battling the bright sun, my biggest challenge was remembering to advance the film between shots. I was so out of practice! It took a bit to regain my rhythm and overcome the rustiness, but eventually, I found my groove. Our model, Hannah, channeled some Penny Lane vibes and really brought these portraits to life. Shooting in public places is always fun because of the reactions you get from people passing by. So many people stopped to see what were we up to while we were photographing. 

Image courtesy of Jada and David Parrish |

I really loved the way the Canon A-1 felt in my hands, the crisp sound of the shutter, and the quality of the images it produced. The Ilford HP5 black and white film was an ideal combination. The resulting images exuded a rich tonality and had the desired gritty aesthetic I was hoping for with its noticeable grain.

It had been so long since I'd photographed with film. After the shoot, doubts started creeping in. I was nervous that none of the photos were going to turn out, let alone if the photos would meet my expectations. There's an anxiety-inducing waiting game when it comes to film. I think that's part of the allure of film photography. It creates an added drama. Would any of the shots turn out to be decent? Thankfully, every photo turned out and I was genuinely surprised by how much I liked the results.

I was hesitant at first, but shooting with the Canon A-1 reignited my passion for film photography. I fell in love with the medium all over again. The experience reminded me that as much as I love digital photography, there is just something special about film that can't compare.

So, go pick up your old film camera and shoot something!
Jada Parrish's picture

Jada is a photographer and director specializing in conceptual portraits. Her work is known for its bold, colorful, and surreal style. Her creative style of portraiture lends itself nicely to work in both fashion and the music industry. She is one half of the creative duo Jada + David.

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Niiiiice! This looked fun. Are you using a lab to dev and scan?

Hi, I past the 10 last years to acquire the best of the best in numeric gears, with finally a Sony A7RV and a lot of glass. Also a full set of Profoto products (3 B1 + many modifiers), a Canon Prograf 2100, 32" calibrated screen, etc... I have also a lot of film gears (2 Nikon F4, 1 Canon Eos-1V, a Leica M7) But two weeks ago I decided to completely stop with numeric shoots. I will now concentrate on my FUJI GX680 and studio shoots. The 120 negatives are stunning, nothing to do with a numeric picture !

That's awesome! It's so fun to experiment with new gear and ways of shooting.

Well now that's the best choice I've heard in a while. The GX680 is what I use for serious and professional landscapes, along with the Hasselblad 500CM. I also aquired an aray of top-quality equipment as well years ago when prices were very low. Glad to see film making a come-back and many others returning to it, or just sticking with it.