I like shooting with film for the look it gives, but I also like shooting film for the process itself. And while I shoot primarily using a digital SLR when working for a client, there are reasons I turn to film when either shooting personal projects, or when a client session allows me to slip in a little film. The work-flow of film has some advantages, beyond the look of the images themselves. Here are some of those reasons I like working with film cameras:
• I like that film shooting is a slower process than with digital. Ultimately after a day’s shooting, I end up with roughly the same number of usable images. No matter how many shots I take! Think about it for a moment: you only have so much space on your wall for prints. Your project only requires a certain number of images. You only want to share a select few images with your friends on flickr etc. So whether you shoot three images or 300, you’re only going to use a certain number of those images in the end.
I find that the bigger the negative, the fewer images I shoot, but the better each image is. I can shoot a roll of 35mm and get a couple of images I like. But when I shoot large format 4×5, and make four images, I still get a couple that I like. That’s because I might spend half an hour composing each image and making it perfect, while with 35mm I feel no such need.
Of course large format photography isn’t suitable for certain types of subjects, such as those that move quickly, or situations or lighting that evolve and need to be captured at a particular moment. And 35mm is not suitable for big prints, or images that require tilts and shifts of the lens. Each format has its uses. But the more care you take with your images, the fewer you take. And yet the yield of quality images tends to be about the same.
• I like that film costs me money for each image I make! This is somewhat tied to the “slow down” philosophy discussed above. If my shots cost money, I think about them a little more. If I think about them, I’m less likely to shoot crap. Dividing up my shoots into sets of 24 or 36 (or 12 for that matter) has a strange and somewhat useful effect on my shooting. If I only have 36 chances of a good image, I’m pickier because I might run out of film too early (or be forced to change rolls and miss something while doing so). Conversely, if I’ve got some shots I know are good, and I’ve still got 10 shots left on the roll, sometimes I’ll be motivated to go use up that roll in a way that doesn’t waste it. And sometimes I get happy surprises by doing that (or at least more shots of my kids).
The worst, most shameful thing in the world is wasting the last ten frames of a roll because you can’t be bothered to shoot something. And yes I’ve done it.
• I love not being able to see the image right after I’ve made it! Oh sure, that’s useful in many cases. But it’s also useful to NOT see my images. How so? If I’m viewing every image as it is recorded in the back of the camera, I am constantly switching from reactive to analytical thought. This probably causes brain cancer. And it certainly makes for a distracted photographer. If I can’t instantly see my image, then I just shoot and hope I’ve got my technical details nailed down properly. I move with the situation, explore the composition and the lighting, and wait for those ‘decisive moments’.
I also find that seeing my work at a later date, as a whole in thumbnail or contact sheet format, can actually make me feel better about my work. Let’s say I’m shooting digitally for example, and I’m having a bad day. I shoot, then “chimp” (i.e. look at the screen on the back of the camera), say “oh that’s just crap”, and repeat. By the tenth crappy shot, I’m feeling pretty crappy myself. But when I view an entire film shoot for the first time in Lightroom after scanning all the images, I immediately gravitate to the best images. The rest don’t matter, because I’ve spotted a couple that I really like. For me, those other images I would have called “crap” when viewed singly just don’t matter when viewed all together. It’s a weird psychological game but it’s real, at least for me.
Those are a few reasons I like to shoot film, that have little to do with the actual image quality. I could discuss the ‘look’ of film, or the look of certain cameras or lenses, but that’s a post for a different day. From a work-flow perspective, film offers a different—not better or worse, just different—process. This can enhance your ways of shooting, not just the way your images look.