Why I shoot film

Reasons I shoot film

I want to make it clear right at the start that I don’t only shoot film, but it’s the format I like most at the moment. It’s also the thing I get asked about the most by non-photographers. If you’re a film photographer, you’ll get asked these questions a lot:

  • Isn’t digital better?

  • Do places still develop film?

  • Isn’t it really expensive?

The answers I give are long versions of: No, Yes, It depends.

But, here in a nutshell is why I still shoot film:

3D pop

I once had the process of how a digital sensor captures light explained to me, and contrasted to how light is captured on film. If I’m honest, I have no idea about the science behind this, so it might be complete nonsense. The premise was that while a digital sensor reads light off one flat layer, film consists of multiple layers, each capturing a different bit of the light. This gives images captured on film a greater level of depth than digital photos.

As I said, I’m skeptical as to whether that’s true, but I liked the explanation and it seems to tally when I look at the results I get from digital cameras vs shooting on film, so in a way it doesn’t really matter.

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I don’t have an apocryphal explanation of this one, I just really like the results I get from certain colour films. The colours I can get out of a roll of Kodak Colorplus 200 make it worth the cost for me, and that’s a cheapish film.

Sure, you can fake this in Lightroom but it’s a shortcut for me. I spend most of my life sitting at a desk, sometimes by choice but mostly because that’s how I earn a living. I don’t want to make photography into a hobby that ties me to sitting at a computer more than I already do. I edit my film scans in Lightroom, but it’s usually very minor cropping, and adjusting highlights, shadows and vibrance.

On this point, edit your scans as much or as little as you want. I’m not going to get into this argument. It’s stupid.

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Embracing restrictions and quirks

“It is the limitation of means that determines style, gives rise to new forms and makes creativity possible.” – Georges Braque

My Fuji X-H1 can shoot anything I have ever wanted to. It’s fantastic for street shooting, video, using for portrature with studio lights, reportage, macro shots, I could go on. I know I can pick it up for almost any shoot and get great results. But it doesn’t excite me like a dodgy old film SLR does. It doesn’t force me to work for good results or make me think creatively about how to get shots. There’s no jeopardy that I might be left with nothing at the end of a day of shooting, unless I decide to play fast and loose with my SD cards.

I think the fun of shooting film for creative purposes are that the cameras aren’t as good as modern ones, film is less predictable and I find it more of a challenge. At least, it’s a challenge I enjoy. Editing digital shots is a challenge, but one I find pretty unsatisfying.

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Shooting less and looking more

I don’t buy into the whole ‘film makes you shoot more slowly’ thing. I think you can change your approach with whatever you’re shooting, but it pushes me to shoot more carefully. I’m more selective with the shots I take, and as a result tend to get slightly better results.

I’ve been moving lots of photos from one cloud storage platform to another recently. It’s a boring story so I won’t go into why, but it involves me downloading about 350gb of photos and uploading them somewhere else. It has been tedious, but it has driven home to me how little I shoot now compared to a few years ago when I shot exclusively digital photos.

I guess it’s open to interpretation whether this is a good thing or not, and there’s an element of me going through a learning process so shooting more as a result, but these days I’m a lot more selective, and get much better results because of it. Some of that is down to shooting something where every shot costs you money. It makes you think about value.

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