Shooting Film in 2021

When I’m walking about with a film camera, there is often a curiosity from others that I’ve faced. It’s often a conversation starter at first, which then leads to the question of “why do you shoot film?”

Before I dive into answering that question, I must stress that the intention of this blog isn’t to favour film over digital or to create a debate between the two. I like to work with both mediums and both have their positives and negatives (see what I did there?). This blog intends to answer the question as to why, along with some thoughts towards how shooting film could lead to you becoming a better photographer.

A big reason as to why I shoot film is the slowed-down process of it all. Digital is great in many ways, but there is an immediacy to it which, in my opinion, can remove an element of thought from capturing an image. When you shoot with film, there is usually a much slower process. With the medium format film cameras that I use, the focusing and metering are manual, and because I’m working slower, I’m looking a lot more at what I’m shooting. There is an element of intentional thinking before I press that shutter. These thoughts are often along the line of: is this something that I want to capture? Is this exactly how I want to frame it? Is this the composition that I want to go with? and with this train of thought, it’s like I’m gaining a deeper understanding of what I want to achieve in the final image.

Slaughden Lifebuoy

With digital photography, I often find myself losing some of that train of thought and acquiring bad habits such as overshooting and “chimping”, rather than pausing and changing up each time until I find a composition that I’m happy with. 

What I shoot on film is also limited to how many shots that I have to hand. I can either shoot 8 shots a roll with my Fujica GW690 or 12 shots on a roll with my Hasselblad 500 C/M, so each of those shots needs to feel right. 

With this element of limitation and often trial and error, you can start to discover what you like to shoot and manifest an authentic voice through your work. Naturally, you can do the same with digital, but I would truthfully say that film photography has helped in my journey. 

Once you have your rolls of film ready to post, you have time to think as you wait for the results to come back from the lab. There is an element of breathing space to the whole process. I may wait a couple of weeks before sending the film off to a lab where it’s developed and scanned back to me, and in that time of waiting, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve shot. Seeing it weeks later brings a fresh perspective to the images. 

Sizewell Boat at Sunrise

Aesthetically, I find that film looks great across the board too. There is this feeling of texture to it through the grain. Software such as Lightroom and Capture One can emulate this, but in my honest opinion, this isn’t to the same degree. On top of the grain, you also have lens softness, vignetting and various other imperfections. There is just something that’s very visually appealing to film. Furthermore, it has an expression and feeling to it. Something that I feel is lacking from digital RAW files. 

I now move on to colours. I mostly like to work with Kodak Portra 160/400, and occasionally I use Fuji Pro400H. When overexposed, these film stocks render some beautiful pastel-like colours. I love this soft pastel look, and whilst I have some presets that I often use to emulate this, I struggle to reproduce that overall feeling & I’m often left wondering why imitate it if you have the option to have the real thing.

I also have a lot less screen time in terms of post-processing. Usually, I may straighten the odd image or tweak contrast and sharpness if necessary, but other than that, the results are just stunning.

At the end of the day, what you shoot is simply a personal preference. I love working with film, but I’m not sure that I could shoot with it exclusively. For me, it gets me out there shooting differently and connecting more with the process of photography. Also, film costs money, and during the last couple of years, it has almost doubled in price, as have some of the cameras themselves. 

Sometimes it can be challenging, but I believe that if you’re not being challenged, then you’re likely not improving.

Bawdsey East Lane Sea Defences

All images shot with a Hasselblad 500cm & Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm f/2.8 lens and a Pentax 67 & Pentax SMC Takumar 90mm f/2.8 lens.

Develop and Scan by FilmDev (Noritsu)

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