Why Shooting Film Will Make You a Better Photographer
I am not hating on digital, I just really love film. This is not going to get into the aesthetic merits of analog vs. digital. Instead I will be focusing on what I learn from shooting film and how it helps me grow as a photographer, which is a continual and never ending process (I hope).
In my world, digital and analog coexist and mingle. Photography is a hybrid medium that has always interwoven technology, science and the hand of the artist. In some ways, it is no different today than it was during it’s conception. The Art World often has casts sideways glances at photography with a “But is it ART?” turned up eyebrow. Document, photojournalism, propaganda, pornography, commercialism, keepsake, heirloom, evidence… the photograph takes on so many different shapes and forms. It is elusive and beautiful, passing from one realm to another, effortlessly. Perhaps this is one of the reasons it was initially excluded from the vanguard structure of fine art. However, these are the very reasons why I love it so.
I do most of my shooting with film cameras. Shooting 6×6 or 6×9, you only get 12 to 8 exposures, tact on some bracketing and much fewer than that. Hand held light meter and manual focus is how I roll, which is slow and cumbersome compared to what the rapid fire, Hi Res, multiple exposure, HDR shooting DSLRs. My friends are filling up an 8Gb card like it’s nothing and buying 2Tb drives on a regular basis to back up their archives. I too back up my work, after processing my negs and going over them with a loop, picking the best of the series, scanning them, Lightroom import and catalog, Photoshop edits… I spend a good amount of time getting up close and personal with each image. I don’t have hundreds or thousands to choose from so I have to hone my craft when I shoot, because I have more opportunities for error and less choices when it comes down to picking image I want to take to print. I become very well acquainted with my mistakes, because shooting with film is far less forgiving. I use these as lessons to improve myself and images (I.E. Have airport security hand check your film not x-ray it irregardless of what speed it is). It also forces you to realize the limitations of your camera and how they effect your shots.
The Hasselblad is a heavy beast and not something you want to take on an incredibly steep, 4 mile hike in the middle of a Brazilian humid summer. It is not particularly suited to night or low light photography with long exposure times due to its ridiculous mirror vibrations. However, if you want a camera for formal portraiture, this is where it’s at. It’s regal and commands respect. People feel important in front of it and that shine through in the images it captures.
As I was going through my old project and portfolio images, I started to notice the different qualities each camera brought to the film. Although I really love the Hassleblad, but what it lends to strong formalism, I find I am lacking in more intimate shots. I have this crappy Yashica D (Twin Lens 6×6)I bought on ebay for under $100. It has a horribly limited focal range (fixed lens which is kinda broken) but take lovely intimate photos. A lot of it is because of this focal limitation. You have to get more intimately close to your subjects. Plus I believe the twin lens is a less intimidating camera. It’s cute and funky looking, more playful and doesn’t weight a ton or sound like a tank when you hit the shutter.
I recently got my hands on a nice “little” 6×9 Fujica GW690. Little is not accurate, but it seems little comparatively to the Hasselblad with grip attachment and back. Some people call this 6×9 a clown camera because it resembles at traditional SLR 35mm but blown up (and it’s a range finder). I am excited to process my images that have a more horizontal orientation to see what qualities come out. The first roll I was very pleased with, actually a little too pleased with since now I what to buy this camera. This is one of the downsides of working around really nice photo stuff all the time, paycheck goes right back into work. This is the first time I have shoot with a range finder and I am loving it.
Aside from taking notes on how subjects interact in front of your lens, when you spend a great deal of time looking over your preciously scares images, it is a hard and fast crash course on composition and framing. When you only have 12 images per roll, you cannot screw this up, and when you do, you will most certainly not do it on the next roll you shoot.
Stepping back into the analog is about slowing things down a bit, taking a fine tooth comb over your techniques and habits. Shooting film can be one of the best teachers you could ask for and maybe the cruelest. Photoshop has definitely saved my ass many a time. After traveling around the world and coming home with a bag of fogged negatives, I asked myself why the hell I carried around a 4 pound camera. (One time I had to pay $400 in over weight luggage fees, never fly Lufthansa!). I shoot commercially for many years before this trip, which managed to deaden my desire to shoot at all. However, now I am glad I did, because I fell in love again with photography. I am in love with film and now travel with at least 4 different cameras.
Buy a me a roll of film, get an awesome postcard!