Why Shoot Film

Why Shoot Film

"Why shoot film?" This is a question I get asked a lot. Film is expensive. It is slow to process. It is time consuming to process. It can take weeks between shooting and having images available to share. Why would you waste your time with film when you can do it better, faster and cheaper with digital?

It is a great question. It is not about film vs. digital or an either/or discussion for me. I love shooting digital cameras as well as film.

I love my Leica M9-P and Leica Monochrom digital cameras.

Leica M9P

I also love shooting my Leica M6 film cameras.

Leica M6J

It is amazing to me how the topic of gear can completely polarize people. People can be amazing opinionated about what they shoot and why. They can be even more surprisingly opinionated about what others shoot. This is probably why you won't see me hanging out in Camera forums. I can't count the number of mails I have gotten from people saying I can't believe you use camera x, or you don't use camera y, or that you like to shoot film, or that I don't process my own film. What the hell is wrong with me?

I don't really have an opinion one way or another what someone chooses to use or how they choose to shoot or post process their images. I will offer my opinion if asked. I usually approach the subject with curiosity in why they made that choice to see if I can learn from their decision and perhaps improve my own decisions as I did when I first learned about Leica or when my friend David taught me about Medium Format cameras.

I am not a commercial photographer so for me gear is really a choice I make often based on the user experience I am looking to have while vs. the necessary look I need to get for a client. If I was a commercial photographer I would probably only shoot digital as it is better, faster cheaper but I am not. For me a lot of my photography is about the process and the enjoyment I get out photographing. I get the luxury of going out and enjoying myself while shooting film some days.

I don't always think in advance which camera I am going to bring but rather I grab the one that best suits my mood. Often I don't always have the best gear for the situation but I have a great time shooting what I can with what I have. Lately film cameras have been doing that. Yesterday I had my M6 Millennium with my Summilux 35mm f/1.4 with a roll of Ilford 400 in it in my bag. Today it is the Leica Monochrom with a Summilux 21mm f/1.4. I have no idea what camera I will reach for tomorrow morning as I leave the house.

Here are some of the reasons I enjoy shooting film and often reach for a film camera:

#1 I love that film slows me down

As I wrote in the past switching from an SLR to a rangefinder really slowed me down. When I was shooting a SLR I had a million settings at my disposal to ensure I could capture any situation that came my way. I also had enough lenses to ensure that any focal length was covered. I often carried far too much of that gear with me and that often got in the way of my photography. It certainly got in the way of my enjoyment while I was out carrying an extremely heavy bag. Also I could go out for the day and come home with 500 or 1,000 photos.

Switching to a rangefinder simplified the options for me. I often go out with 1 camera and 1 lens. While shooting my considerations are which aperture, shutter speed and ISO to set. I don't really have other setting to play with. Even with a full day of shooting with my M9 I would be lucky to come home with 100 or 150 pictures. I am just a lot slower shooting with it. It is this slowness I really enjoy. I spend more time observing what is around me. Finding and photographing details that I used to miss. I am not worried about zooming or changing lenses.

With film the film sets the 'ISO' for me so I am just left with aperture and shutter speed. For me film has a psychology effect where I don't want to 'waste an image'. I am much more intentional in what I choose to take a picture of. I am lucky to make it home with two rolls shot. If you are a digital shooter and you want to better understand this 'handicap' go for a walk and limit yourself to 36 shots but do your best to ensure everyone of them is a keeper. It will be harder than you think.

I am working to break this a bit and try a few shots of each scene as I think I will ultimately get more keepers this way but I really enjoy being slowed down by film.

#2 I love the look and feel

I was looking around my house the other day and was a bit surprised that all of the photos I have hanging up now were shot on film. The same goes for the photos on my desk at work. There is a intangible quality to the images that I just haven't been able to match with digital. Here are two shots I have gone back and looked at over and over.

TransAmerica Building in San Francisco
TransAmerica Building in San Francisco
Waiting at Yanaka Station
Waiting at Yanaka Station

#3 I love learning photography again

When I first got my Leica M9 I shot with it daily. I shot with it so much I can pretty much anticipate the outcome I will get with any given shot. For film it is often still a surprise for me. I love trying to imagine what result a given film is going to give me. I love learning what the different films are going to look like when they are processed.

Like the first time I got to see slide film on a light board. The color are completely amazing. If you haven't had the joy of seeing a piece of slide film being backlit by a lightboard find a friend that shoots film and ask them to show you. It will leave you in awe in terms of color and the 3D quality of the image. Some nights I sit with a glass of wine and a stack of slides, a loupe and a light board and review my slides.

Taxi driver break in Yanaka
Taxi driver break in Yanaka

or learning the right lighting conditions for the muted colors of Kodak Ektar...

Ueno Park
Ueno Park

#4 I love when I 'get it'

With each new film there is a new learning process. Learning which lighting conditions work for it. Learning how the dynamic range for a given film works. The first few times I went out I couldn't figure out how to get the look and feel I was hoping for. How do I get the grain I want? How do I get that rough feel to the images or that nostalgic classic look? When I went out this day it all started to click for me. It is a great feeling when I started 'getting it'. The thing with film is I can't just change a setting and fire off another frame. I need to slow down pay attention to what I am doing, drop my film off for developing, pick it up, scan it, and then see how it looks remember what I was doing and adjust for the time next. I don't get the instant gratification I get with digital. I get a different kind of gratification.

Sushi in Shibuya
Sushi in Shibuya

#5 Stay focused on picture taking

With film I stay focused on taking pictures. There is no image for me to look at and see if I got it correct. I have to trust my knowledge and my equipment. While I am out shooting I often think about getting back home or to my hotel so I can download and upload my images. With film I just stay focused on image taking as I know the images won't be ready for people to see for several weeks. This is actually a huge relief for me as I avoid my self imposed deadlines to post on ShootTokyo.

#6 Learning to scan

When I first started shooting film I had my local camera shop Popeye scan me a low resolution CD. It is good for sharing on the web but the images aren't a size that is useful for archival purposes. When I first started scanning I was terrible at it. My friend David gave me a lot of advice and a few lessons. I spend a few weeks learning how to get exactly the right scan. What tools I needed and exactly how to handle my film during processing.

Gear for film scanning
Gear for film scanning
Scanning Gear

I learned how to keep the film nice and flat and know when to film it over to ensure it is sharp. If your negative isn't flat it produces some pretty bad images.

Flat Film
Flat Film

I spent a lot of time learning how to control the colors. I still get red hues when scanning Ektar but it is this learning process that makes me really enjoy shooting film.

A comparison of good and bad film scanning
A comparison of good and bad film scanning

#7 I love that I get to make mistakes again

I screw up, a lot. Every photographer when they first shooting film will do this. You are so excited to drop your film off to get developed that you forget to rewind it and open your camera. Yes it is a stupid mistake and you will feel like a fool when you do it. These silly mistakes for me are just part of the joy of a new process.

When you open before rewindiing your film
When you open before rewindiing your film

#8 Physical Photos

Often I will ask for a roll of prints along with my negatives. I do this especially if my photos are of friends, family, or co-workers. I get matte prints with white boarders and give out to people when I see them next. People are always happy to get a print and I enjoy seeing them around in the future.

#9 The pressure to get it right

Believe it or not there is even a joy for me in the unknown if I got it right or not. I often get asked, or volunteer, at work functions to photograph for the day. I did so when I photographed at a co-worker's wedding. I was extremely nervous after hoping the images came out good. I was so excited when they did and I even gave him a package of prints.

Koji and Nahoko's Wedding
Koji and Nahoko's Wedding

or when I got called on to photograph our Croquet Death Match in Napa...

Croquet in Napa Valley at Meadowood
Croquet in Napa Valley at Meadowood

#10 I love remembering

I love getting a roll of negatives back from the lab and remembering the photos I took. I always find one I didn't remember. The distance from shooting to seeing is far enough that there is always a hint of surprise when I get the film back and it is these surprises I love.

Am I going to switch to film 100% - No. I like that it gives me another way to approach photography and continue to build my skills. The one thing I love about this hobby is that you can continue to expand your skills and take your activities and learning in many different directions. Right now film has been a pleasant new road explored.

Thanks for stopping by today...

My Tokyo Commute

My Tokyo Commute

Pushing TMAX 400

Pushing TMAX 400

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