This past year has been strange with the pandemic and everything surrounding it. I took much of that time off my photography business which is why I'm starting all over with the website. But, I didn't stop taking photos. In fact I got into film photography as a way to try something different and to spark some interest in heading out to take photos.
I had no idea how many youtube channels and even local people were still shooting film. I found it fascinating and remembered I had a camera and lens. Yes, I picked up some more and even the famous Leica M3. The camera is not cheap at all and is a rangefinder which was also wondrous to me. I had to remember how to load the film and use the old light meter and sunny 16. It was almost like starting over, but doing photography the hard way.
Here are some of the main things I learned while shooting film:
1. Shoot less, don't stress
Because film has a limited amount of captures per roll you are constantly aware that you are going to run out. Most of the film I use has 36 exposures. Boy was that tough to wrap my head around when I got started. I became shy about pressing the shutter and started to over think my photos. I took my time to figure out the right exposure and framing. Once I felt like I had it mostly right I would take the photo and then move on. With time that stress would go away and I would just look for a couple interesting photos and commit to the better option. Those extra seconds it took to get ready for the photo made all the difference. I didn't want to rush.
2. Aim for 3 good photos per photo walk
With digital you can shoot a bunch and hopefully get a couple dozen decent photos from a photo walk. Sometimes the photos would be very similar and you would have to sort through them. At times I remember heading out and taking over 100 photos. Then I'd have to open up the computer, load the photos and go through them. Many were very uninteresting, but there would be a good amount of decent ones. But, only a handful were really good. With film, at first, I knew I had 36 photos and wanted to make the best of it. On one photo walk I'd be able to burn through them. Then getting the film back from the lab I'd find that most were pretty terrible or I was spending too much time with one subject/location. With more practice I found that slowing down and being more selective on my photos that I could stretch those 36 frames to more than one outing. I would wait until I saw good lighting, an interesting subject and put my camera to my eye. I'd frame it and check to see how it would look. Sometimes I would take the photo and other times I would walk further to get another angle or find a better subject. I got to the point where I could fit up to three outings on one roll. Yes I still got some photos that were uninteresting or just didn't turn out how I thought, but I was usually able to pick out 3 good ones from each outing. - I always found it interesting when I heard others online saying that a roll of film would last them weeks. Finally I understood. Take care of finding which photos are worth taking and don't be afraid to not shoot where you would have maybe overshot because there was nothing of interest.
3. Sunny 16 Rule, changed me
My favorite film camera, the Leica M3, doesn't have a light meter. If you had asked me a couple years ago if I would ever spend money on a camera with no light meter I would have laughed at you. Being able to see how much light the camera is seeing is essential. Other Leica cameras with a light meter were way out of my budget and I knew that I loved the 50mm FOV. I had tried a couple rangefinders before this purchase and felt like I had a decent grasp on how to use them. Now, I do use the light meter app on my phone to assist me at times, but I also learned the Sunny 16 Rule. This meant I had to be mindful of the ISO film I was using and how sunny or not sunny it was outside. You basically start at f16 and then work yourself down according to the lighting conditions. This was the complete opposite to how I approached digital. With digital I was almost always shooting wide open. I loved getting that separation with my lens especially for portraits. Versus with film I was starting from the opposite end. As you slide down away from F16 you have to do simple math to get down to F2.8 or so to get the right exposure. It felt harder to shoot the way I was used to, but I wasn't fighting it. I learned that it was easier to get focus with a larger depth of field and just go used to shooting the way you do on a rangefinder. Mostly it taught me to not be afraid of shooting at F4 or higher. It opened up a whole range of F stops on my lenses I hardly ever go to and I'm so happy for it. It has really opened my eyes to different ways of doing things and that's been fun.
4. Think in Black and White
One thing you'll find out very quickly when shooting film is how expensive film can be. Color film varies from entry level to high quality film in price. Black and white film prices generally stay around the same. Even recently when color film got a price increase black and white film basically stayed the same. Since the film is what gives you the look of your image it is possible to only shoot in color or black and white, but never both in the same roll. Most of my photography heroes only shot in black and white and I always loved that timeless look so I happily headed out with black and white film. But, this uses different eye and brain muscles. So in addition to trying to figure out how to use a film camera I also had to learn to see in black and white. I'm no pro at it now, but it doesn't stress me out anymore trying to see what it might look like in the end. Also, to not get such a big variety in colors from a color film roll you really want to get the better quality film. Versus, black and white doesn't have a huge variance from one photo to the next. This is assuming you expose properly, of course. I found black and white more forgiving and made me focus on shapes, negative space and contrast. Also most black and white film is above average in quality versus there are so many levels of color film. - So with my digital camera I sometimes set it to only take black and white so I can get my creativity flowing and not having the option of converting it to color after. It seems limiting, yes, but it's been great to head out with purpose and try to get that great black and white photo.
5. JPEG is my friend
This one I have tried before, but always resorted to going back to RAW. The photography community will always tell you that RAW is the way, don't go jpeg. You can't fix as many things there and it's a lower resolution etc. Now for professionals it is good to have the largest file with the biggest amount of detail to work with, but how many are using photos that are larger than 36 inches wide or are making massive mistakes that need to be fixed. Film has taught me that sometimes there are mistakes, lighting isn't what you thought, the resulting file doesn't have too much latitude. And that is one of the main reasons I enjoy film. You choose the film so you have a good idea of its attributes. Some are more orange or green or blue etc. If you wanted a different look then you should have used a different film. Once again limitation makes all the difference. With digital there aren't many limitations you can edit to your heart's content and really do a lot with the files. I don' t mind editing photos a little if they need help, but I don't like spending over 10 minutes editing one photo. That was one big attraction of film. What you get is basically what you get. Minimal editing is involved or wanted. Your scanned photos are the end product. - Now I know some camera brands don't make great jpegs, but Fuji does. They are famous for their great files and film simulations in camera. Easiest way to get those looks is to shoot in JPEG. You can set the look you want before you start shooting and you'll have that consistent look at the end. Minor editing and you're done. Anything that reduces my time behind the computer editing is great in my book. If I really need to fix the photo that much then I failed at taking it and I move on to the next photo. Yes, I still shoot RAW, especially for paid gigs, but only until I find my ideal color profiles. I'm getting really close on that. Once again limitation is helping me develop my photography.
These are only a few things and I'm sure to add more to this list, but I highly recommend shooting film to ALL photographers. Whether you're in a rut, want to try something new, or are just curious it is well worth it. You'll learn new skills, learn your likes and dislikes faster and have fun being able to focus more on the photo taking part.
Wouldn't you like to take a good photo, know you go it and not have to think about editing it later?