Category Archives: Why Film

Value Your Work More

How much do you value a free PDF that you got from some website in exchange for your email address?  That PDF cost you nothing in terms of dollars, and it probably sits unread and unappreciated in your documents folder.  Oftentimes, something that is free is unappreciated.  We sacrificed nothing in order to get it, so we don’t value it very highly.
Looking at my Lightroom catalog from last year, I took about 20,000 digital photos.  Lots of the images look nearly alike.  Many of these images are just sketches – incomplete thoughts that helped me see the final resultant image.  I don’t really value most of my individual images all that much since they cost nothing to produce and I have several that are similar.  With my camera in hand, the cost of each additional image is zero.  The result is that I don’t value each image like I do an image shot with film.  With film, each image might cost almost a $1.  I appreciate what I receive in exchange for my hard earned income.  Since I value the images I make and am limited to a finite roll of 36 at a time, I take the extra effort to contemplate composition, content, and gesture much more carefully.
In addition to more intentional photography, you will make far fewer images, meaning that you will value each one of them more than each digitally produced photograph.  To me, shooting film is like buying postcards.  I make a few representative images of a place to remember or commemorate it.  I don’t buy 250 postcards, but rather just about 3 or so.  Since I receive back a physical product in the form of an analog raw image on a piece of film I can hold, I value it more.  Sure, these images are digitally scanned so I can easily share the photos, but the underlying raw image is physical analog matter.

Dallas Art Museum
Dallas Art Museum, Nikon F5, 24mm f/1.4, Kodak Portra 400 film.

What attracted me back to film?

Why in this age of digital photography and my owning a 36 megapixel digital camera with a marginal cost per image of zero would I pursue film photography?  Why with all the software we have with amazing abilities to produce film simulations, stitched panoramas, huge dynamic range, and other boundless effects would I limit myself to a single analog frame at a comparatively high cost?
While cleaning out my garage a few years ago, I found two items in the same box:  5.25″ floppy disks and sleeves of 35mm Kodachrome slides.  Holding the slides up to the light, their contrast, color, and sharpness were clearly evident with just as much quality as when I made them many years ago.  They were all ready for the scanner for sharing online or making a print for my home.  Next I considered the floppy disks.  Very interesting historical pieces, but not anything that any technology I currently owned could read.  Even if I had a floppy drive, would the magnetic 1’s and 0’s on there still form anything meaningful?  This is the thing with technology:  the storage formats are constantly changing as well as where we gather online.  My internet is still not fast enough that I could store all my images at a raw size of 72mb in the cloud.  Even if I could store these images in the cloud, what would they look like in 100 years if I didn’t pay my bill?  I believe that film potentially provides longevity to creativity.  After filing the film in archival sleeves in a binder at a reasonable temperature, I’m done.  Instead of technological risks, I have the physical risks of fire, flood, or theft.  In order to mitigate these risks, my best images are scanned and saved digitally as well.
There was a certain nostalgia in looking at the old images in my garage.  I used to love Kodachrome 64 when I was in school and I also loved the super fine grain and high contrast of TMAX 100.  I spent hours in the darkroom at school while on yearbook staff inhaling noxious chemical fumes.  I loved the seemingly magical process of a black and white image appear on white photo paper while immersed in developer.
As a student, I could hardly afford the amazing cameras out there – just look at them in magazines and dream.  This has all changed now, and not just because I have a job!  The price of used film cameras has plummeted, but not their capabilities.  You can now afford to own just about any old film camera you might want (within reason).

 

US Air Force Academy Chapel Ceiling
US Air Force Academy Chapel, Kodachrome Slide, 1989.

Why Shoot Slower?

Limitations enable the creative process in photography by reigning in the universe of possibilities while shooting.  In a 2013 TED conference, artist Phil Hansen said that “embracing the limitation can actually drive creativity … We need to first be limited in order to become limitless.”   Possible limitations include technical (shooting with just one particular focal length lens, using just one camera, or going cell phone only) or subject matter ranging from the broad (street photography) to the specific (shooting reflections or silhouettes).  In this vein, I’m advocating the use of film photography to harness economic limitations to inspire more intentional photography thereby broadening your vision, enhancing your creativity, and sharpening your technical skills.
This is not (necessarily) a permanent move to film for you, but maybe a 36 image break or whatever you deem appropriate to achieve self photographic improvement.  Your brain will compose an image differently when there is a marginal cost for each additional image.  If every time you hit the shutter, you must pay a dollar, you’ll more rapidly move toward greater mental clarity with regard to your creative process.  You will more likely think about the components of good composition – whether or not the so called “rule of thirds” should figure in, balance and mass of subject matter, lines, color, texture, etc.  I find that I compose and recompose a few times before I actually hit the shutter.  Would this image be improved in landscape or portrait orientation?  Should I move left or right?  What depth of field?  Since it’s too painful economically to try every thought that pops into your head, you try just the best ideas.  Mainly this is an exercise in thinking and seeing and not so much cranking out images.

 

Horse EyeKodak Ektar 100 film, Nikon F-100, 105mm macro f/2.8