Shooting With Film: Learning to See

In this digital age, film photography is antiquated and impractical. Film is time-consuming to develop and expensive to use. Film's resolution, dynamic range, and noise qualities are all surpassed by digital sensors (given equivalent formats). Film does, however, have at least one beautifully endearing quality: the look. Certain films (Kodachrome, Velvia, Provia, TRI-X, Portra) just have that "look" which can not be easily duplicated in digital post-processing. The images have richness and quality that sterile-looking digital photos sometimes lack.

Besides having that "look," there is one thing that film does significantly better than digital: it teaches you to see.

Imagine that viewing the results of each photo you were to take would cost somewhere between $0.50 and $2.00 (cost to develop, including original film price - ignoring printing costs). Imagine that you could only take between 24 and 72 photos during each outing. The way you take photos would change drastically. You would restrain yourself and ensure proper settings and composition before every single press of the shutter button. You would cease to simply look through the viewfinder, and move on to finally seeing the true content of each potential image. And that's exactly what film does: it forces you to think actutely about the result before you take the photo.

The way I see it, digital is perfect for teaching the basics of photographic technique. It allows you to see results and correct mistakes immediately. Film is perfect for teaching the basics of photographic composition and style. It forces you to think and visualize each shot before spending that money on it.

This is why I'm forcing myself to shoot at least 3-4 rolls of film each month, and I suggest that you join me and do the same! Pick up an old film camera (suggestions: OM-10 or K1000), and take two rolls of film on a photowalk every few weeks. Be sure to keep your critical-thinking hat on, and watch the magic happen. Well, you can't watch the magic happen, but it'll be there on the film. You'll certainly feel the magic once you get developed negatives back (especially a few months into this process once you've improved). I guarantee that you'll have fun doing this. Of course, the key is to let what you learn trickle into your digital shooting.

I shot the photos below on a recent photowalk through Boston. Both were taken on Kodak TRI-X 400/400TX (pushed 2-stops to ISO 1600) with my Nikon F100 and 85mm f/1.8D lens.