Why Every Photographer Should Learn Film

Ok I am be a little bit biased on this one since I shoot film but I will start by clarifying I was VERY resistant to learning it at the beginning. Clearly I have fallen in love with it over time and it is a major part of my creative process BUT I truly believe that EVERY photographer should learn film at some point. Whether you run a business or you are a hobbyist. Whether you believe you will incorporate it into your business or not. There is value in learning film and here are my major reasons why EVERY PHOTOGRAPHER SHOULD LEARN FILM. Need a great resource? Check our FIND in a BOX.

Intentionality

This is not to say that digital photographers are not intentional. BUT when each frame, each push of that button costs you real money you will become more intentional. I’m not just talking about the timing of when you hit the shutter. Yes you will start to pay more attention to what is going on and your timing will improve with anticipating movements and smiles or smirks etc. With film there is not spray and pray. You can’t lay on your shutter and just hope that you nailed at least on shot. You have to be intentional EVERY. TIME. YOU. HIT. THE. SHUTTER. With film you won’t spend hours culling thousands of photos cause you didn’t take thousands or even hundreds to begin with. You start to pay attention to what is in the background or how your crop is while you shoot. You will pay attention to those tiny things because you want to get it right in the camera. You won’t fire off shots to check your exposures. You will KNOW your exposure is right before you even hit the shutter. You are a photographer, not a zombie in front of a computer (hey if you like the computer time, good for you. I don’t.)

Understanding the Light Triangle

Remember I said you will have your exposures right before you hit the shutter. Yeah its a thing. There is no guessing or even checking. You won’t need to. Maybe its just me, but I find it hard to believe that I am alone in this. When I shot digital, yes I shot in manual, I did NOT understand the light triangle well. Sure I knew I needed to shift my ISO in different lighting situations and I new what aperture and my shutter speed would do but I didn’t really understand how they all worked together. I mean I understood how to shift and change things when my image came out all white or complete darkness but I wouldn’t have been able to really break it down. Learning film opened my eyes to understanding the light triangle in a whole new light (pun intended). Not only that, but I can now walk into most situations and make an educated guess as to what my settings should be to have a properly exposed image. Yes I use a light meter on the regular and if you are looking to buy get the Sekonic L 358. The point is I can get away without it now, if I have to. I can take reading and adjust my camera without thinking if the number of people change or I want to play with movement or even shifting to a more back lit shot. With digital I was constantly guessing and checking the back of my camera. Can’t do that with film and I don’t need to. I now have a deep appreciation for the light triangle and understand it soooooo much better!

Color matching for the “film look”

Ok this might ruffle some feathers but oh well. There are a lot of people out there shooting digital and editing their images to look like film. Not a bad thing at all. BUT I also see a lot of people claiming that their digital looks like film when it in fact looks nothing like film. If you want your digital to look like film because you really love the colors and softness of film there ARE ways to emulate the look (best I have seen is the Cl1ck profiles). Buying the best preset or profile will not make your digital look like film alone. It will be close BUT in order for you to truly understand the colors and the look, I think you should shoot some film. Shooting film then color matching your digital will help you achieve the look that you are going for. If after some time you decide that you don’t want to shoot film any longer that is totally fine! But at least after spending some time with film scans alongside your digital you will have a really solid understanding of the “film look”.

Use of light and seeking good light

When shooting film light is EVERYTHING! I mean light is important when shooting digital but when you shoot film you HAVE to have good light. Shooting film you will learn how to find the good light and how to use the light to make your images look magical. You can’t just crank up the ISO and shoot into the dark with film. Your subjects have to be lit and lit well. You will learn to pay attention to how light is hitting your subject and the type of light you are shooting in. You can shoot in the middle of the day with film or evening or morning whatever. You will learn how to work with your subject and your light to make the image look good not matter what, even if that means hovering near windows or finding the only patch of shade near the barn. Like I have said before, you can shoot just about anywhere as long as the light is good.

Appreciate the old way of doing things

Clearly when shooting film you feel a little more connected to the past. There is something to be said for the nostalgia of picking up and old camera and loading it with a roll of film just like your parents or grandparents did.  There is something about the process and the anticipation and the lack of instant gratification that will make you appreciate the art of photography in a new way. One of my favorite things has been picking up an old camera for my moms past, dusting it off, loading a roll of film into it and shooting knowing that my uncle, or either of my grandparents (whom I never met) either shot it, or carried it, or cared for it at some point. Without film I would not have this connection to my my family’s past. Maybe your parents don’t have one laying around like my parents BUT you may find one in an antique story with a pretty magical story. Even if you don’t know that story you can feel that its there.

Well, friends, that mostly it. I think its important. And I think its valuable. Just consider learning it, even if it won’t be a permanent medium for you. Who knows, maybe you will fall in love like I did!

Want to learn more about film? Join my newsletter just for fellow photogs.

Leave a Reply