Shoot Film

In my camera bag are two Nikon D750’s, a Nikon F100, and a 50-year-old Minolta SRT101. If you don’t recognize the last two, they are 35mm film cameras. Yes, despite the time and cost, I still like to shoot 35mm. And no I do not own a Hasselblad 500c or a Rolleiflex (although that would be nice). I just don’t have a means for them to create income or reason to say look at me I’m a vintage hipster. Call me practical.

I’ll admit I’ve lost some of my passion for digital photography. Using Nikon D750’s, I’m almost convinced you can’t totally screw up a photo. You can blow the technical aspects of exposure by a handful of stops, shoot the wrong white balance, and still end up with a great image in the end. Even if there’s motion blur or the focus is slightly off it’s still considered art and you're ok, right? When in doubt make it black and white and call it creative?

What you consider is a good image isn’t always what consumers consider a good image, and vice-a-versa. I had to stop looking at semi-professional photographer's work on Facebook. I’ve seen so many images that are so far off from being technically or aesthetically correct with 20 comments from friends and family saying it’s a great picture. But hey, I was there too once, and those comments encouraged me to keep going. So who am I to burst someone's bubble? I look back at my work from 13 years ago and don’t know how I called myself a professional. I wish all I did was educate photographers who want to go pro. I want to setup a Facebook account that I can use just to comment on their photos and give them the honest truth but tell them why. That’s the answer that every comment is missing: Why? But is there a standard for art? I’ve seen plenty of photographs hanging on museum walls that shouldn’t be there in my opinion. But it’s there because of the opinion of others. That’s art.

Do I begin talking about how digital photography changed our industry for the better and worse? That’s too long of a story that gives too much room for bitter conversations. I left some links at the end.

Now just about everyone starts off shooting digital. I would love to take the spray and pray photographer and hand them a film camera. Take away the "one of those will work,” “fix it in Photoshop” mentality. I encourage every digital photographer to shoot film on the side. I remember when I picked up the Minolta 35mm camera and shot film for the first time in 15 years. It blew my mind. It’s a lesson in metering, timing, and waiting for the right shot because every frame on that roll of film seems to count 1000 times more than 50 frames of digital. You shoot one frame per second, if you’re fast enough, instead of 8-12. My favorite part is you get to live in the moment more because you’re not looking at the back of your camera to see if you got the shot. Besides thinking about how many shots you have left on the roll, you think in dollars every time you press that shutter. I was blown away by how much more I cherished that printed (gasp, I said printed) image. Is it the nostalgia of growing up with film, remembering my childhood in photo albums that had pages covered in plastic. Is it because the overall process of capturing the image took more thought than digital? Is it the craft of developing the film? Whatever it is, it’s what’s missing in digital.

We are now the lab. I know most of us die a little on the inside when we spend many hours "developing” 1000 images ourselves in Lightroom. I’m sure some of you have Lightroom presets that make your digital images look like film. I know plenty of photographers that make their digital images look like film for the overall look and feel of their work. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not my thing. Digital images with film presets have gotten so close in the way they look to actual fillm it becomes hard to tell which is which. I usually pick them out based on clarity, color hues, and dynamic range. But with all of these fads, or should I call them presets that cover up bad photography, whatever happened to consumers liking a good clean image that's level with the horizon and has proper color? The amazing thing about film is that when I get the images back from the lab, I don’t have any editing to do. Mind blown. Kind of like sending your RAW to ShootDotEdit to do all the work. With film, it may take a week or two to get the images, not knowing what I’m getting back or remembering what I shot, but it is so worth the wait it’s hard to explain.

Maybe we can blame our smartphones, Facebook, and Instagram for making photography so easy, and applying “creative” filters to get the image to feel the way you see it. Anyone in our industry will tell you how much photography has been devalued. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important, and that “ok” photography should be acceptable. If you want to really learn photography and add value to it, then make it hard again. Make your brain think about the shot before you hit the shutter. Make it hard for consumers to be ok with mediocre.  Shoot film.

Other good reads:

Death of Photography

Mike Yost: The Most Photographed Generation Will Have No Pictures in 10 Years! 

Richard EspositoComment