3 Things I have Re-Learned Shooting Film

Having shot film for years, the move to digital changed the game. Now that I am back to shooting film, I am finding myself re-learning the lessons film taught me so many years back.

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This is a follow-up article to my previous article, 3 Excellent Reasons I Shoot Film.

The first article was a general description of three reasons why I now shoot film. They included reasons such as shooting film really is different from shoot digital, I have learned to look for tones rather than color and light, and I look for different subjects than I do when I shoot digital.

Shooting film, however, is a different experience with different outcomes, at least for me when I shoot.

But this article is more of what things have I learned shooting black and white film that are different from shooting digital. And so, on to the lessons I have learned thus far shooting film.

Lesson One: Bracket, bracket, and bracket

Yea, bracket your exposures.

I know, I just opened up a can of worms with some decrying high dynamic range (HDR) photographs with neon colors and gritty contrast.

But that is not the reason why one brackets when shooting film.

The reason is development. I have lost a number of rolls of film either by not correctly timing the developing stage (got the wrong temp), or by using developer that has oxidized enough to not develop my film as it should have, or even having the film float at the top of the tank so it isn’t completely covered by the developer.

These are just some of the mishaps that have occurred that one encounters when developing film.

Another photographer, an old photojournalist who has been shooting film for over 50 years, asked me why I didn’t bracket my photos.

I did a palm smack against my forehead. I suddenly remembered that I used to bracket exposures years ago, it was an insurance plan of sorts.

By shooting your subject properly exposed, and then under and over exposing by a stop will allow you to compensate for under or over developing your film due to either incorrect time or temp, or mostly oxidized developer.

At least one of the set is most likely going to come out the other side of the developing process in a usable condition. This is better than not having anything on your negative that you can use!

Lesson Two: Printing is not as easy as just pressing the button “Print”

In the digital world, once you have your paper and inks color profiled, printing is just a matter of pressing a button. You get consistency.

In the dark room you can get consistency too.

If you take copious notes that is.

If not, then it becomes constant trial and error until you achieve the print you want.

First of all, printing is a process in the darkroom.

Canon EOS A2

My Canon EOS A2 film camera, circa 1987.

 

Yea, it is a “dark” room, as in no lights.

Oh there may be some red lights, but they really don’t help much. Especially if you are going in and out of the dark room to evaluate your prints. Your eyes are constantly adjusting to the darkness, then the light. Augh!

Secondly, try setting up the enlarger in a darkroom, and working on test exposures. It isn’t as easy as it sounds. You eventually get the hang of it, but like film, you have to work at it and wait to see what the results are. Very unlike the digital world!

But, when you get a great print, you get a great print! You record the F-stop of the lens and time and you are good to go. If you use any contrast filters, you need to record that as well.

And then there is dodging and burning. Yea, it isn’t quite like dodging and burning in Photoshop. It is a process, and it takes a long time until you get the print you are looking for. And more note taking to remind yourself how many seconds of exposure you used to dodge or burn areas of the print.

I now understand why Ansel Adams took so many notes on how to develop his prints. There is a lot to it, and it truly is an art!

Lesson Three: Everything takes time!

Not only is printing a process, but taking the photograph is a process as well.

The concept of spray and pray doesn’t work with film. I even have a film winder and it still doesn’t work.

At three exposures per second it doesn’t take long to go through a roll of film. About 4 seconds for a 12 exposure roll. Then you change your roll and oops, your subject is long gone.

It seems that working with film, developing film, and making prints is a very time consuming process, and it is a process designed to slow you down and allows you time to think and ponder options.

And this is what most of us who are photographers love about film.

Unlike digital, where I can have immediate feedback, in the film world I first need to take the shot. Then I need to develop the roll. If I developed the roll properly, then I have a negative that I can create a print from. And the process of making a print takes time.

The whole process just takes time. And in the process, it slows you down and your photography becomes more deliberate.

Your photography becomes more succinct.

It becomes more perfected.

And the results can be wonderful!

In closing

For those who are thinking about film photography, go for it. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

I have noticed a difference in my approach to digital. After years of developing bad habits, I have become more deliberate, more discriminating in what I shoot and I have noticed that the total number of shots I have taken has fallen off dramatically.

But I have also noticed that I have more keepers, and my photographs are more focused and simpler.

And this is a good thing, and I am grateful.

So if you are considering film, in the words of Nike, “Just do it!”

If you are a photographer who is also shooting film, I’d love to hear your experiences of the medium. I know that it has brought back to me clearly the reason I first took up photography. And as difficult and time consuming film and printing is, the rewards are such that I keep doing it. Again and again!

If you want to share, drop us all a line in the comments below and I’d be happy to share your responses to everyone else!

Happy shooting!

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