Shoot with “Film”


"Beach Stump"

I shoot far more in digital than I ever shot in film. Some of this had to do with impatience. I wanted to know when I’d gotten it right, whether in terms of composition or exposure, and what I’d need to do to fix it. It never helped matters much that the time between shooting a roll of film and then actually remembering to get it developed, then actually having it developed, could end up being long enough that I’d forget what I’d done to get those shots; worse still, shooting film on an automatic compact left you with no clue at all how you’d gotten the exposure, for better or worse.

The thing is, regardless of the type of kit you’re using, you don’t have ongoing processing costs to see your results, nor do you have the wait time that’s associated with film processing. It’s no longer a matter of buying film (sometimes a few different types, of different ISO ratings, or even with different white balances), shooting, waiting for the film to be processed, and only then realizing which shots are your keepers. Now, all you really need to do is check your shots as you’re taking them, and make adjustments to your settings on the fly. It’s easy to take a hundred or more shots in the course of a day without giving it so much as a second thought.

Give it that second thought.

Next time you’re shooting, assign yourself a number of “rolls” you’re carrying with you (and no fair saying you’ve got fifty of them, either; choose a low number like three or four), with a set number of shots per roll (multiples of 24 or 36, unless you can’t be bothered to do the math, in which case limit yourself to two rolls with 25 shots apiece, or 50 photos). You can even take it a step further, and make yourself stop every 25 frames or so. Pause, reflect, recharge, and then start again with a clear head, and eyes open. Find a happy medium, of course. I’m not about to ask you to act as though you’re shooting in the days of box cameras and glass plates, and limiting you to one shot (though the results of that could be interesting; let’s try it sometime, shall we?).

It can be challenging, as is anything that requires us to try on a new way of thinking about something we may have done up to now mostly out of habit. You may find yourself questioning shots where you wouldn’t have before (do I take this shot, or do I wait, lest I “run out” of shots before I’ve run out of time?). But it just might be a good poke with a sharp stick in case you needed something to shake up the how and why of your photography.

This should be something you try more than once, and if you’re going to do it on a fairly regular basis, challenge yourself by limiting the number of “rolls”  or exposures you’ve got just a little further each time. This isn’t something you need to do every time you shoot, but it’s a useful exercise from time to time to help you be a bit more mindful not only of what you’re shooting, but why you’re shooting it. If you’re only “allowed” 100, or 50, or 25 shots, you’re going to be a lot more careful than you might’ve been otherwise. Once the habit’s built up, it’s a lot easier to carry over into your approach to everyday shooting, keeping you on your toes, and making you shoot more thoughtfully.

I know a lot of the arguments for shooting with film rather than digital, and the more time passes, most of the arguments against digital have fallen by the wayside. Cost has come down to the point where an average consumer can afford the average DSLR, sensor resolution and color depth has improved to a point where the image quality is practically indistinguishable, and even the control given over the final result in the darkroom has been preserved, if not surpassed, with digital workflow. The one argument that digital hasn’t rebutted (and might never manage to) is patience. It’s useful to remember that the mindset where we want it all from our gear, immediately or sooner, didn’t come in the box with the camera. It comes from us; it’s something to which we’ve been conditioned both by culture and by technology. But it’s a choice, and a learned behavior, something that we can unlearn and replace with other choices, and other conditioning, if we choose to do so.