Dec 15, 2012

My Story with Film: Part 1

Switching to film has been a bit of a process for me, and not necessarily a quick one, taking the better part of a year. It has been a big change for me, but a good one. Without question, It has made me a better photographer and has helped me create a better product. Over the next couple of posts, I thought I would share a little bit of my story with making the switch and how it has changed my work for the better. Here's part one of my story.

I'm now a film photographer. Thinking back, it all started when I decided to purchase my first 35mm camera, a Leica M6, mainly as a novelty item. During the latter part of 2011, mainly just for fun, I started running a roll through the M6 on each engagement session that I shot. What eventually struck me was how much I enjoyed shooting that camera. It just felt right in my hands, and I found that I really wanted to shoot it more and more.  I was getting great results from the M6 so sometime during the early part of this year, I decided to really give film a chance. I made it a point to shoot the M6 right alongside my canon digital gear for pretty much everything I shot. Then, the big breakthrough happened. I discovered medium format film. Wow, did it change my thinking about film, digital, and photography in general. More on that in a bit.

Before I go any further, I want to point out that I do believe digital cameras truly showcase incredible technology and have a rightful place. They do some things better than film, and that is a simple fact. So in no way am I trying to say that I don't or that I won't shoot digital cameras. I still shoot my canon digital gear when the situation is right for it. I see no reason not to.

When I first started shooting medium format film, I very quickly became aware of how many redundant images I shot. With the particular setup I was shooting, I was limited to 16 shots per roll or 32 shots before having to reload. I was reloading way too often. Not only that, but at around $1 per frame, I became very aware of my bad habit. Sure, it was expensive, but the real problem with this approach is that I was shooting around what I wanted to get, instead of really focusing on making the picture that I had in mind. The typical routine would go something like this... I would set up a shot that I thought would be successful then shoot a lot of frames knowing that one or two, or more if I was lucky, would turn out. I think this a natural thing for most people with limited experience. The problem was I never really grew out of that. Because I could play it safe by taking so many pictures, I hadn't developed my skills as an artist to 'see' exactly what I wanted to shoot before clicking the shutter. In this way, shooting digital hindered my development as an artist because it facilitated, even encouraged my laziness. With film, it’s different. Because I know I have limited film capacity and that each click of the shutter is money out of my pocket, it encourages me to focus. Even more importantly, it encourages me to see. It's in this way that I know switching to film has made me a better photographer.

I think it's fitting to include one of my favorite quotes about photography, from one of the all-time greats,

"I have often thought that if photography were difficult in the true sense of the term -- meaning that the creation of a simple photograph would entail as much time and effort as the production of a good watercolor or etching -- there would be a vast improvement in total output. The sheer ease with which we can produce a superficial image often leads to creative disaster." - Ansel Adams

Ansel was right, and if he were with us today, I believe he would tell us something similar about the digital methods. It's not that they are bad; it's that they make it too easy. And with that I think I'll conclude the first post in this series. Next time, I'll talk some about the specific qualities of film that I like so much. 

Since it doesn't quite seem right to post without an image and this is a mostly personal post; here's one from the personal archives - shot on film. 

Maddox Sitting Up: Mamiya RZ 67ii | Tri-X

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