Shooting on film seems like a ridiculous thing to do, I know that. It’s unpredictable, inconvenient, expensive and restrictive. But what I’ve learned in the short time I’ve been shooting analogue is that these are the very things that also make it compelling, addictive, joyful and life-enhancing.
Embracing analogue photography has surpassed all of my expectations and its effects have been more far reaching than just enabling me to get better at photography. Rather than just switching to a different format of camera, I seem to have switched to a different way of living. I have regained some much needed balance in my life and changed my relationship with my phone and with photography forever. Here are six reasons why.
1. It helps you be more present
Being unable to access and share images immediately has helped me finally break the ‘insta’ of Instagram and the compulsion to share my experiences in real time. In fact I’ve rather daringly taken trips recently that I haven’t mentioned on instagram at all! I now share my photos days or even weeks after I’ve taken them, leaving me to enjoy being with my friends and family in real time, in real life. It’s helped me gain some precious distance from my hyper-connected, online life.
Because buying film and having it developed costs actual money, I am far more judicious about the photographs I take and have left behind my digital trigger-happy ways. I rarely take more than one image of a subject and I don’t waste precious exposures on a memory I have no wish to treasure. As the amount of time I spend taking photographs reduces, the enjoyment I feel in being present in each moment soars.
It’s quite marvellous to hold a roll of film in your hand and know that that little object contains some of your precious memories. I’ve rediscovered the joy of sending my rolls away to be developed and the delicious anticipation of waiting for them to be returned. Somehow waiting patiently (or impatiently) makes the results of my endeavours more meaningful and having the opportunity to lose myself in my memories weeks after I’ve returned home is a welcome distraction from the stresses of daily life.
2. It encourages you to hold things more lightly
At first it’s odd to not be able to see the image you’ve taken immediately displayed on the screen of your camera, but once you’re used to it it’s wonderfully liberating. No fretting, no fussing, no re-taking of the image, no deleting. My experience so far has been that around two thirds of my images are ‘good’ and about half of those I love. This attrition rate is far more marked than with a digital camera where one can just delete the unwanted shots.
If an image turns out well, then great. If it doesn’t, then there really is nothing I can do about it, I can’t very well go back and retake it. This indisputable fact has done so much to remove the stress of photography for me. I have no choice but to hold it lightly and let unsuccessful images go. It’s actually been really nice to return to the days of having just a handful of great images to record a holiday or event rather than hundreds of assorted quality ones.
3. Mistakes become magical surprises and you will discover new, enchanting worlds
The first holiday I shot on film was in November in the Outer Hebrides. When I got the scans back on returning home, I was crushed. I was so used to the way digital photography creates reliable records of my adventures that I was sorely disappointed and upset that my images bore little resemblance to the pictures in my head. Some of my images were under exposed, some over, the colour renderings, the light leaks, the double exposures had conspired to create unreliable witnesses. I was distraught and thought that probably my experiment with film was over.
On Lauren’s advice, I closed the files and didn’t look at them again for a few days, resisting the urge to just delete them. But when I reopened them something incredible unfolded before my eyes – wonderful, magical perfect little worlds like scenes from little story books. Miniature, complete worlds that I wanted to dive into and explore. Light leaks became enchanting messages from the sky, overexposures added an ethereal, heavenly quality and underexposures added soporific atmosphere. Double exposures are still, to me, an unfathomable form of magic and the graininess added a sense of quietude and timelessness.
It was at this point that it ‘clicked’ and I finally understood the secret draw of film photography. I realised that my camera and I don’t see the world in quite the same way and that this dissonance is where the enchantment lives. My film images have a sense of dimension that, for me, just isn’t possible with digital photography and once I’d seen that I knew there was to be no going back. I was hooked.
4. The joy of mechanical pursuits
In this modern age, everything seems to run on electricity. Technological advancements seek to separate us from task and process, often helpfully, but there is still real, unbridled joy to be found in using mechanical tools.
I have felt this with operating locks on canal boat holidays, on using a pedal sewing machine and even a ratchet screwdriver. There’s something about these manual tasks that allows us to enter states of deep work and use our brains and our hands in different ways. Using mechanical objects is unendingly satisfying and quiet and can give us a real respite from the relentlessness of modern life.
5. Shooting on manual is easy with film
Shooting manual is very simple. Whilst I’ve understood intellectually for some time how the exposure triangle works, I’ve struggled to get good results in practice with my DSLR.
The sheer number of possible combinations of aperture, shutter speed and ISO on modern cameras makes it impenetrable to me. In contrast, on my old Pentax the ISO is set by the film and the shutter speed and aperture are in full increments and so the number of possibly combinations are greatly reduced. Using a simple, mechanical camera has cemented my knowledge of exposure in a way my DSLR never could. I’m now totally comfortable shooting manual.
6. It lightens workflow
I am the sort of person who feels desperately overwhelmed by unanswered emails, unread notifications, piles of paperwork and other things that need sorting though. My phone’s bulging camera roll distresses me greatly, but I lack the energy to sort, edit, store and delete the thousands of images squatting there.
For this reason shooting on film has been a revelation. An email arrives, I download a handful of folders, one for each roll, each folder containing a maximum of thirty-six images. I simple load the folders into Lightroom, flag the images I love, and it’s done. I know this may sound like a rather pedestrian benefit, but I can’t overemphasis the difference this has made to my stress levels when I trying to write a blog post or website page on a deadline.
There are many, many other reasons I could mention for why I have fallen in love with shooting on film, such as the lack of editing required, the removal of the need for filters, from how taking fewer photographs has given me the space to create little videos again. The list goes on. Eschewing my iPhone and DSLR for the joys of a twenty five year old simple film camera might have felt at first like a ridiculous thing to do, but for me it’s been one of the most joyful things I’ve ever done.
If you are looking for a new creative adventure for 2020, you might like my e-course, Enchanting Analogue.
Shooting without a light meter is a great way to experiment with light, to boost your confidence and help you reduce the amount of kit you need to carry with you. Here’s how to do it.
As part of writing Enchanting Analogue, the film shooting course I’ve created with Lauren Keim, I have given a lot of thought to how film is kinder with our mistakes and how it throws us some magical surprises to encourage us and help us along our journey.