As it becomes less and less common for people to shoot film photographs, I find in talking with people that a lot of what I really enjoy about shooting film is why many people don’t shoot film anymore. It has gotten me thinking more concretely about why I like it, and what I get out of it that makes it worthwhile for me.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to have a digital SLR. It’s great to have one to be able to take A LOT of photos for practice, for developing an eye for things and an aesthetic and also for more documentary-type projects where you may have to take a very large number of photos to get the ones you want. I like many of the images I take with my digital SLR, and it’s a really useful tool to me as well.
But the things I really like about film are these:
- There is no instant gratification. You have to wait until you’ve shot the whole roll, and processed it before you get to see any of the photos. This means that when I get the film back from processing, I often don’t remember exactly what was on it, and I get to discover it all over again. My wife loves watching this process, as I get excited over shots I remember taking as I’m scanning the film.
- Another result of there being no instant gratification is that I can’t stop after each photo and check the shot I just took. This, I think, has helped me both to develop an intuition about my shots, and also a confidence in myself, because the only way I know if I took a good photo or not is the knowledge that I am capable of taking a good photo, and capable of judging, based on the factors involved, whether what I just snapped will look something like what I hope for. I don’t have the ability to stop and second-guess myself after each photo and delete and re-do ad infinitum.
- I’m a sensual person, in the sense that I enjoy indulging in all my senses. For instance, one of the reasons I love cooking at home is not only that you get to eat delicious food, but you get to smell it cooking, taste it along the way, you get to handle nice cook-wear, which feels good in your hands, and you get to handle the food items, which all have different textures, smells, etc. So, a physical medium like camera film that requires tactile interaction holds interest for me.
- I like mechanical objects. There is an immediacy to a typewriter, a bicycle, or a film camera that isn’t there with a computer, a car, or a digital camera. You can just pick them up and start using them. No turning them on, figuring out the right mode to set it in, how to log in, find the right thing to run, just pick it up and it’s ready to do what you want it to do. It’s not that computers, cars and digital cameras aren’t useful for the versatility they bring, but I feel more directly connected to simpler things.
- Discovering that taking good photos is not dependent on having the latest, best gear. I have loved some of the photos taken on my dad’s relatively cheap 35mm SLR from the 1960’s, and from my 1950’s Yashica-A that is really nothing but a box with a lens, shutter, and a knob for turning the film. The quality of the photos is more dependent on the creativity of the person using the tool, rather than having the best, newest, high-class tool. Also, discovering that there was some incredibly good camera gear made pre-digital, that can be acquired relatively very cheaply now.
- It’s a result of the current era, and a minor reason for liking shooting film, but as people are switching to digital, they’re dumping old film and film gear, and I have gotten some very nice cameras and lenses for free or very cheap, because the person simply didn’t want them anymore and felt they were useless. In fact, I’ve probably spent a total of about $300-$400 on four film cameras and 6-7 lenses. Considering that it’s unusual to find a single new lens that is high quality for that much, it’s been an easy-in to photography for me. The cost of processing film might add up over time, but to me, the occasional $15-20 to develop a few rolls of film is easier to fit into the budget than the up-front cost for a $1,000+ camera body, and several lenses that are $400-$800 each, and then getting into the interminable cycle of new camera technology and feeling like you have to keep upgrading.
Anyway, just some thoughts I’ve had about why I, personally, enjoy shooting film. I don’t know if that will be interesting for anyone, but there you have it :)