On Film Photography

HS501-0040-KODAK EKTAR 100-05

Photo by Chris Howard (页 景 on flickr, photo above links to same photo on flickr) – Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs Creative Commons

Lately, I’ve been thinking about getting back into shooting on film again.  I’ve looked through people’s film photos on flickr, and I’ve enjoyed what I have seen.  I’m particularly keen on Kodak film.  There are two main types of film Kodak makes that I’m interested in using, that being Ektar and Portra. (You’ll see an example above of a shot I found on flickr from some Ektar film. It’s not my photo, by the way.)

The last time I shot with film was around 2010 or so.  I think the film might have been left over from my photography class, in which I may have used some film (I can’t remember for sure).  It was some Kodak T-Max, and I used a bunch of it in my beginning photography class.  We had to develop and make prints from the film ourselves.  Considering all the film I used, I could probably get back into processing the T-Max without too much trouble.  Major downside: no monetary compensation on buying the film and paper.  It doesn’t come cheap either, with the film around $5, and paper priced higher, I’m just glad I didn’t have the extra cost of hiring out a lab to process everything (mo’ money, mo’ problems).

One point of the class was to teach darkroom process, which was cool.  One thing about processing my film was that I probably wasn’t doing it as well as I could, because I suspect the film wasn’t turning out as ideally as it should.  For instance, the temperature of the water wasn’t as easily controlled.  It’s affected mostly by whether or not the sun was out to warm the pipes, how the weather was that day, and what season it was.  Fortunately there were thermometers handy to check it out.  Nowadays I’m fine not handling film myself, sending it off to some lab to get it processed.  I’m more inclined to scan the film and work on it digitally than I would if I were making a print directly from the film.  It’s just more chemistry I’d rather not deal with.

One of the big reasons why I want to get back into shooting film is because it’s a good way for me to be more of a technical photographer.  It gets me back to thinking about what settings I should use, and all that kind of thing.  I find it works especially well when using a manual only camera.  I think it’s good, on occasion, to shoot film to remind me of what came before, to remind me that people had to shoot on film all the time, and so couldn’t check right away to see if what they just shot was wrong, like we do with digital.  Basically, film is one of my exercises so that I’m more careful and thoughtful when photographing.  Although one way to make sure I have a good photo is bracketing; exposure bracketing, focus bracketing, aperture bracketing, so on.  Then again, that’s only if you have a bunch of film to use, and often, we only have a couple rolls to work with.  Basically, you should know your exposure is good before you pull the shutter.

I merely see film as something I’ll use on occasion to help my photography.  Digital is far better than film by now, and has been for some time.  The lenses are better than they were 30 years ago, the sensors can pick up as much or more detail than film, we can shoot in lower light than we could with film.  Everything about digital is better.  There’s no reason not to shoot digital anymore.  I could go on a long rant about this, but I’ll save us all the trouble by not doing so.  But I will say this one thing: I’m not one of those pretentious snobs who thinks film is better.  This post has gotten too long as it is, so I’ll end right here.

Your photography friend,


5 responses to “On Film Photography

  1. You’re making very good points about why the digital option might be superior in what in can deliver, especially for commercial photography, but the difference what film and digital photographers seek to accomplish might be an apple to orange type of comparison. The best example of the point I’m trying to make is how new technologies like Instagram are trying to imitate old technology, film photography. I have equal respect for both orientations, as long as you don’t go crazy with Photoshop, especially with the Image>Highlight\Shadow adjustments.

    • Part of what makes old photographs look the way they do is part of the aging process of the print/film. With digital, you have the option to make it look like old film photos, and it’s exactly that: an OPTION. With film, you have to deal with whatever the film stock gives you, and you’d be hard pressed to fix any mistakes related to that. It’s much quicker and easier to fix things like white balance in digital than it is in film, but that’s no reason we should get lazy when taking and making photos.

      So in all, I see film as a way for photographers to get thinking more about how they go about making photographs, to get them thinking like technicians when photographing, to get them to think about if something is really what they want to photograph (since there are a limited number of exposures). That’s where I’m going with this post. So as I see it, film today is more handy as an experience for the things I just listed, and digital provides the quality and options we look for nowadays. There’s no “might be superior”. Digital is definitely better in all applications, not just commercial photography. I see this not as an apple to orange situation, but a Red Delicious vs Golden Delicious apple situation.

      PS: the idea of new technologies imitating old ones has been around since photography was still considered a “new” thing. In this case, I’d recommend you look up Pictorialism.

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