Originally Published May 15th, 2018
I never went to photography school. I did shop for cameras during my psychology lectures, but I have no formal training. Lots of photography students start out by shooting film—for good reason. If you’re like me and you jumped into photography with a digital camera, consider shooting a couple rolls of film. Here’s why:
Every photo costs money.
Something amazing happens when you put a dollar amount on each photo that you take—you actually think before pressing the shutter. Want to improve your photography? Pause and think before you take a photo. You’ll find yourself asking questions like:
- Is this photo even worth taking?
- How can I make something mundane seem interesting?
- What sort of light am I working with?
- Is my subject overexposed? Underexposed?
- Do I want to pay a dollar for a picture of this cheeseburger?
- What if I change my composition in order to crop out that trashcan?
With digital cameras, it’s easy to switch on auto and rapid fire 350 photos of everything from your breakfast burrito to that “stunning sunset in the Walmart parking lot”. Shooting film will make you hesitate, take a step back, and evaluate the situation. It may take 3 weeks to shoot 24 frames—but that’s a good thing.
You get more keepers.
This goes along with my last point. When you spend more time thinking about each shot, you tend to get more keepers. This is a great skill to learn.
You realize that you actually suck as a photographer.
When I immerse myself in the craft of film photography—I gain a new perspective on what it must have been like for Dorothy Lange, Vivian Maier, Elliot Erwitt, or Larry Fink. These pioneers of photography didn’t have the luxury of autofocus or LCD screens. Think about that for a second and you realize the discipline these people had; the focus, the tenacity—the genius. Then you go through a month long depressive state comparing yourself to photographers from 60 years ago. Ok, maybe you don’t—but I do.
Shooting film will make you realize that we’re spoiled as modern photographers. Digital cameras are cheap. Heck, most of us have one in our back-pocket. The camera phone you carry in your skinny jeans has more features than Vivian Maier’s Rolleiflex. Strip away all the apps, filters, editing—just focus on the craft of capturing moments.
WTF is manual mode?
Do yourself a favor—buy a manual film camera and shoot a couple rolls of film. You’ll learn things like:
- Shutter Speed
- How to manually focus your lens (wait, manually focus?)
I meet a lot of photographers who’ve never shot in manual mode. Granted, there are some digital cameras that don’t offer a manual option. But the vast majority of film cameras are manual cameras—that’s what photographers used to do—shoot manual. They didn’t rely on “Night Time Mode”, “Sport Mode”, or “Artsy-Fartsy Mode” (I made that last one up).
I’m not saying you’re a bad photographer if you don’t shoot manual. I’m saying you can dramatically increase your photography skills by learning and understanding shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These are key terms in the world of photography—my advice is to learn them and master them. Shooting a manual film camera will help you.
Film is an adventure!
You’re at a garage sale, digging through an old box of underwear when you discover a heavy metal vintage camera (not the band, an actual camera). It sets you back 5 bills ($5). You google it, find out that you can no longer buy the proper batteries in stores—but they sell them on Amazon! Score Amazon! You buy the right film type on Amazon too! Yay Amazon!
You search youtube for how to load the film. You load the film correctly—well you think, maybe, you’re not sure. You go outside and take some photos of your dog pooping. You take some photos of old buildings that nobody cares about. You get really artistic with a sunset. Before you know it, you’ve finished the roll.
After waiting a week for the film to be processed, you’re surprised to find that twenty of the twenty four frames turned out—the other four are just blank. Five of the twenty are worth sharing on facebook! Score! The other ones are too blurry, off center, stupid, or “didn’t match your sunset vision”.
There you have it, you’ve resurrected an old camera and shot a roll of film. Isn’t that amazing? Seriously—think about it. Isn’t it amazing that someone thought of a way to capture light onto a piece of film? Isn’t it amazing that as humans, we have the ability to stop time. We can capture a single moment—a fraction of a second. It’s like magic! It’s like a superpower! It blows my mind!
Weather you’re stopping time with a film or a digital camera, make it an adventure and do it with wonder—you’re bound to create images that matter.