Why I Love Film Photography

Most film lovers remember the excitement of developing their own prints in their high school darkroom. The smell of fixer in the air and the warm glow of the red safety lights. I loved watching my images slowly emerge in the developer bath. Film photography was fun and the cameras I used were cheap and plastic. I never really considered shooting with film when I transitioned into professional photography. How silly would I look holding up a plastic Holga in front of a nicely dressed couple?

Not until I started seeing the work of really great artists like Jose Villa and Marta Locklear did I start to think about the benefits of film. The rich textures and soft coloring in their work is enough to make you melt and it convinced me to give film another look.

Even though I still shoot in digital, here are some reasons why film is where it’s at:

1) The Color

Marie Abernathey

Oh the colors…

It’s true what they say. The type of film you use is much more important than your choice of camera or lens. I prefer Kodak Porta 400 or Fuji 400h. The skin tones in these two films are soft and peachy while the greens are muted and lovely. Many software programs try to emulate the coloring of film and although they come close, they can’t quite match it. Digital is jealous of film and for good reason. Look at those tones!

2) The Exposure

Cedar Point

This is probably the most important difference between film and digital. There is no such thing as blown out highlights in the world of film. Our digital camera sensors have a hard time with high-contrast image processing and it’s all too easy to mess up exposures. But with film, the more light hitting it, the more the light glows and wraps around objects. It’s pure magic.

Although this image doesn’t have the best composition, I wanted to showcase how the light works when shooting almost directly into the sun. The shadows are still intact and the coloring in the sky is smooth and soft. With digital, this image would have been ruined or would have required a lot of post-production adjustments to get the highlights and shadows balanced. And when you never have to worry about blown out highlights, you can expose for the shadows or the darkest parts of the image and be confident that the image will come out how you want.

3) The Texture

peaches

This is where it’s at for a lot of film fans. The grain and ethereal texture of film is just spectacular. It cannot be beat. Even on the smoothest of images, you’ll still see a hint of grain. Had this photo been taken with a digital camera, it would seem more like one of those photos crime-scene investigators snap.  “Yup, it’s a peach.” But with film, everything becomes a richly-textured subject. Yum.

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I could really go on about how much I love film photography, but I’d be here all day. My advice for those looking to get into this, start out with 35mm film. Break out your old Canon AE-1 and get a hand-held light meter. You don’t need a Contax 645 like the best of the pros out there, unless you have a few spare Gs sitting around. The envious look of film is in the film itself, not the camera. If you want to shoot in medium-format, get a Mamiya 645 pro. Just remember to invest in good film and use a reliable lab like Indie Film Lab or The Find Lab. Happy shooting!

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