20 February 2012

Why shoot film?

I was thinking the other day that I could really improve my photography skills if I tried shooting film. It's a well-known technique in creativity to try doing things different ways to sharpen your mind.

There are some strong technical reasons to shoot film. Film is "high resolution". It has a distinctive look that will make you standout when 99% of the other people are shooting digital. It has a huge dynamic range, though that requires that you have the dark room skills to manipulate your prints. (You don't have to worry about blowing highlights or overexposed skies when you shoot film.)

Another good reason to shoot film is that you're viewed as a hobbyist and not a pro. This is especially helpful if you're doing street photography, you're shooting strangers, and you don't want people to freak out about you being some kind of creep.

I'm more interested in how shooting film makes you a better photographer. So I looked around the web to see what other people thought. One woman mentions that since you only have a roll of 24-36 exposures, you have to make every shot count. You work slowly and patiently and really think about your composition and exposure settings. The fact that each exposure is precious and risky is more like real life, living moment to moment.

Eric Kim says that most of his film shots look great without any processing. Imagine all the perfectionist angst you'll avoid if you have to wait for your film to be developed and have no control over the development (assuming that you send your film to a lab and don't develop prints yourself.) You don't sit in front of the computer all day long. Eric says that the wait helps him look at his photos for objectively rather than get caught up in the emotions of the moment (which happens when you are chimping off the back of your digital SLR). You also appreciate your mistakes more. You find the beauty in incorrectly exposed shots.

Some more reasons: If you get a manual exposure, manual focus camera, you'll learn a lot more about photography. Learning how to focus manually is very handy, even for digital shooting. My friend, who used to be a pro photographer, told me that when he shoots sports, he always uses manual focus because he can get better results than the AF. Digital photos have this perfectionist, sterile look to them, whereas film has an inherent feeling of chaos, which is unique.

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