I was thinking about the deeper ramifications of shooting film and today picked up some prints and a few things became clear…. So here is my own personal reasoning & motivation for shooting film….
And don’t get me wrong, I love digital and still shoot with it – I am not a luddite and tend to disengage when people start debating as though it is an either/or issue. The key in any creative endeavour is to learn & use all the tools and then use whatever best suits the individual project…
For me, there are a series of discrete moments of joy associated with shooting film:
1. Taking/making the photo
After observing my use, I have come to the conclusion that shooting film means I take less, but better photos. And frankly that is my creative modus operandi/aim in life: less, but better (borrowed/inspired by Dieter Rams amongst many, many other clever creative artists, film makers, photographers, musicians and people)
This is an important and profound difference to how I shoot digital. With digital I take a lot of photos. I tend to rapidly spray a location with photos, stopping to chimp at the tiny LCD screen occasionally & then shoot more… and more… And I only feel committed to a photo when I slow down my process and work harder eg shooting long exposures where each photo might take 2+ minutes.
Creatively film feels like an important progression – think/feel it more, work harder to find the photo and commit to it. This difference is also summed up perfectly by this image:
2. Getting photos back from the lab
This is the moment of truth – did I mess up? how does reality match my memory?
The first film camera I bought, failed me – I shot a test roll and it came back blank i.e. the film did not engage. After I recovered from the disappointment I came to the conclusion I would not be using that camera ever again. And it was only when I had researched enough to choose a better film camera which verified film loading & advance, that I felt confident enough to proceed further. But I still had butterflies in my stomach when I went to the lab to pick up my first test film from my second, better camera…
Most labs provide scans, so I am seeing my film photos in a digital form but unlike the use of emulation, actual film scans to me feel far more truthful. A few digital cameras I have owned have options of film emulation built in, but I have never used them… And nothing makes me cringe more than the digital fanboys who consider film a waste of time as ‘it can be done in Photoshop’ without appreciating that word ‘can’. I can also become an astronaut, that is not an achievement. It is not that you ‘can’ do something – it is whether you actually do it, or not.
Choosing a film stock to shoot on is not an accident, it takes experimentation and experience. Instantly flicking through filters in Photoshop or Lightroom does not compare – technically it does not compare but far, far more important it does not compare creatively or aesthetically. If its so easy to change, and undo, just how committed to it are you? Maybe not at all, maybe profoundly, maybe a whim, maybe not. But it does not compare with the moment of truth when you first see scans of film you have shot, and the feeling you get from the particular rendering of a film stock. It really is alchemy!
Going back to that test roll on my second film camera (Contax T2) this was what I saw when I nervously opened the package:
To say I was overjoyed is an understatement. Not only did the photos come out, they looked fantastic! And in that moment I instantly started to learn about film stock – look at how Ektar renders the blues and greens! Wow! As I drove home I started to reflect on this feeling I was having – I searched my memory of shooting digital for the previous ten years, to find a memory of similar magnitude, and I could not find one. Could the challenge of film be more personally rewarding than digital? For me, it sure is.
3. Seeing prints
I have come to learn this is the ultimate delayed gratification. Having sucessfully shot film, had it developed and selected the best shots, getting it printed is a joy! For example 2 days ago I finished doing outputs from my recent road trip North (digital shots ex drone and 5D3) and I also output a selection of film scans and sent them to the printers – I have been using INK in Wellington and highly reccomend them. Today at lunchtime I raced into the city and picked up my prints – again the butterflies…
Again the excitement and again the gratification…
I am slowly & very deliberately now working towards a book release, and am very excited to have a publisher onboard… And seeing my photos as prints is really a major step towards that goal, especially compared with the many years of folders full of digital photos on my hard drive and screen….
At a request from a local I also got an A0 print made of a stitched drone panoramic photo Little Planet of Plimmerton – you may have seen it before as I have posted a screen rez version…. But it is quite something to see it printed from the high rez source file to a print over 1m across! (LP for scale)
4. Progressing past instant gratification
At times social media can feel like a self referential instant gratification feedback loop, and to a lesser degree so does shooting digital. I think the cult of Instagram etc may actually be quite damaging for creative development. How do all those likes and follows affect your work? If you post a dozen photos and one of them gets 99% of the attention, consciously or unconsciously you are effected by that result: perhaps next time you will try to shoot more of that supposedly successful photo… But why? What is the goal of your photo taking? Likes on Instagram? or something deeper?
For me, striving for less, but better is one aspect of my creative output. Another is striving to create work that has deep and lasting meaning. Not just this week and forgotten, but in years to come…. Film helps me break that cycle of instant gratification, and I strongly believe I am the better off for it.
I will still shoot digital as well… And I will still post photos to Instagram, FB, Twitter etc…
But my best work, you will not see immediately, or even soon…
because I am busy making less, but better