My first year of shooting film Part 12
A year ago I posted my first guest post on this website, and I thought that this one-year anniversary called for a recap, a moment of contemplation to investigate where I stand now with respect to film.
I started with a simple and cheap camera, the Minolta Hi-matic 7S. I did get some nice results with it, my favourite is the one below which I shot on Fuji Superia in the Peak District.
Mainly because of the dim viewfinder I traded it for an Olympus 35 SP, and I also started with black and white. It took me some time to get used to the look, I remember being rather disappointed with this next photo, the first photo I ever took on Tri-X, but I still like it today.
I have to admit that I quickly grew impatient after this. I wanted to see how my Leica lenses would work with film, so for my birthday in November my loving and supporting man bought me a M2. The largest part of the 40 rolls I shot (give or take) have been shot with this M2 combined with my vintage Summilux 50mm (95%) or my modern Summicron 35mm ASPH. With that setup there is nowhere to hide, can’t do much better than that so every failed photo is a failure of myself. I was ready to shoot and learn!
So far I have really enjoyed shooting film, but I still find it difficult to describe what it is that I like. And besides that, I didn’t quit digital photography, and I am not going to any time soon. But more on that later.
What I do like about film is the anticipation, the waiting and the excitement after getting the developed film back. That means that after a trip, for example to Bruges (see photos below) I get to relive the happy times a few weeks afterwards, and I like that. I also like some of the colours and textures on film, but not all of the time.
In order to get the learning process going I started doing a 366 project. That has given me mixed feelings so far. I do like integrating photography in my normal life, and having a camera with you all the time feels good. Due to this project I have made some images I really like which I normally would not have made, such as the three photos below.
However, it has also made me more aware of the cost of film photography. I know, I have seen the calculations too, but I am not selling my digital camera to fund film and development, so including development and scanning by a lab each photo costs about 30 (euro-)cent. For my 366 that meant that on days where there was just no decent light to be found, I felt like wasting film and money on a photo which wasn’t going to work anyway. I am also doing a different version of the 366 with my digital camera, and there I don’t feel like this. To be fair, I should calculate the value-depreciation and lowered depreciation-period per click, but I didn’t do that (who does that?).
This leads me to another thought that has crossed my mind several times. I know a lot of people value film photography because it makes you think more before you take a photo. This deliberate way of photography leads to a much higher keeper-rate, which of course is always nice. But the downside is that deliberate photography doesn’t allow all that much of experimenting. I don’t remember who it was, but probably someone famous once mentioned that if you don’t fail you haven’t challenged yourself enough. With experimenting I don’t mean taking 100 photos at the same spot with different settings to select the best one afterwards, but I mean trying something that you know is probably not going to work. I am not saying that that can’t be done with film, but with film you are aware of the cost, so it is more likely that you don’t take the chance.
One example of such an experiment (on film!) is the next photo that I took with the Minolta Riva Panorama on a winter morning. For my 366 I usually make a photo on my way to work, but in the winter there is not much light at 8 am. But since I was determined to take a photo everyday, I did it anyway, and one foggy morning this was the result. It took me some time to figure it out, but I am pretty sure that the hexagonal spots are reflections of the flash light caused by the fog. I like the result, I could never have pre-imagined it or make a calculated effort to create something like this. But experiments like these are rare on film, at least for me. For situations like this I prefer my digital camera so I do have the opportunity to try different options free of charge.
Now that I mentioned the Riva Panorama, I did invest ( 🙂 ) in two small fun camera’s to use next to the M2: the Minolta Riva Panorama and the Rollei 35S. I guess one of the joys of film, highly celebrated on this website, is the large amount of affordable fun cameras that can produce very decent results. Add to that the different film types to play with, and you have endless possibilities. Of course I could challenge this by mentioning the even more endless options in post-processing with filters and presets, but somehow that feels different. In post-processing I can get very anxious about finding the best result, not knowing what that is exactly. I can go over small differences in white balance, tone etc, getting more insecure about the result with every option. With film it seems like I am more willing to accept a certain result from a specific type of film, and appreciate the differences, rather than looking for the one best result.
This brings me to a different observation. Am I accepting results from film because part of the process is out of my hand, and does that make me less critical? Sometimes I think that I might prefer a film result because the process is more difficult, and I am therefore more inclined to be happy with the result. I am not sure if I put this down in the right words, but sometimes it feels that people shooting film are satisfied if exposure is right and the colours (or tones) are decent. Main mission accomplished, this is a good photo. But with (automatic) digital cameras exposure is likely to be fine, or can easily be corrected in post, so to be satisfied we need something more than that. This is probably not true for every person shooting film, and I am not even sure if it is true for me, but I am concerned that I am less critical about my film results than I should be. But than again, I am photographing just for fun, so why should I care?
Going back to the keeper-rate and deliberate photography, I recently spent two weeks in Scotland and this is the first time that I actually thought that for my next holiday I might leave my digital camera at home. I refuse to bring an external drive which means that I ‘only’ have about 30 GByte available for storage of digital files. Which meant that I had to do editing and selection during my holiday, as the amount of files I create with freely shooting exceeds this amount after a couple of days. A year ago I really didn’t mind this at all, in fact my favourite day off would look something like this: explore and shoot in the morning, edit and process files in the early afternoon, blog and publish in the late afternoon. However lately I seem to need days, if not weeks, between shooting and being able to form a stable opinion on my photos. And after a couple of days I did get bored with going through all the files, hence the thought of bringing only a film camera next time. Of course some discipline would be a good solution too, but that might be too difficult. But after receiving the developed film and scans I am glad that I have my digital files too. There are some photos that I like (see below), but some of the things that I wanted to capture look much better in my digital files than on film. I am not sure yet if this has to do with the scanning or with my technical ability, for now I suppose it is the latter.
This sort of leads me to my conclusion: I enjoy film photography but I need my digital camera as I am not (yet?) capable enough to achieve everything I want on film. I guess it would be presumptuous to assume that that would be possible by shooting only 40 rolls.
However, in Scotland I shot one image deliberately on film as I thought that it would not be possible to achieve the result with a (or my) digital camera (with a single exposure at least). The photo below was shot directly into the sun, but there is still enough colour in the foreground. I am quite proud of this one!
I have been looking for reasons to give people who question film photography and this photo might be one of them. But in the end enjoying the process of shooting film is a good enough reason in itself. That doesn’t mean however that I am not striving for good and better results though!
Thanks for reading, and Hamish, thanks for having me!