I don’t consider my self particularly qualified to talk about film with any authority. It’s silly really as I do have some experience, just not as much as it feels like a lot of other photographers out there in Internet land have. I’m not confident my terminology is correct, but to be honest I’m not especially fussed if it isn’t. If anyone ever wants to correct me on anything I say on this blog, I am all ears and more than happy to learn… I learn stuff just writing the thing … so anything else is definitely a bonus!
I read an article the other day that was aimed at digital photographers looking to start shooting film. It mentioned how there seems to be some sort of elitist attitude within the film shooting community but that digital photographers should have no fear of talking to us film photographers, because above all else we are all photographers and the medium doesn’t matter! I applaud this sentiment, but a perceived elitism remains.
I should feel qualified to talk about film, I’m quite comfortable shooting black and white process film. I have been developing my own film for around 5 years and whilst I haven’t experimented with many chemicals and films I have found some combinations that particularly appeal to me. HP5 for example is a favourite of mine, I went through period pushing it in ddx with quite wonderful results. I just don’t shoot black and white process film often, mainly because I can’t be bothered … but more on that in a mo!
I suppose my “issue” if that is the right word, is that there always feels like there is someone out there who knows more, is doing something “better”. It’s funny, I don’t get the same feeling with digital, I’m confident with digital, that I am learning what I need to and achieving the most I can at any given time. I quite confidently make a portion of my living out of my digital photography skills and feel I know enough about the art to talk with some confidence about it … Ask me the same questions about film and I will have a lot less to say for my self.
A digital photo taken for uhes.co.uk – Shot on my D800 with 28mm 1.8, processed in lightroom, I knew the shot I needed to achieve even before I had seen opportunity to take it.
I think the problem is that there are a few elitist film photographers out there. I’ve come across a couple and even within the last few years I have been naive enough to have gotten into arguments with them (I have learnt not to bother trying in more recent times). I’ve even heard my self defending digital, as if it needs defending… There is no talking to them, it doesn’t matter what you know, what you have achieved etc they will almost certainly have done more and better with more skill … They have probably mixed their own chemicals, will be aware of many more processes etc than you and through their years of experience will have almost certainly developed an incredibly refined and accurate method for extracting the most amount of detail, finest grain and best tone curve out of a probably discontinued film that they have a stock pile of in cold storage. They will claim that the introduction of digital was the end of true photography and that although digital has its place, it is a place of pure convenience as the quality of film will never be matched (sorry if that sounds like you … I know not everyone who has done those things is elitist, it’s just that an elitist will go to great pains to tell you these things). Because these elitists exist and have a voice the rest of us part time(!) film photographers can get tarred with a similar brush. This is unfair, there are a million and one reasons to shoot film just as there are a million and one reasons to shoot digital! Both have their place, both provide advantages and indeed disadvantages over the other. And that isn’t taking into account the fact that simple personal preference outside of any supposedly objective facts might come into play.
On top of this is, even non elitist film photographers do quite a lot, perhaps unknowingly, to perpetuate this elitism. There is often a distinct divide between the two “sides”. I see so many websites dedicated to film photography, so many twitter folks hashtagging #Ishootfilm or similar. No wonder there appears to be a clique that “outsiders” feel they somehow have to earn their wings in. The irony is not lost on me by the way, I appreciate I am writing this on a website dedicated specifically to a type of film camera… I’m not even saying that all the proactive film users are doing wrong by banging on about their use of film ad nauseum, all I am saying is that with the odd elitist mingled in with the rest of the film shooting community it can all become a little daunting to the outsider. After all, you never know who you might be conversing with out there in the “twittersphere”. I still feel it now, poking tweets at people, commenting in forums etc I often feel like some sort of young upstart with no right to comment on such things … And thats coming from someone who has been taking photos for 21 years, two thirds of which were with film cameras!
And then of course we have hipsters with lomo cameras and everything that comes along with that. For these types, it seems to be “cool” to shoot film, and that just makes me feel like I’m at school again … I never was “cool” and I certainly don’t intend to start trying now. Where there is cool there is the not cool, and those that aspire to be cool … and that creates a divide (at least that’s how I remember it working).
Of course these are just outsider observations on what probably represents a minority of film photographers … but then maybe I’m not really an outsider? I just feel like one a lot of the time. I shoot film, I just don’t bang on about it. (again, the irony is not lost). The reason people do bang on about it is very valid, many want to perpetuate the art … I think we have a lot to thank for the likes lomography and all these “I shoot film” type websites in terms of how they have helped bring it back to, or at least maintain its popularity with the masses. All these things help keep the medium alive … I was chatting to a chap, Mel from Ilford (at the Ilford stand funnily enough) at focus a year or so back, he was telling me they have never sold so much of the stuff! That’s impressive, and very promising!
So, after all that, I’m not now going to tell you why you should shoot film, I am simply going to explain why I do …
It’s not because I think its cool, or that I am elitist, I don’t especially consider the objective quality, I don’t look down at people who don’t shoot film. In fact, I often encourage people to give it a go, although that is more often for the experience of shooting a completely manual camera rather than for the experience of shooting film. I shoot film … wait for it … because I enjoy it! I shoot XP2 mostly these days, colour film sometimes especially since its been summer, but mostly XP2 … Why? Because it’s easy! XP2 in case you aren’t aware is a black and white chromogenic (I just learnt that word) film. In layman’s terms, its a colour process film, It just doesn’t have any colour. You can get it processed at anywhere that processes colour film. The process is C41, which is the same type (basically speaking) as all colour negative film. So, shoot a roll, take it down your local max speilman (other D&P shops are available) and you can have it back within 20mins. I don’t even get prints, not until I have had a look at them on the computer first anyway, and even then I doubt I print on average more than one per roll … probably more like one in every 5 rolls and even then it’s usually a photo of my daughter. And when I do print it’s from the digital file the D&P have given me. After all, their machines print from digital scans these days anyway, so I might as well take the file and make sure I’m happy with it before its printed. I have a pair of durst enlargers that I have never used. I don’t have the space. I don’t have the time to develop film these days, never mind print them.
A photo I love, a snap taken in the spur of the moment with XP2 and a Ricoh GR1 – This shot and the shot at the top of this post show one of the things I love about XP2, tonally, its just very pleasing to look at … and that’s with no real effort on my part.
So why specifically XP2? Because the results are to my taste straight from the D&P shop… I stick them into lightroom, often straighten them to correct for my incapabilities when it come to taking a straight photo, but thats it! It’s just a great film, easy to get results that are easy to feel positive about. I can shoot a roll on a weekend, drop it in the D&P on the way to work on monday and collect the CD at lunch time …
But why not just shoot digital … I just can’t cope with it any more, I spend far to much time trying to get the colour right, the tone right, etc etc for images for work. All I want to do is take photos in a way that makes me happy! I worry far to much about my digital images, I have learnt far to many tricks to make them look more like film, have more depth, grainier, cleaner, sharper, softer etc … it’s too much!
By the time I have finished with an image I have lost touch with the moment I took it! With film, the way I shoot it I feel much more connected to the shot, and I like so many more of the results … And all this from a compact camera, loaded with a roll of XP2! Yes, there are other types of photography that make me happy, but I don’t often have time for them. I have a 2 year old, I run a company, I write this blog, I run a forum, my time for taking photos is limited. I find the sort of photography I partake in fits best with my life. It’s film, but its fairly care free … and that suits me!
I think the point I am trying to make is that, should you be interested in shooting film don’t feel overwhelmed by the learning curve, don’t feel shut out by the perception of elitism, or that you should or shouldn’t be cool. It’s taken years for me to gain some sort of peace of mind with what I am trying to achieve, so don’t expect that to happen over night either … Just buy a film camera, even if its a crappy point and shoot, stick a roll of film in it (try XP2 you might just like it!) and see what happens! Most importantly, do it for your self, that’s the key here, thats what any hobby should be about, and really, that is what taking photos should be about … Enjoying it … for your self! Not worrying about what the elitists or cool kids think, just worrying about what you think!