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What is film photography, and why I love it?

May 31, 2021

I recently purchased a film camera, a few rolls of film and started playing around with it. At first, I wasted quite a bit of money with images that were underexposed, but once I started learning more about the different film stocks and how to exposure correctly, I completely fell in love. 

It is important to know that while I absolutely love film photography, I have always edited my digital images to emulate film, and the more I use film, the better my digital work has become. In some sessions, I still choose to only use my digital camera, and that is by no means a lesser session in my eyes. Film is simply a tool I use in my work. Ultimately, I don’t want my clients to be able to tell which images are film and which are digitals.

The process:

Before I dive into the reasons I love film photography, I’m going to explain a little more about the process of shooting film. The film takes a bit longer to process than digital. For me, that is the one drawback of film photography. However, waiting that one week longer is 1000% worth it! After a session where I used film, I send the film to the Canadian Film Lab in Hope, British Columbia, on the next business day. During the pandemic, the mail has been slower (even if I send it with Express) and that’s the main reason why it takes longer to process. Upon receipt, the lab then takes seven to ten business days to process the film. To process the film, they add chemicals to bring out the colour or black and white in the negatives. They then scan the negatives and make a few tweaks to the film to ‘edit’ them according to my preferences before sending the digital scans back to me. When I receive the scans back, it is literally better than Christmas! I will pull the film and digital files into the program that I use for editing and then match the digital images to look like the film images. If the client can’t tell which is which, I am happy! 

Ok, so now that we have that covered, let’s dive into the reasons I use and love film:

1. The creamy tones

This is probably the main reason why I fell in love with film photography. I absolutely love the dreamy, creamy tones one can achieve with film photography, especially in the skin tones. 

The colour profile is also very dynamic and true to life. To explain this better, I am using a metaphor from one of the best film photographers in the world, Charla Storey. Using film is like purchasing a 1080 pixel television. The higher quality television has a higher range of colour ability which also enables a true white and true black point. It feels like the images pop off the screen. Digital cameras on the other hand, can only estimate colour (modern digital cameras have become very good at it), and will never have a true white or true black point so it can feel flat (like a 720 pixel television). White is a shade of creme and black is a shade of grey. 

To give you another real-life example. A while back a client reached out to me to do her maternity session in a red dress. She shipped the dress from the US, so I knew I had to capture the specific red perfectly. Any photographer would tell you that red and yellow are the hardest colours to get right, because of the limitations of digital cameras. And I did struggle with the red, until the film scans came back and they were perfect!

2. Film is timeless

Photography trends come and go. I don’t know about you, but I cringe when I go back in my Instagram posts and look at the terrible filters I put on my images just a few years ago. Yikes! 

My goal with using film is that you would still love your images equally in years to come as you love them now and that the next generation would also. Think about images that you have of your parents or grandparents. Those are film images! They are timeless and true to life. 

3. Less time editing

As I mentioned previously, I rarely edit film images. This means more time with my family and doing things that I love.

4. Film photography has improved my digital work

Film photography is slow. There are only 36 exposures on a roll of film and due to the price of the film and the processing thereof, one cannot take hundreds of images and hope a few will turn out as one would do with a digital camera. There is also no ‘back of camera’ to check if you’re exposing and framing your shot correctly. Therefore, I have to be so meticulous and intentional about every image. From choosing the right light, metering and framing the subjects. This has spilled over into my digital work. I find that I am taking fewer pictures with my digital camera and have to cull and edit a lot less because I am getting it right in camera (which is always the goal!).

As I stated previously, film is a tool I use to improve my work as a whole. My digital camera is still a major part of my work and will always be. Learning film photography is a steep learning curve and I am very excited to continue learning. 



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