Andrew Goodman

If you have lived your whole life with your camera on Auto, and you’re underwhelmed with the quality of your photographs, it may be time for you to take a step back to the analogue age. As I’ve said in my post on the relative merits of Film vs Digital, taking pictures with a film camera, especially a manual one, causes you to not only slow down and ask yourself the important questions around the creation of your photographs, but it forces you to understand what is happening and improve your technique at the same time.

Some people say, “what’s the point, film is dead”, get with the programme. I agree that digital has surpassed film as the current photography technology, but film is not going away. Just as there are art shops selling paint and canvases, so there will be businesses out there making photographic supplies chemicals and processing film for many many years to come. The camera obscura didn’t replace the paintbrush entirely, but it did replace the paintbrush as the popular means of capturing portrait images.

For many people born into the digital age, film has appeal for its retro, ‘beardy-wierdy’, vintage look. For others it allow them access to the very high image quality of Medium Format and a unique, bespoke look. But where to start?
Here are five ways to whet your appetite for analogue photography.
[nextpage title=”Buy and read a book written by a film Photographer”]
There’s nothing like reading a book written by someone who is passionate about film to really get you in the mood. I’m talking about books like Film is Not Dead by Jonathan Canlas and Kirsten Kalp, The Negative by Ansel Adams The Art of Photography by Bruce Barnbaum, all of which I own and read. You might even track down an old copy of Photography by Barbara London and John Upton.

Some of these books are more technical than others, but they will all have the effect of getting you in the mood, and working on improving your photography technique. It is worth saying that if you are not bothered about improving your technique, then give film photography a miss and stick your digital camera in Auto or P, shoot away and let the computer do the thinking for you.
[nextpage title=”Take a photography course”]

Enthusiastic film companies like Lomography run courses which can help you to not only get to grips with the camera, but the best techniques to expose the film to give you the results that you are looking for. They aren’t the only company running courses, but as a businesses which is well and truly positioned in the analogue frame, they are a great place to start. Ask at your local art shop if they run a Lomography course or visit their website.

[nextpage title=”Shoot Negative film”]

Many photographers who still extol the virtues of film, express their love of slide film, saying they wouldn’t bother shooting anything else. When I took to film photography with gusto, I initially went down the path of slide film, and found the early results disappointing, the murky dark underexposed photos that I remember from my youth. I wondered what the fuss was all about.

If you are interested in shooting film, I recommend you start out shooting iso 400 negative film like Kodak Portra 400 or Fuji Pro400H. The reason is that negative film has significantly higher exposure latitude than slide film, a higher dynamic range. This may give it less contrast; less punch than a slide film, but it will give you better results to begin with so you don’t throw in the towel before you’ve got yourself established.

Slide film proponents state that a slide is what you captured, whereas a negative requires another level of processing to arrive at the final result. In this regard it does help to have a good lab processing and scanning your film, but I would argue that if you want total control of your photographic process, then surely that is what digital photography is all about. If you want to spend hours in from of your computer retouching your images in Lightroom and photoshop, go for your life.
If you enjoy the look of slide film, try Kodak Ektar. It is a super saturated negative film, it doesn’t have quite the same exposure latitude than say portra (which is derived from Movie film technology), but it will give you a wicked look (see below).

Velvia 50 is a lovely saturated fine grained sharp landscape film, but I wouldn’t recommend shooting it until you can nail your exposures with negative film.
Buy yourself a roll of Fuji Velvia, get out and experiment to see how you get on, just be aware slide film is for experts, so don’t be disheartened when the results return. Depending on the camera you use, you may not have the fine adjustment of aperture and shutter speed to give yourself the correct exposure, it’s not your fault.

Have a look in the attic

You may think that you don’t have a film camera, so you wouldn’t know where to start with film photography. Luckily for you, most people still have boxes full of old camera equipment stashed away in the attic. Go and have a look and see what you can find. Cameras are valuable, so rarely get tossed in the bin.

When you buy and shoot film, your money is going into the film, not the camera. The quality of the film you buy and the processing and scanning you pay for is what gives you good results. Any half decent camera with a prime lens will do just fine. You may even happen upon a medium format camera, and that is a really fun way to get going in film.

[nextpage title=”Buy yourself an Instant Camera”]

Back in the heyday of instant film, Polaroid was the go-to brand for instant photography. I must admit, I find the magic of exposing and producing a photo immediately quite a magical thing. Even in today’s ‘instant society’ we have not managed to better the truly instant nature of the polaroid photo.

Sadly, and for reasons I cannot understand, Polaroid shut down their highly profitable instant film business to go in a new direction (watch TimeZero – the last year of Polaroid film). Polaroid film is no more. A company called the impossible project (as featured in the film TimeZero) has reinvented the technology from scratch and is still making film for those old Polaroid Cameras, if you find one of those classics in the attic, good for you!

In the wake of Polaroid, we have options from Fujifilm with its range of Instax instant cameras, and more recently Lomography with their Lomo L’Instant a funky little instant camera, which also uses Fuji Instant Film. Instant photography is fun. It is a one shot, unique and unrepeatble experience which you can physically share with another.

There are no easy copies, and no Facebook uploads. “This is the picture I took, and I’m choosing to give it to you.” There is something very appealing and honest about such an approach in the digital age. If your photography is getting too serious, buy yourself an instant camera for Christmas and have some fun.
[nextpage title=”Develop and print your own B&W film in the darkroom”]
If you want to really understand photography, then have a look in your local area for a darkroom where you can develop and print your own photos.

If you have a university or college near you, enquire about their photographic society facilities. There is no better way to understand the process of film than to do it yourself. Moreover, processing your own film can give you truly unique results, and in the age of digital cameras, there is still something extremely high quality, a level of tone and depth achievable with a silver gelatin print, which cannot be equalled by modern digital techniques.

Techniques such as dodging and burning, and exposing and processing black and white film for best effects are well explained in the Ansel Adams’ book: The Negative and Bruce Barnbaum’s book: The Art of Photography.

Of course we have the world wide web to bring us lots of wonderful information and ideas. Have a look at istillshootfilm.


see also Film vs Digital

5 Ways to get into film Photography >>