Being in my thirties means growing up with a photography was all about film.
A 35mm camera was only as good as the film inside, and the film inside was a precious resource. It wasn’t just the fact that I’d only get a few rolls of film at a time, it was also that each roll was only either 24 or 36 exposures. It had to last.
It was always a careful calculation. Was this shot film-worthy? What if it didn’t turn out? Or I saw something more interesting later on in my adventure to the local museum or park? With each shot, I’d become more discerning because there was nothing worse than firing off that last exposure just to come across an even better shot five minutes later.
Of course, when digital cameras became affordable, I jumped on the idea of getting more exposures for less expense at processing time. One thing didn’t change, though, I still conserved my shots. It wasn’t that I didn’t have enough room on the memory card – it was one part habit, one part “why bother” when it came to potentially sub-par images.
This was especially true when I was in journalism school covering sports features. There was nothing worse than coming home with hundreds of images to sort through on a really tight deadline, when I only needed one or two good pictures. I’d conserve my shots, and consistently came back with images I meant to take. It was a strategy that saved me a considerable amount of time and energy.
Film taught me to compose my shots, to make each one worthwhile. I’d gaze through the viewfinder, looking for things I’d prefer to leave out of the image, and things I absolutely had to have. These were the days before I had Photoshop or a means of scanning my negatives to my computer. It wasn’t an option to “fix it in post” (though, I wouldn’t have known what those words meant then!).
There’s another truth to film photography… You can fake it all you like with different filters and photoshop actions, but there is no replacement for the real thing. Every film photographer has their favourite film. The one that has those perfect tones, grain, and softness that just call to you and echo your style. It’s about finding your soul film.
Thankfully, film is experiencing a resurgence these days. My favourite films should continue to be available for years to come, but of course, just in case, I have bins full of film in my fridge and a closet full of dark room equipment should the film processor at the photolab ever succumb to its age.
If you’ve never shot with film before, you absolutely have to try it. It can be an expensive experiment, but I guarantee you will learn a thing or two about your photographic style and about technique in general. Head to your local thrift shop, or pick up a cheap plastic camera from your local retailer. Buy at least two brands of 35mm film and go have some fun.