Why I Shoot Film

Why I Shoot Film
by Michelle Mock

I shot film on my dad’s old camera when I was a kid; shot film on those disposable Kodak cameras when I was a teen, and by the time I went to college I had embraced digital in the form of a point and shoot Panasonic camera. I saw (what I thought at the time was) the death of film and was an idealist in the sense that I thought technology could only make our lives better. I upgraded from an old Nokia phone to an iPhone, joined Facebook when you had to have a .edu email address to join, and was one of the first users of Twitter. From my point of view, technology made everything better, communication got better, service became faster, and products made my life easier.

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And in many senses that is still true.
But as I approached my twenties and now my thirties, I am sometimes overwhelmed by the speed of things, the constant updates of my iPhone’s apps, the many options when it comes to buying a mop, the constant learning curve because I have to learn how to do a new thing every other week. It wears me out. I wanted to slow it all down, to simplify my life, to stop competing with having to get the latest software or the latest piece of technology. I wanted to buck the system. But at the time I didn’t know how and I didn’t know that was even much of an option.

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I had always enjoyed photography, I dabbled with it more extensively in college, and even more often in graduate school. It was my creative outlet when I was panicking over deadlines and papers and theses topics. I always kept up the “habit” now turned hard-core hobby and began to photograph my friends on the weekends with my digital camera. But as I started to spend late nights after my 9 to 5 job on the couch editing these sessions, I thought there had to be another way. Another way of doing this, without burning out, which is about the time when I stumbled onto Jessica Lorren‘s work. Holy moley. Her work was the kind of work I was emulating, but with more dreaminess to it, and way more color, contrast and bokeh. Well, I said to myself, I’m going to start editing more like that. 

(Image by: Jessica Lorren)

I can tell you I spent NUMEROUS hours trying to emulate it. Couldn’t nail it.
So I started to stalk her (something at which I think I’m an expert in) and found out she shot solely film. This research (aka hard-core stalking) spiraled into finding many other artist’s works who I also began to fall madly in love with, Jose VillaErich McVeyJonathan Canlas, this list goes on. These artists became my muses.

But film is so antiquated. It’s impossible to buy film, and no one will develop it…Or so I thought. A little more research on my part and I discovered that there are numerous and exceptional film labs in which you can ship film. And you can still buy film at many photo/camera shops and/or buy it online. But I’m not here to tell you what to do and where to go to get into shooting film. A little time, determination, and googling will give you all the answers you need. I’m here to tell you why I shoot it. So without further ado, let’s get into my personal reasons for shooting film.

Reason #1: Slowing down.

There is no “spray and pray” shooting like with digital. You slow down immediately because each shot can cost you around €2,50. Between the cost of a roll, shipping it to a lab, then paying for scanning and developing, you’re easily shelling out €2,50 for each shot you take, and that information will make you slow down, concentrate, and really compose your image. And when you have a “fast food” mentality that I was raised in, it takes a bit of work, but it feels like a blessed breath of fresh air. You don’t have to rush everything. You can take a few seconds, take a breath, think about your shot, and then take it. It is a glorious feeling. In this way, I would say it has made me a much better photographer. Because one, I’ve slowed down and composed my image so that it’s the best it will be and two, I have fewer “duds” to cull through; I’ve already nailed it on the first try.

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Reason #2: Looks like nothing else.

Film has a distinctive look and a unique feeling that comes with it. Film has an incredible retention of detail in both the highlights and shadows. Additionally, skin tones are freaking radical on film. Also, the bokeh is just so so so much dreamier, yummier, and buttery on film. Like so buttery you’d think it belongs on your toast. There is just no comparison for me. A bunch of film bloggers have done comparisons on digital images and film images that do a wonderful job of demonstrating the difference. So if my examples haven’t sold you. Google it.

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Reason #3: Unique as Unicorn poop.

You want to up your coolness factor (or nerd factor)? Walk into a situation with a film camera. They’re so novel; adults remember when they had one, and kids have never seen anything like it before. Instant cool. When I shoot film, I feel like this sets me apart. I’ve shot enough now that I know my stuff when it comes to film and I shoot the world the way I see it. I leave the latest camera doodad, the latest presets, the latest actions, and the latest software behind. It’s just me, an old film body, some film, and my vision. That’s all I need. Sometimes simplifying is the best thing when you’re in the process of creating. More doesn’t always make you a better artist.

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Reason #4: Lazy as a slow-moving sloth.

This is one of the most important reasons. I don’t want to spend a whole day on my computer, hunched over like a fallen tree, squinting at it like an old lady, moaning at it like Chewbacca while editing my clients photos. No. Way. I spend enough time on my computer emailing potential clients, working on my expense worksheets, doing taxes, blogging photo sessions, skyping potential clients, and marketing on my social channels. I didn’t go into photography so I could spend more time on my computer, I got into photography so I could take pictures. And that’s exactly what film allows me to do. Because I’m more focused and thoughtful when I’m shooting, this means I have fewer repetitive images and fewer duds to cull. So when I get my scans back from the lab they’re pretty much already done. I drag them into Lightroom, take a look and cull whatever’s left that I need to cull, and tweak whatever I need to, and then I’m out. Time for me to pour a glass of wine and get my Netflix on.

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Film might not be the answer for everybody, but it is my answer for my photography style, workflow, and personal lifestyle. The advantages it has given me outweigh any advantages there are to digital. I don’t think that film will replace digital. But I do think that it can be the perfect answer for some who desire a different look and a different lifestyle. I can distinctly remember, one time, blocking out 5 nights on my calendar so that when I got home I could spend the evening editing, me and my husband ordered in, and he watched a movie on Netflix while I spent the evening and night editing. I didn’t want that anymore. I want to spend my evening hanging out with my husband, hanging out with friends, knowing that a competent lab, who I communicate with on a regular basis, is handling my film with the utmost care so that I can spend my evenings free, like I believe they were intended to be.

If you’re interested in getting into film photography yourself but aren’t sure where to start, I highly recommend getting Ilford’s disposable black and white cameras. You don’t have to load the film, you don’t have to worry about metering, just pull it out, always use the flash, and shoot. That’s it. Try it. I promise you’ll love the results. #filmisnotdead

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