Perhaps I have brought this topic up before in another blog post but I cannot remember and I am too lazy to go back and look. So if I have, well, lucky you, you get to read about shooting film twice. Bang for your buck? Yeah, let's go with that!
As a caveat, I do shoot digital for all paid work. But I would absolutely LOVE to get an assignment that wanted film photographs. That would be amazing.
I want to address why I shoot film and, as with anything that comes out of my mouth, or types from... my... fingers... (???), it is not a simple black and white answer.
Film photography is something that I grew up with. Being a kid of the 90's, I am perhaps part of the last generation that actually got to experience film, and even then it was already on its way out as the medium of choice for photographers. Be that as it may, I got to play with film as a kid, if only in the form of point and shoot disposable cameras. But more than that, the photographs I was seeing in major publications were shot on film. I have vivid memories of poring over countless Nat Geo magazines filled with photos of all sorts of animals and foreign corners of the world, all shot on film. My point is that all of the photos I was looking at as a kid were shot on film and all of the photos taken of me, or by me, were on film.
That really sticks with you. I was a huge fan of National Geographic, Time, and many other magazines as a kid. I remember my mom and grandmother buying me year long subscriptions for the magazines when I was younger than ten years old. I didn't know then what photography really was, but that didn't matter, I was being exposed to the world of professional film photography and I loved it.
So then comes digital. For the latter half of the 90s, and the early 2000s, digital photography was simply too expensive for the average consumer, let alone a kid with a budget of whatever they found under the couch cushions. So even then I was using and seeing film photographs. Even movies of the era were depicting photographers shooting film, not digital.
It wasn't until high school that I got a digital point and shoot camera. I still wasn't aware of what photography really was though. All I knew is that I could take photos of myself and my friends skateboarding and that was amazing! Slowly but surely the photography bug started to grow until finally it clicked. Part of it was after watching the movie Pecker (I have talked about this movie before) and the other part of it was realizing that what I was doing with my friends wasn't so different from what I was seeing in skate magazines. I put two and two together and realized, "Hey, someone got payed to take that photo in that skate magazine!"
During high school I decided that I would look more into this photography thing, and I am glad that I did. The early 2000s were really interesting for photography because digital cameras were still a little too expensive, but growing in popularity, and film cameras were losing popularity and becoming a little more expensive because of it (not to mention film). But more than that, most of the literature for teaching photography techniques was written for the age of film, not digital. A lot of what you learn for film carries over to digital, but there is a lot that digital changes, and the literature had not caught up yet. So what we had in my photography class were crappy point and shoot digital cameras because film and "real" digital cameras were too expensive, but books that still talked about film speeds, film grain, grain reticulation, and so on. Stuff that didn't apply to digital photography.
So needless to say, I later learned the benefits of digital photography, but my first SLR was a 35mm film camera. How could I not start there? I grew up with film photography.
But my love for film goes beyond that. I love film photography for so many other reasons. Another factor being the look that film has. Digital photography looks crisp, clear, and can look as true to life or as far from it as you wish. With film, though, the look is very stylized and each different film offers a completely different look that is "baked in." With digital you can get really any look you want, but although that gives you a lot of freedom, it also takes something special away. When you pick a certain roll of film (film stock) you pick it for various reasons and you are thinking ahead about the look that you will achieve. Once you pick that film, you are locked into it. While that presents a lot of obvious issues, the constraints of film also make you think differently about your photography.
Therein lies another reason for shooting film; the constraints. I feel like so much creativity is born from being limited in some way. I always feel more creative when I am shooting film, simply because I cannot look at the back of the camera and reshoot. Once I press that shutter button, that photo is taken whether I like it or not. Knowing that makes me slow down and think about every single photo. This photo (above) taken in Vietnam is one single frame, and I stood there in the pouring rain for over an hour. For about 15 minutes I sat staring at the reflections caused by the stoplight, I spent another 15 or so framing the shot, and then the rest of the time waiting for the perfect subject to walk through the frame at the exact time the red light came on. All for one photo. With digital, I could have spent a fraction of that time and taken a hundred shots in order to get one that I liked (I don't do that, but I could have).
There is just this tactile nature to film photography. Sadly, I do not have a darkroom... (I would kill for the space to set up a darkroom). But I do develop all of my own film and that alone adds another element to photography. The terribly acrid smell of the chemicals, the feeling of wondering whether you left your roll in the developer too long, having to wait for everything to dry before you can do anything with it, all of it introduces so much to photography and I personally cannot get enough of it. When I get a new box of film in the mail, I am like a child who has to wait to open his new toy. The excitement is just unbearable at times.
Finally, there is something timeless about film that I cannot place my finger on. Perhaps this goes back to what I was blabbing on about in the beginning. This is where I started, and it feels comfortable, familiar. Maybe I am not expressing my love for film photography accurately, but it is not something easily understood. This is something one either loves or they don't.
I feel I should make it a point to mention that I absolutely love digital photography as well. I once dropped my Nikon D610 and broke it and thought I would die because I wasn't sure if it was repairable... So I am not bashing digital photography in the least. But digital and film are simply two different beasts, and I find myself having more fun with film more often.
Film is where my heart is. I grew up with it, I love the look of it, the smell of it, the feel of it.
So I guess that is why I shoot film still. It isn't the cheapest option anymore, but it is the medium of choice for me more often than not.
Whatever you shoot, I hope it makes you happy like it does me. Photography is such a wonderful art no matter what it is shot on. Go make more images! Go make a scene!