Shooting with Film
February 23, 2008 by Jamie
Recently I’ve decided to get back into film photography, black and white film nonetheless. Since then I’ve been asked numerous questions about my decision, such as: Why go back to a practically dead technology? Who develops film anymore?…and my personal favorite…What is this “film” you speak of? All excellent, if not misinformed, questions. To get one thing straight, I have not given up digital. I still love the advantages of shooting in digital; the fact that I can review my pictures instantly, I can take an unlimited amount of pictures and I can do almost anything with the RAW file. I still prefer to shoot in digital for most situations. The main reason I decided to get back into film photography is because I remember how much I truly loved it back in high school, one of the only things I enjoyed about high school. I know most people will never understand this, but a tingle literally runs down my spine at the thought of manually processing film and prints. I can’t even begin to explain how amazing this process is. One would have to do it themselves to truly understand how much more rewarding it is to do the whole process as opposed to letting your digital camera basically do it all for you. It gave me a whole new appreciation of photography.
Film usage has definitely decreased since digital has become so popular nowadays but it has definitely not died out completely. There are still several places that sell and develop film. Personally, I buy all my film at Samy’s Camera. I have also developed a few rolls there, so as to answer the “who exactly develops film anymore?” question, they do. They also sell all darkroom products, from developing chemicals to photo paper and everything in between.
I decided that I wanted to get a film camera that was similar to the cameras I used in my high school photography class. So it had to be a Pentax SLR and it had to be old. How old you ask? Well the older the better. I found a Pentax Program Plus (circa 1986) on Ebay for about $65, and after a little begging, I got Bryan to buy it for me as an early Valentine’s Day present. Let me tell you, this camera is OLD school; no auto focus, no automatic film advance or rewind, nothing…it was perfect! Well it did have a light meter, for that I am grateful, there’s some things I can’t live without. I also recently purchased a 80-200mm telephoto lens for it via Ebay for $24.99, you can get some really great deals there! To break in my new camera, I went to a local ranch to take some photos of horses (I know, I take a lot of horse pictures) on some old Ilford XP2 400 film. The film was at least 5 years past it’s expiration, however the pictures came out pretty decent. I did take the digital files that I got when I developed the roll at Samy’s and put them into Fireworks to fix the contrast a little. I have to admit the old film had a bit of a gray haze to it. This is something that could have also been fixed in a darkroom with an enlarger, however, I did not have access to one just yet. Here are a few photos that I have shot.
Another factor that brought on my re-dedication to film was the fact that Bryan and I have decided to go for our photography certification. While Bryan has had just a couple of photography courses in all his time in school, I on the other hand have had many. However, I have decided to start over and enroll with him in a beginning black & white film photography course. I am very anxious to do all this stuff over again, as it was so much fun the first time. I convinced Bryan to get a film camera as well that he can use in this class. He wanted something a little more sophisticated. He wanted a Canon film camera so he could use the lenses we already had for our DSLR. As an early birthday present I purchased him a Canon A2E (circa sometime in the mid 90’s) which included such features as auto focus, the ability to shoot 5 fps and many of the same shooting modes as our DSLR. All for the low price of $85 on Ebay of course. Here are some shots that he took with the same old XP2 400 film.
Shooting with film is a tricky thing. You can’t just shoot with reckless abandon like you do in digital since you only have about 24 shots, so you have to make them count. On top of that, you can’t review the pictures after you’ve taken them, so you have to be aware of your settings at all times. This factor alone has made me a better photographer, I actually have to take the time to set the aperture and shutter speed. I can’t be as spontaneous as I am with my digital. I have to plan the shot, study the conditions and set the camera accordingly because every shot needs to count.
Finally, why did I choose to shoot black & white film over color? Simple, black & white film is by far the easiest and cheapest to develop when doing it yourself. Color processing requires a few more steps and chemicals whereas black & white processing is very straight forward, anybody can do it Most importantly, black & white photography is beautiful, at least I think so. When I look at photographs from years past I just love them. I think I love black & white photography even more than color.