Getting that Film Look
I have a new found fascination and respect for film after shooting with it extensively, including on my recent trip to Istanbul. I love the stuff – it’s challenging, it’s beautiful, and it’s so much fun. Although I got my photographic start with my first film SLR, I’ve never really considered myself a film photographer. With film, I learned the basics and had some fun but not much more. It wasn’t until I got my first DSLR that photography turned from a passing hobby into an intense passion, and only now has that passion come full circle back to the lo-fi days of film.
There are plenty of reasons to shoot film, perhaps the biggest of which is that it’s completely refreshing to get away from digital’s over abundance of “perfection”. That’s right, one look at popular photography today shows HDR after HDR, each edited to pixel level perfection. Everything’s perfectly sharp, in focus, 20+ megapixels, and yet we still manage to complain: high ISO noise, not enough dynamic range, lenses that aren’t quite sharp enough, and so on.
I’ve slowly come to realize that it’s more about the picture than the medium, and that the feel of an image is totally independent of how perfect your high resolution HDR edits have become.
Getting to know your film
When you shoot film, your camera matters a whole lot less. With a digital camera, you’re permanently stuck with your sensor until you choose to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on your next upgrade. With film, it’s as simple as putting in a new 24 or 36 exposure roll. Individual films have a unique and specific look, and each one is suited to a particular purpose. Fuji Velvia 100, pictured above, exhibits low dynamic range but captures colors unlike any other film or sensor in existence. It’s prefect for dramatic sunsets and sweeping landscapes. Kodak Portra, as the name suggests, is well suited to portrait photography thanks to it’s subdued and flattering color rendition as seen below. Part of the fun of shooting film is learning the characteristics of each.
Appreciating the process
There’s been a slow resurgence in film’s popularity, with many photographers wanting to get away from a digitized look and back to an analog one. Even photographers who can’t imagine leaving their thousand dollar DSLRs behind in favor of a film camera have options – film filters have been popping up in Photoshop and Lightroom, and there are many. Some simulate film grain, some reproduce the color, and some even try to recreate everything about a particular film. Unfortunately many of these filters fall short of the real film look, and none can recreate the experience of actually shooting film.
Choosing your exposure based on experience and available light, not being able to view your picture in an LCD after shooting, and having to wait to get your film developed are all part of the film process. Many would call these inconveniences that have been solved by digital photography, while some look back fondly to the predigital days of needing to have a little patience. In any case, the barriers to entry to shooting film are low as ever. Canon and Nikon film SLRs can be found in perfect condition for well under $100, and shooting just a couple rolls will help you become a better photographer regardless of your long term preferences.