Why Film?

It's difficult to write a sensible, measured text on why one chooses to use film, without descending into paroxysms of cliché and nostalgia for "the good old days, where everything involved skill and attention to detail and whatnot...".

 

I love the ease and cost effectiveness of digital photography, and the way it provides a huge platform for a far wider participation in photography. It's the single biggest positive influence on the democratisation of photography.

My choice in using film is threefold:

- it makes you more deliberate in your photography

- it increases the proportion of photographs that become "keepers"

- digital photography still has a long way to go to replicate the analogue effect

Deliberate photography appeals to me because, having looked through my iPhone at the combined output of my digital cameras and iPhone-ography over the years, there are close to 18,000 images from the course of 20 years, and that's after an initial pruning around 3 years ago. There's likely around 6,000 of those images that I actually would keep, but because they take up no physical space, and because they cost "nothing" to take, and because of the effort of trawling through the library and pruning again, there they likely will languish, invisible and uncared for. That's not what I want for my photography. I want to increase the proportion of images that I make, which I want to keep. And look at, again and again.

The analogue, grainy film effect is something akin to the discussion around CD vs vinyl, FM vs DAB, 576p vs full HD. I remember all of these arguments, divisive as the questions were, and I kept thinking - why can't they co-exist. And in the case of vinyl, there's been a renaissance - albeit fairly niche - in the same vein as analogue photography has been seeing a renaissance. Granted, in the same way that vinyl has become far more expensive, so has the cost of film - consumables, development, scanning, printing. So in a way, while digital democratised photography, it's also alienated film from a whole generation of young, potentially interested amateurs. But to get back to the point - film just handles shadows and highlights better, as well as the gradations between those points, than digital. Digital clips too quickly, shadows fall off, highlights blow out and there's nothing that can be recovered. If I mess up an exposure (and I still do, though not as frequently as when I first started), I can recover the highlights or shadows in post production. And film grain just feels a bit more natural than digital sensor noise. It's more random.

At the end of the day, it's a combination of deliberation, tactility and physicality: the meditative state you enter when making a photograph on film, zen like, composing, metering, making tough exposure decisions - do I have enough range on this film, or am I going to have to sacrifice shadows, or highlights, for this shot; does the shot warrant that sort of sacrifice or should I wait for another time to make that picture? - clicking (or rather, pressing rather firmly on certain cameras) the shutter, the physical thunk of the mirror (in the case of the Kiev 60, rather a large one!), winding the film and cocking the shutter. Rewinding and unloading the film, marking push or pull notes on the roll/canister. Posting the films to the lab... and then the waiting... the patience as you wait to see if you got the shots you wanted.

That's why I shoot film.

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