When should you shoot film?

If you’re a film shooter chances are extremely high you’re also a digital shooter. Heck, with a camera in every cell phone it’d be difficult not to be. As one goes clicking about in their normal, everyday, life suddenly film photography can take on an increased value. After all it does cost money to shoot film! This extra consideration if unchecked can lead to a paralysis in film shooting. The FPP calls this “the film sweats” an almost anxiety over “wasting” film. Hopefully this article will help you get over the film sweats and be confident when to shoot film.

For me there is a single primary question that determines if I’m going to shoot a subject, event, anything with film. That question is: Do I want to great and artifact of this? When you shoot film, this is exactly what you’re doing. You’re capturing a slice of time and space on a physical thing that will exist in the world probably beyond you. Which is cool! Notice that the question is not “would I want to print this?” That question piles on the sweats because now you’re mentally considering dedicating more time and resources to this shot or roll. A bit more on the printing later.

Bill Clinton in Saginaw Michigan 2016
Bill Clinton in Saginaw Michigan 2016

So when do you want to create an artifact of an experience? The answer will be different for everyone. In the example above I went back and forth a bit. What if the camera malfunctions? What if SLR’s aren’t allowed at the event? What if I can’t hold the camera steady enough, etc. There were a bunch of reasons NOT to bring a film camera. By the way this was shot with a Canon EOS 620, with a 24-105mm IS lens on Tri-X. There was one big reason to shoot this on film. It was a once in a lifetime event. I had never seen a former president this close, in person, before. All the mental roadblocks dissipated when I realized I wanted an artifact of this experience. If they didn’t allow SLRs in, I’d just walk it back to my car. If the lighting made for challenging shutter speeds, I brought my only image stabilization lens. Camera malfunction? I brought a solid performer.

Now you might think “yeah, of course you’d want to shoot film for that, but who has former presidents dropping by on a regular?” And I suppose that’s part of the point. It’s not regular. I often find myself shooting film for things that are outside my routine. Car shows, bike rallies, Renaissance fairs, concerts, vacations, new places and new experiences.

Related to this is the notion of documenting something. 10, 20, 50 years from now will it be interesting? Would someone enjoy finding this cache of negatives and prints? Preserving samples of the present for future generations is certainly a good reason to create artifacts!

Bill Clinton, Saginaw, MI 2016
Bill Clinton, Saginaw, MI 2016

I was recently in Las Vegas for the first time. On my first day there I walked around with a camera shooting interesting sights and people. I haven’t developed the film yet but I realized as I was going about that it was an excellent way to process a new environment. To really see it all, take it all in, and not necessarily be overwhelmed by it. In this case, having a purpose to my exploration was claiming and fun even in the midst of overt attempts to overstimulate one’s senses.

Another good question is “am I being creative?” If I’m trying to show something in a different way, trying to create an abstraction of familiar sights, or just doing a pinup shoot I usually shoot some film if not solely film. This also includes experimentation. Your creative efforts are worth it! They might not always work out and you may at some point find the need to cull what didn’t work, but no can see what you only thought about shooting.

“Is it practical? Is it appropriate?” These two questions often go together for me. Often shooting film requires a not so light camera. Now I’ve included some point and shoots and smaller cameras to carry around. This question becomes more important as the format increases in size. With 120 and large format the cameras are bulkier and more obtrusive. At the Clinton speech or on the strip of Las Vegas a person using a SLR even a vintage one is no big deal. On the gaming floor of a casino it’s much less welcomed. When visiting Chicago I carried a couple smaller 35mm point and shoots that I’d snap interesting things just while walking around with friends and family. I planned some time on one day to go out with an SLR. This time was specifically for shooting. On the other hand if you’re at an event like Photostock, then everyone has a film camera! Consider who you’re with and what you’re doing. The less accommodating you situation is, the more accommodating your equipment must be.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton

Don’t forget friends and family! You’re around these people most often and it can be difficult to be inspired by what’s routine. Certainly if you took as many film pictures as digital of fiends and family you could drive yourself into the poor house. Just make sure you shoot a roll or two somewhat regularly. Family reunion, back yard barbecue, Grandpa’s birthday, etc. And remember to include pets! You may want to separate these from the rest of your work. It’s what your family will be most interested in.

“Would I want to Print this?” Like I said before is quite a loaded question. Nobody prints every frame from every roll anymore. Printing is super important and every photographer, film or digital, should be making prints of the work their proudest of. With film the question of printing is linked to sharing your work. If you want to share a picture quickly, easily, with lots of people, then digital is the way to go. Sharing a film image can take years, it’s a slow roll. The Film Rescue project literally shares images for the first time that may have been shot half a century ago. Sharing your work is integral to being an artist. Sharing film images requires more time and effort but for many, the precess itself is its own reward.

Konica BigMini
Konica BigMini

Finally, you can’t choose to take a film picture if you don’t have a film camera on you. I highly recommend keeping a 35mm point and shoot on you as much as possible. I discussed the topic of always carrying a camera in a previous article but it bares repeating. Shown here is my current carry around setup. It’s a Konica BigMini fixed 35mm AF point and shoot camera. I got a case for $2 at the thrift store and put a vintage camera strap on it. The case has an extra pocket large enough to stuff an extra roll of film in it. The camera itself is very tiny, and can be slipped into a coat pocket or worn around your neck easily. Another good choice is the BigMini Zoom. Recently my Olympus XA died and I’m testing out an XA2 to replace it.

Hopefully this little guide will help you confidently and consciously choose film when choosing film is right for you. You still might get the film sweats. I do. Having these questions to help qualify your decisions could go a long way in overcoming analysis paralysis. If you have any thoughts or suggestions on the issue, please leave them in comments below!

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