Growing up in the 2000s, I was naturally led to start shooting photos digitally. Like many, I started with cheap digital point and shoots and worked up to a DSLR. However, as I progressed in photography, I started to revert backward in technology. My initial reason for shooting film was superficial at the time—its colors, grain, and faux-nostalgia lured me in. Looking back, I believe that I learned a significant amount more about photography faster than I would have if I continued shooting only digitally.
The primary thing that stood out to me was the fact that you cannot see your results immediately. This sounds obvious, but I often wished I could just open up the back and see the photo on the negative post shooting. Clearly that would never work, so I learned to be patient as an attention deficient teenager. I found that sort of patience is very important as a photographer because it helps to look the work objectively. The emotional connections to the photo, like thinking “this is the best photo I’ve ever taken”, were gone a few months later when I developed the photos. It was much easier to sort through the garbage and find the best work, and I still use this tactic years later by waiting a few months to develop the photos (often known as “letting your photographs marinate”).
Composition and exposure
Early on with digital photography and skateboarding, I would run around the scene taking photos and looking at the screen until I found the the angle and dialed in the proper exposure. Shooting film, that act quickly grinded to a halt as I was forced to think about the photo before I shot it—as to avoid wasting expensive film. I began to start lining up the composition in the viewfinder and trusting that I’d metered and exposed properly before I’d made the photograph. With black and white film, I started to look at the light, lines, shapes, angles, and everything else that you can break down a composition into. My photographs improved greatly as I focused on these important things.
Less time editing
With digital, I would frequently spend lots of time editing/screwing around with my photos. I would crop, recrop, and adjust the colors over and over in Lightroom. I look back on this as “polishing a turd”. However, when I looked at the film, I no longer had to worry about cropping and color correction. I found it much harder to crop a low resolution scan of a negative than an 18 megapixel raw file, and the colors were already beautiful on the negative. As a result, I was out learning from shooting more film versus sitting and aimlessly toying with the garbage I’d shot on digital the week before.
No more “spray and pray”
This is simple, film costs money. Each shot can cost a few cents to a few dollars depending on the film and format. As a kid buying everything himself, I didn’t want to waste film. Therefore, I shot only a few, thoughtful, previsualized photos of a scene, versus a dozen or more digital photos that likely would have been worse.
The above is what I learned pretty early on with shooting film. You can find out why I continue to shoot film and what I’ve discovered over years of doing so in Part Two.