Each time I get a roll of film back is like waking up on Christmas morning all over again. Finally getting to see what I captured, even though I know I'll have a few terrible blinks, possibly some blurriness, light leaks, and superfluous grain. There’s nothing like it. It’s something you just can’t get while you’re shooting digital because no matter how hard you try, you’re just going to look at the back of the camera while you shoot because that’s the whole reason digital is so great. And if there’s a blink, heck… you’ve likely taken ten photos in one second anyway so one of them is bound to turn out fine. But film is something you take your time with; you perfect your exposure, you wait for the right moment, you anticipate movement, and then instead of snapping ten photos... you snap one, hope for the best, and move onto the next memory. Not only because film and developing are expensive these days, but because you want to make the most out of each print. Yes, I said print.
Back in middle school/early high school was when my parents made the switch from film to digital. My dad got us a digital camera we could play around with and encouraged us to use it. Besides while I was assisting them with weddings, I was just not into it. The element of surprise was what made photography so much fun for me. Plus I had a real affinity for disposable cameras, and at times I had 3 different ones going. I couldn’t wait to bring them to Walmart “One Hour Photo”, wait the hour, and then rip open the package of double prints to see what kinds of snaps were inside. Because I probably started taking photos on those cameras months prior and I had absolutely no idea what was going to be on them. I remember going to this party in high school and the cameras I had going ran out mid-party. This kid Josh left to run to the gas station and when he came back, he had what he needed plus two more disposable cameras for me. I nearly fell in love with him; I just looked at him in awe. It was as if he handed me diamond studs, or a BLT, or something equally as amazing. I still have the prints from those cameras today. I think my last hoorah with a film camera was in 2007 when my friend Lindsay and I went backpacking through Australia, for which my dad gave me an old automatic film camera with seven rolls to kill. Good times.
After that trip I started shooting weddings more often, turned completely to digital, and didn’t look back... until this past year. Digital really is amazing; it’s sharp, the exposures are beautiful, you can see your images instantly and start working on them right away. Once you have the necessary equipment, processing is virtually free and the post-processing options are endless. I picked up a film camera again toward the end of 2016. This time, it was a fully manual Nikkormat that my dad used to shoot weddings with back in the day. He let me borrow it, along with a 35mm lens, a 50, and a 70-200 with filters galore. This camera really, really made you stop and think before clicking that shutter.
You have to manually expose for every picture and it has a split image rangefinder for focusing (see drawing) which means you have to look through the viewfinder and match up two sides of a scene in order to be in focus. Trying to capture a sharp picture of my kid running around using a rangefinder and 200 speed film is quite the challenge (a big reason I only use film for personal photography right now) but how the heck did my dad capture a bride and groom walking back up the aisle, or dancing, without lens blur? How the heck did he make sure all was in focus without having to shoot at f/8 all the time? I mean, he used this camera for professional wedding work as did many photographers in the 90s and earlier. It’s a trip to think about now that we have digital cameras with program modes and incredibly sharp auto focus.
35mm, Kodak Portra 800
Nikon D800 DSLR
Not only do I love film because it makes me slow down and really think before I snap, but film images also have this incredible depth that you just don’t see with digital. I used to love film simply because of the surprise each roll brought; now I love film because I actually know how to use a camera. I'm manually exposing for each image and the look I'm able to achieve is unparalleled. Even so, each time I send out a roll, I think things like, “Why do I spend the money on film and developing when I have an incredible digital camera and can develop those images for free?” or “Why do I bother gambling with bad exposures, the possibility of bad film, grain, and bad expressions when I will never miss a moment with digital?” It’s as if I feel guilt whenever I send out a roll of film, like, digital should be enough, why do I need to spend the money playing around with film? There’s a reason film is fading out and digital is everything these days. Then, my roll comes back and it gives me exactly the feeling I crave. It’s Christmas morning all over again. My love for shooting film is reaffirmed. The depth in the shadows is perfect, the lens blur is perfect, and there are virtually no repeat photos. Yeah, there might be movement in there because I had to bring my shutter speed down in order to let enough light in and I refuse to use a flash… but for some reason, movement within film images is less offensive to me than with digital. I can't get this stuff with digital right out of the camera; it's different. I pop a new roll in, and the adventure begins again.
My dad just gave me his old medium format twin reflex YashicaMat on Christmas, so that’s what I’ll be using in 2018. Looking forward to sharing some of those with you guys throughout the year!
Here are some of my favorite shots from 2017 taken with the Nikkormat 35mm.