Why I shoot film for personal use.

Chris Lonsberry Media Chris Lonsberry Media

The CLM Blog: Photography, Business and Meanderings

Since I love photography, like to write and am actively engaged in growing a business, a blog seems like it should be a thing.

Why I Enjoy Film - Apr 15, 2023
Why I Enjoy Film - Apr 15, 2023

First off, let me put a disclaimer out there... I do NOT use film for anything but personal projects. Don't expect me to whip out a film camera if you come in for headshots. (You'll see why later.)

When I was but a very young lad, Canon released the 35mm AE-1 SLR. I'm not sure why I had access (or interest) in photography magazines but I remember seeing the ads and thinking how much I wanted one. In hindsight, I wouldn't have had a clue as to what to do with it. What can I say? I like gadgets. But the AE-1 was like porn to me and that's the memory that was stored away in my mental filing cabinet my whole life.

Several years ago, it dawned on me that I had the money for that camera. They were still around. And now, being a photographer, I could rock the camera. I bought it. A local photographer sold me a box of FD mount lenses on the super cheap and threw in a Canon A-1.  Now I had 2 film cameras! When I shoot for clients, they expect their photographs back in days.. not weeks. And I have to be sure that their pictures are awesome. I can't chance that maaayybe I got the photo and wait for the film to come back to find out. So I don't do film when I'm working. But shooting film is like listening to vinyl albums, which I also do. It's a different experience than digital. The digital music debate rages on. People argue that vinyl sounds better. Digital defenders say that's not even close to true. The truth is.. digital music is, technically, every bit as good as vinyl. But for vinyl, there's the tangible feel of the album. There's the act of putting it on the turntable and watching it go around. There's the loving care of putting the needle down and hearing that kerchunk as it finds the groove. People will argue that digital is better and that's true. And maybe the limitations of vinyl flavor the experience the experience of vinyl. It's not about being technically better. It's the same with film. I love the mechanical sound of the shutter. The act of winding the film to the next exposure. Honestly, I even kinda dig the act of loading the film. And.. I've talked to several photographers that have said that their experience shooting film made them better at digital photography.

[Side note.. drive-ins are a lost experience in the same way. Luckily, there are still some around and you should support them. Can I get an amazing audio and visual experience in my livingroom with DTS surround sound featuring my MegaBoomer 200 subwoofer and my ENOURMOUS 4K TV? Sure. Probably superior. And yet there's a soft spot in my heart for the crappy speaker hanging from the window, greasy popcorn on the floorboard and the occasional car driving by with their lights on just under the screen. Not sure if I'd send my kids to the playground in the front any more. Unfortunately, the world's different. But.. it's all part of the experience. It's so much more than audio and visual. But I digress...]

Film, being finite and kinda pricey, makes you think about each shot. the settings.. the composition.. the focus. You think more about shadows, texture and color. There's a lot to be said for photographers slowing down and focusing (no pun intended) on a better photo. My first few roles were a disaster to the point where I wondered if maybe I was wasting my time on nostalgic nonsense. And yet, my photography heroes shot film and we're still looking at their photos. It had to be me.

I decided to methodically investigate what I was doing wrong. I would take a photo with my digital camera and move the settings to the film camera and take the same picture so I could compare the two and figure out where to go. Unfortunately, unlike digital, film doesn't record your settings in the file so I kept a notepad of each photo and the camera settings. The first thing that became IMMEDIATELY apparent is that I didn't know how to operate my film cameras. The ISO (remember ASA?) is fixed and I could set either the aperature or the shutter speed. I didn't know how to set both. Wait. That's a problem. That can't be right. After a little soul-searching, I figured out what I was doing wrong. It's not rocket science. You just have to know how to use the camera.

There are other lessons that I needed to learn. Before I figured out that I didn't know how to use the cameras, a friend of mine invited me to help out with one of his shoots. If I go to help, I go to help. It's their shoot. Even if it's alright with them, I don't want to weazel in on the shoot. Nor do I want to shoot the same thing you just shot. But I knew it was okay with him. Nonetheless, I wanted to shoot something different and this was a chance to work some film doing detail shots of the location. So I grabbed the A-1. Funny story.. I had 3 exposures left when I got there. Oof. There's something I don't have to worry about with my 128GB memory card. And those 3 pictures were pretty lame. Remember, I didn't know how to use the tool? Yeah. Pretty lame indeed.

Right now, I'm burning through different films to see which I like the best as each has it's own "look".  Films with a lot of color saturation would be good for certain pictures. Films that are more muted for others. And black and white is a whole topic in itself. Sure, I could make it look similar, or maybe even the same, with software. I really like the look of Silver Efex Pro to create black and white on occasion. But I'd much rather be able to actually shoot that without faking it. This may come as a shock to a lot of Instagramers.. there's so much more to it (for me) than just _looking_ like film. I want the experience and the skillset.

Will I ever use film for a client shoot? It's unlikely but I won't say never. It always depends on the need and my ability. Film is fun for me. It puts a little bit of the innocence back into photography. I'll definitely keep exploring it for my personal use and, hopefully.. as a bonus.. my skills in the digital space will improve because of it. If you're really in love with photography, "figuring it" out is a lot of the fun. Film gives me a LOT of opportunity for that. I do lament a bit over having to wait to see my photos and the lack of instant gratification. But I remind myself that we tend to be a microwave generation and there's something to be said for patience. (Although, I'd be really happy with a One Hour drive-up kiosk)

Am I ready to develop my own film? No. Not at all. I have so much going on that I don't need/want another rabbit hole to go down. Yes, I'd like to. I've done it in the past. But I'm having the self-discipline to just say 'no'. I was getting my film developed locally because I like to support local business but, when I went to drop off my last rolls, the place is now a coffee shop. After looking around and comparing develop services, I found Reformed Film Lab. I sent them my last 3 rolls and I'm super pleased. They're my new "go to". If you have film to develop.. highly recommended!

So.. that's film in my life. That's the story. Do you shoot film? Why? Any tips you want to share? OH.. and if anyone knows where I can get a diopter for the AE-1 and/or A-1, this farsighted photographer would greatly appreciate the lead.

Keep shooting!

- Chris

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