Shooting Film – What’s The Point?

Recently I was asked a very good question…  Why, when you can replicate the film look digitally, would you still shoot with film (aside from the “tactile shot of creativity”)?  I like this question because I struggled with the exact same one before I bought the Leica M7.  I wrote an article a few weeks back discussing why I started shooting film but I thought I’d directly address this poignant question here.

Can You Replicate The Film Look Digitally

Yes.  Take a look at the two shots below and let me know which one was film and which one was digital…

8477009034-r1-003-0l1003095-editIt’s the bottom one.  You’d know that if you read my article Creating The Light Leak Look In Digital Photography.  Maybe it fooled you, maybe it didn’t…  The point is, in the right hands, digital photography can pull the wool over your eyes and convince you it was shot on film with software like VSCO.

This is why I love this question, and struggled with it myself.  I didn’t need to start shooting film for “the look” when I already had it.  So why shoot film?

Does Film Make You More Disciplined And Deliberate

Maybe.  Assuming you can set the same settings on both a film and digital camera, why would one want or need a film camera with its obvious limitations?  One of the big arguments for shooting film is that it makes you much more disciplined and deliberate in your approach because of the limited number of frame per roll of film, cost associated with developing/scanning said images, and speed (or lack there of) of the camera.  So are these valid points considering you could put restrictions on yourself while shooting with a digital camera?

Yes, and here is why.  Let’s assume you were one of the very few photographers who was disciplined enough to hold yourself to the 36 shots per roll, one shot every few seconds (to allow for manually advancing the film), and only a dozen (I’m being generous as I never carry twelve rolls of film on me) rolls of film or roughly 432 shots.  Now imagine walking past a scene where children are running, skateboarders are jumping, and bike riders are… riding…  Are you still shooting one shot every few seconds or have you pushed your camera to its limit?  Did you plan ahead so you could pause for a minute or so after 36 shots to “reload the camera”.

The point is, whether you could pretend you are shooting film or not you probably aren’t going to follow through.  When you shoot film you don’t have a choice, you are forced to be as deliberate and disciplined as the format demands.  If you’re one of the very few who can be that disciplined with a digital camera then I applaud you, if I see a shot I think needs created I couldn’t pass it simply because I ran out of imaginary film.

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So Why Do I Shoot Film When I Can Emulate It Digitally?

Notice I didn’t title this “Why I shoot film instead of digital”, I don’t think film is better and I still shoot digitally when I need to.  Part of being a good photographer is being able to discern the right tool for the job.  Here are some reasons I shoot film:

  • I find that shooting film on the Leica M7 inspires me to try new things including how I approach photography.
  • Film is more challenging, I like a good challenge.
  • Film has improved my digital photography.  By forcing me to slow down and anticipate shots more I have spent more time studying light and movement which has improved the way I see scenes.
  • The lack of a screen on the back to review an image means you can’t spend any time chimping (the process of reviewing each shot after you take it).  This wasn’t really a problem I had but I think it is worth mentioning.
  • You can’t really adjust ISO (you can push or pull though) of a film camera so you are forced to work with the light you are given at the speed of whichever film you have loaded in your camera.
  • I love the anticipation of seeing my images after I get my film back (sometimes weeks or months later).

8477009034-r1-037-17

For every argument one can make for not shooting film, a film lover could counter with a good reason to shoot film.  At the end of the day it really just comes down to what inspires us to be creative.  So at this point in my career I’ve incorporated film because it inspires me to be more creative.  Will this be the case next year?  Only time can tell.  I encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and try new things, whether or not that is film is up to you.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

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2 Comments

  • I got fooled by the clickbait article! I’ve only just begun shooting film and it is for the same reasons you’ve summed up. First I started with the VSCO presets and after, out of boredom, got myself a simple point and shot film camera. VSCO and others replicate quite faithfully the look of film but I believe there’s still value in shooting a couple of rolls of color or black and white and work within the constraints of film. Great writing as always, John!

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