Why I Shoot Film

I have been a photographer for over 15 years. This serious hobby began with shooting a 35mm ZX-50 Pentax camera. Fast forward 10 years later I purchased a Pentax DSLR when digital photography became financially feasible. Thanks to that camera my skills as a photographer grew. Why waste money on processing when I can take hundreds of photos virtually for free? This basic argument probably brought many photographers, like me, into digital capture. After all, I was getting far better photos from my 6mp SLR than I could ever dream from Walmart, Walgreen’s or some other 1-hr.

Wisdom comes with time. How could anybody get decent looking photos from 1-hr. processing? The labs are commonly operated or filled with unskilled young people, and the chemicals are maybe too hot/cold, and perhaps ripe by over-use. To top it all off, the prints from these labs never do your photos justice that they so deserve. Does over-saturated and over/under exposed prints come to mind? It should, because that’s all you ever got from these places. No wonder the masses adopted digital photography so quickly.

Digital Before & After

A digital negative (DNG) before & after adjustments. © photo by Paul Hargett

Several years into digital I reached the pinnacle by capturing raw. Shooting raw is probably the best choice for post processing and image quality. That’s because a raw file is free from any in-camera image processing. All raw photos need some editing to bring out what was captured. This, above all else led me back into film photography. Too much editing for my taste is required to make a raw photo look presentable. I had enough of it! I asked why I needed to spend so much time in post. The downside in shooting digital in a serious manner was the time required in post processing. Thanks to a few synchronicities, and this little experiment, I found myself back into film before I realized it.

There is an inherit value in film. Film shooters think before pressing the shutter. Both rolls and processing have costs; there is no value in wasted frames. Much like fine art, each negative can last forever if properly stored. We are not limited to how many shots per roll of film; rather, we live for the potential in our finite rolls of film. Limitations flower creativity rather than hinders it.

Like many “analogue” photographers, I use a hybrid process. Exposed rolls are sent off to a professional lab, then the negs are scanned with a flatbed scanner. 3200 is the resolution I scan each negative at the time of this writing. Only the best photos out of each roll are scanned. Four programs are used in my workflow: VueScan, ColorPerfect, Photoshop and finally Lightroom.

Train Graffiti

A great example of the “look” of film. Colors are highly saturated even in harsh mid-day light.

The “look” of film is why photographers shoot it. Digitizing the negs is the ideal way to capture the essence of film. The look can be described as organic, and with substance. I like to compare it to Technicolor in the 40s, 50s & 60s. Cinema from this era had colors that were bold, lush and saturated— yet organic in appearance. What is perceived is the minute texture of film grain. While looking closely at film the grain is quite evident; when stepping back the images take on an earthy texture.

Halloween Window

  • Film Grain1
  • Film Grain2
  • Film Grain3

100% zoom examples of b/w film grain in low light situations. © photos by Paul Hargett

Shooting film and later digitizing it is a lovely way to be a satisfied photographer. There is simply no comparison shooting with a well-built classic camera. Film stocks are plentiful today and the cameras are too. Long live film.

This is a wonderful documentary about film photography in a digital world.

  • ANONYMOUS

    I thought you shoot only film and hate digital in order to be part of a counterculture(hipsters).

    • Paul Hargett

      Anonymous,
      Quite the contrary. Although I do appreciate some traits that make countercultures unique; I have not switched to film to be part of; or to be recognized as a hipster. Popularity of film today is partly due to Lomography and them marketing their analogue lifestyle to hipsters. Their ongoing campaign has been hugely successful. I myself stumbled upon Lomography and purchased a Diana F+ shortly after. Their marketing tactics; along with their quirky toy cameras hooked and reeled me into the fun world of film. I’m no hipster.. but I can relate to them.