When You Practice Film Photography, There Are Some Sad Truths…

By Federico Alegria / December 10, 2016

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The Realities Of Shooting Film

Film photography has always intrigued me, and I absolutely love it. I won't lie, I entered photography from the opposite direction – digital.
Essentially, when I learned about the logic behind exposure, digital was simply the easiest way to go.

practice film photography
Image by Jennifer Trovato

My Introduction To Film Photography

Obviously, I started shooting in digital, and I still do, most of the time in fact.
However, after stumbling upon a film camera I found, combined with a small experiment triggered by watching a movie, I learned to shoot film too. The exposure logic was still the same.
I didn’t know how to develop, so I had to send my rolls of film to a lab. I also had to send them in pairs, because two rolls of film were the minimum quantity this lab would develop.

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Image by Rosalind Chang Image by Rosalind Chang

Sad Times

This year, this laboratory stopped providing this service, leaving a considerable number of amateur and vernacular photographers empty-handed in terms of film development services.
If a good friend hadn’t taught me how to develop, I would be empty-handed too. I don’t blame the lab, I understand that they need revenues, and investing in such a small number of customers is not profitable.

Image by Jm Verastigue Image by Jm Verastigue

Doing Things Myself

I’ve learned to develop and print, but I have gone from buying the film and chemicals, to only developing the film. I don't do any printing, but I hope to get a darkroom revived for the use of a small community of film photographers in my country.
Almost all the members of this tiny community are young photographers, which leads to my first point about the truth of shooting film photography.

Image by Marcel Oosterwijk Image by Marcel Oosterwijk





Are Young People Allowed To Be Into Film Photography?

Let me tell you a little story about a hateful and discouraging video I recently saw. I'm not going to post the source of this video because I don't want to give such discouraging content, even more exposure.
Recently I watched a video in which a man was mocking young photographers who are interested in film photography.
He was mocking them because apparently, he thinks they are pursuing film photography out of nostalgia for a time they didn't live through – which is not paradoxical, but ridiculous, as he states.
This made me think a lot, and I realized that I wasn't nostalgic. In fact, I don’t even consider myself an artist.
Recently I took a great course online that pushed me into writing an “artist statement”, as the wonderful artists of the Helsinki School do. But I excused myself from the lecturer and wrote a simple statement around my Social Photography.
This bitter encounter with the aforementioned video made me write another statement, so I now have two statements that give my passion a certain direction.
This new statement centers on film photography, and voices the following:
I allow myself to practice a less-meaningful form of photography in terms of societal studies, because it is not targeted to the public. The process of this different way of practicing photography is slower, and I found it to be a therapeutic procedure.
Since it is not limited to meaningful social documentation as in my work shown online, its scope is broader, and therefore I allow myself to experiment further into fields I haven’t mastered, this, however, doesn't prevent me from pursuing my passion for photographing people candidly.
Currently my scope, in terms of analog imagery, goes from preparing the chemicals, to drying and storing the negatives after developing them.
Personally, I feel the resulting images here are “more mine” than if I’d taken them in a digital format because I believe that an error while developing could erase the exposures.
There is a high risk of not capturing the expected, but it doesn't matter since it is all part of the same therapeutic exercise. The audience for such images is smaller than for digital formats, but it still works well with the social photography I love the most.
In simple words, I’m not being a snob or a bourgeois, and I’m having more than mere fun. In fact, I’m having the time of my life with photography, both digital and analog.

A Different Form Of Photography

For me, shooting film is just another way of capturing images. We have all read about the benefits of shooting film, which encourages us to shoot fewer, but better quality images.

Hello world, this is me! Hello Light Stalkers, this is me!, Nice meeting you all – Image by René Figueroa
I’ve been shooting 120 format rolls of film for a while now using my beloved self-made birthday present camera, which allows me to make 6×6 square exposures.
The 120 film format is limited to 12 exposures, and I recently got a tank camera that my grandfather handed down. it's funny, I felt that shooting 36 frames was a hell of a lot after shooting just 12 frames.

Image by Aperture Vintage Image by Aperture Vintage
After shooting my last 35mm exposure, I felt that I had spent ages with that roll of film (and it only lasted about a week inside the camera). I developed it recently, and I even felt that the format was amusingly small – and this format is the equivalent of a full-frame camera.
The images that came out of the film were gorgeous, and I’m happy with them, even though they might not be deep in terms of storytelling.

The Sad Reality

Now the bitter part of this practice: it is getting harder and harder for me to find films and chemicals.
I’m even developing with expired chemicals, doing the math around expiration times to develop my films in the best way possible.
I’m about to learn how to develop with paper developer instead of film developer because the stores that sold it where I live no longer sell this line of products. Buying online is too expensive for me, so I have to do my best to use my remaining chemicals in the most efficient way I can.

Image by Markus Spiske Image by Markus Spiske

Summary

Film is not dead, but sadly, thanks to people like the one mentioned in the unshared video, its life could be in danger.
Please allow film photography to breathe and live! Have a go at practicing it, and get to know it.
It will teach you invaluable experiences about photography – experiences which, if you love taking pictures like me, you will appreciate your entire life.


When You Practice Film Photography – Some Top Takeaways

  • Film Photography really does open a whole new side to your photography, where you can reconnect with your passion for this medium and try and remember why you started in the first place.
  • If you're not comfortable developing your own film, try and find out where you can send off your rolls to a lab – this will give you a true sense of genuine anticipation waiting for the returning mail containing your exposed photographs!
  • Check out our further resources below for some ideas if you're new to this area of photography.

Further Resources

Further Learning

Whether you are shooting film or digital, building on your skills and knowledge of composition requires some learning. To understand the techniques and rules, this eBook Guide – “The Advanced Composition Digital Guide” will ensure you’re giving your photography a proper boost!

About the author

Federico Alegria

Federico has a decade of experience in documentary photography, contributes some free images to the community and is a University Professor in photography. You can get to know him better here

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