Modern cameras have dominated the photography landscape, so much so that they have opened multiple avenues for business and creative possibilities for us to enjoy. In a world dominated by digital photography, it’s easy to assume that film photography has become obsolete, like listening to music on the gramophone or riding a penny-farthing bicycle.
While it’s true that film photography was rendered obsolete by the rise of digital cameras, film cameras have seen a resurgence in popularity among professional and amateur photographers alike in recent years. Various brands are at a constant race to provide the latest equipment with the most high-tech specs, while other business owners are eager to offer rental services like Adorama Rental Co. to make them accessible to the masses.
Many photographers say they’re attracted to the near-magical process associated with developing film in a darkroom. Others have stated that they’ve grown weary of the clinical immediacy that comes with shooting with digital. Whatever their reasons are, it’s clear that film photography isn’t dead, and has developed a cult following among hobbyists and amateur and professional photographers.
But in today’s digital world, are there any benefits left to learning something as tedious as film photography? The answer is a resounding yes! Even if you’ve taken some photography courses online and put those lessons to the test using your digital camera, you can develop your skills further and stretch your creativity to the limits with film photography.
Read on to learn more about the valuable lessons that film photography and darkroom printing can teach you.
The Art of Developing Film
A strip of negatives ready to be developed
While you can send your film rolls to developing studios near you, half the fun of shooting film is the act of developing them yourself. There’s something enchanting about taking a film roll, putting it through a bath of chemicals, and see the images that appear as a result.
The great thing about developing film is you don’t need a fancy darkroom to do it yourself. You can do it in your own room at home with a few simple essential film developing equipment, like developers (what you get depends on whether your film is colored or monochrome), fixers or stop baths, changing bags, thermometers, a developing tank, and access to any water supply, With these simple tools and a few hours of studying, you too can develop film as they used to decades ago.
But what exactly is the process that happens inside a dark room? The first thing you have to do is choose what kind of developer you would want to use. The image contrast, grain, color, and the like would depend on the developer that you’ll choose. The next step is to measure the chemicals you will be using. Once you have made precise measurements, load the film into the canister and stir and rest appropriately. Remember to do a final rinse as you do your last round of stirring before hanging your film up to dry. Based on what comes up in the film negatives, you will immediately see if your work was a success or if something went wrong along the way.
Film Photography will Teach you How to Be a Better Photographer
Close-up shot of a film camera
1. You’ll learn the basics of creating a good image
Taking photos using digital cameras is easy as they have functions that apply various settings to your images and shooting mode automatically. However, when it comes to film photography, you'll have to master all the elements that constitute a great photo, including exposure, composition, and capturing the right moments.
Using film will also slow you down, as you don’t have the liberty of filling up your memory cards with hundreds of mindless shots. A typical roll of film has roughly 24 exposures, which is paltry compared to the thousands of files that can be stored in a 32GB memory card. The limitations of film will make you think more carefully of the shots that you take, from the elements, lighting conditions, and subject matter, before pressing the shutter. Film photography lets you focus on achieving the best composition.
2. You’ll learn how to take sharper & more detailed shots
Film possesses a higher dynamic range, enabling you to capture greater detail in black and white. Your B&W photos can be rescued up to six stops in either direction, under or over-exposed. It’s also worth mentioning that the image resolution of film cameras is greater than digital cameras, as the latter has sensors that are restricted to a specific pixel count. Likewise, the color of photos shot using film tend to be superior to digital shots, as the same restrictions as a sensor don't limit a roll of film. You’re more likely to take higher quality shots with film.
3. You’ll expand your creative range and skillset
Shooting with film will expand your creative range by introducing you to new techniques and aesthetics. Film photographers have to jump through more hoops to realize their creative vision: Film needs to be loaded onto the camera, exposed, developed, and then printed. Mastering traditional photographic techniques will broaden your skillset compared to sticking exclusively to digital photography.
Moreover, by producing film photographs, you’ll broaden the aesthetic range of your portfolio. Film photography possesses a distinct aesthetic, which is the so-called classic “film look.” Though there are plugins on Photoshop and filter packs on Lightroom that can emulate the vintage film look, achieving this aesthetic the authentic way is more authentic and satisfying.
4. You’ll become more mindful before taking a shot
A film camera is constricted by the number of exposures its film roll has, giving you only a small window of opportunity to capture your subject in the best way possible. While the generous legroom afforded by digital cameras is liberating, the technical limitation inherent to old school models is more beneficial in the long run.
Film photography inculcates the habit of stopping to think before you click. Not only are vintage cameras bound to just a handful of shots, but they also do not give you the chance to chimp at the screen and scrutinize your work on the spot. Engaging in the art requires you to be careful, decisive, and quick to move on to succeeding opportunities for capture. As such, you will grow out of mindlessly mashing the shutter release and learn to be more attentive of how you compose a scene through the viewfinder. What’s more, knowing you hardly have any film to spare will refine your ability to decide whether or not a particular shot is worth taking.
Darkroom Printing will Hone your Creative and Technical Skills
1.You’re given unbridled creative control
The magical process that takes place in the darkroom is akin to alchemy. It offers practitioners total creative control over the final image that is otherwise missing from digital photography. The art of processing and printing negatives teaches students about the interplay of light and dark, tones and hues. It also shows them how the surface of a print ultimately affects its tonal range. This type of hands-on artistic control is absent from digital photography.
2. You can produce intriguing photos using unique darkroom techniques
Photographers can develop unique images using unconventional methods inside the darkroom. One example is diffusion, a handy printing method that gets rid of the folds and creases found in portraits. This technique also tones down the contrast of overexposed photos and gives picturesque images a feeling of sunrise or sunset.
Other unique darkroom printing techniques include:
- Sepia toning
- Multiple images
- The Sabatier effect
3. You can effectively manage your photos’ contrast
Developing black-and-white images in the darkroom lets you manage their focus, brightness, and contrast. This last aspect pertains to your photos’ varying rate of black and white shades. You can manipulate the contrast of your images through the three usual methods: graded paper, variable contrast paper, and working with either filter sets or a color enlarger.
You Don’t Need Fancy Gizmos to Create Something Beautiful
A vintage film camera
Technology has become a significant part of our culture in the past years. Some of us struggle to go through a day without checking social media platforms or window shopping on various e-commerce sites. The advent of smartphones and fast internet speeds have made it harder to find joy in simple things, making life without technology and the internet look and feel bland and boring. Film photography challenges this notion to remind us that mesmerizing pictures can come from humble devices and a good sense of creativity.
Film photography doesn’t make use of batteries or any form of electricity from start to finish. Your images are also post-processed by hand. Nonetheless, the photographs produced from film cameras are nothing short of beautiful after proper development. In fact, many digital cameras use their ability to mimic the effect of film photography as the main selling point.
Countless photography trends will come and go as the years go by. But from a creative standpoint, the dated technology used in making film photography possible is a craft in itself, making it one of the most iconic forms of art that stood the test of time.
Guest Post by Meliza Summer (firstname.lastname@example.org)