Why I shoot film: A reflection on photography (part 1).

Those with more than a passing interest in my images here (the stats tell me there may be three of you!) may have noticed a shift of late; for my personal, everyday images (as opposed to the odd work I do ‘for others’, e.g. weddings, headshots, etc) I have moved almost entirely to shooting film.

I first dipped my toe in these waters last year, when I played around with Instax and then Impossible Project film, and although I do still have access to cameras for both formats I rarely find myself reaching for them, primarily due to cost factors and the somewhat unpredictable results, particularly with old Polaroid cameras and film that’s not really yet at a workable standard of stabiliity and consistency.

But then I picked up a 35mm film rangefinder camera (a Leica, for those who care about such things – my stats tell me there may be one of you!), shot and developed my first roll, and knew I’d found something that would bring back some of the joy and excitement that photography used to hold for me. And it’s certainly done that.

But as seems almost inevitable, shooting film, particularly on gorgeous rangefinder cameras that are almost as old as me, tends to lead one to situations where the question is posed: “Why do you shoot film?”, which is of course a very good question in these days of ubiquitous smartphone access, outstanding digital cameras and lenses, and extremely realistic film emulation presets available for just about every editing platform.

And in thinking about my answer to that question, I’ve narrowed my response to four major reasons for shooting film, which I will aim to detail here over the next few days. Please bear in mind this is as much for me as for any readers who might care to know, so the answers may not be fully formed. But in brief, here are my four main reasons for shooting film:

  1. For the cameras and lenses available and their price to performance ratio.
  2. For the access to interesting and unique films and results.
  3. For the community (this one even surprised me!).
  4. For the impact on my creative process and creative output.

You will notice, perhaps, in the list above that there is a mixture here – half of the reasons are primarily technical or ‘gear’ questions (which would not come as a surprise to anyone who knows me – I could read camera and lens reviews pretty much all day and not tire of it), but the other half – the more surprising half – are more social or emotional in nature.

So, in the days ahead, I’ll explore each reason in more depth, starting with the easy (i.e. technical) ones to give myself more time to think through the others. At the end of this process, maybe this will help you think about certain aspects of your own photographic process (whether you use a $3,000 full-frame Canon or NIkon DSLR, or your iPhone), or maybe it will just give you a better idea of why I’d choose to use old technology, why I’d fuss around carrying two camera bodies everywhere, and why our fridge has more film than food in it. Maybe you might even consider giving film a go yourself…

For now, let’s go with the answer that really covers all of the above:

“I shoot film because I enjoy it!”.