It has become a cliche of the 21st century that we are a society of people who demand instant gratification in everything; TV advertising these days is full of services that will deliver just about anything to your door within minutes of ordering via their app, we clearly don’t like to wait for anything!
In photography there is a phrase called ‘chimping’ which describes the process of constantly reviewing the images just taken on the LCD screen on the back of the camera; it even has its own Wikipedia entry. Of course, there is nothing wrong with checking the pictures you’ve just captured but it is another example of our need for instant gratification, which cannot be achieved with film photography.
I have two 35mm film cameras, a Leica M7 and a Leica CL. The CL is light, small, it has a 40mm lens and is just fun to use. The M7 is heavier, bigger and takes sharper pictures, but I’m happy taking either of them out. I confess that when using the M7 I have been known to try and view the image I’ve just taken by looking at the back plate, and I’ve also been known to compose the best picture ever taken by anyone only to find that I had forgotten to wind-on the film. I also have a Hasselblad 500cm, which I really enjoy using but find that only having 12 exposures before needing to change film can take away the joy of the camera.
Slow and Thoughtful Photography
Apart from spending the first hour getting out of digital photography habits I actually find that film photography has therapeutic qualities that makes the process of making photographs much more relaxed. What do I mean? Well, the very benefits of digital photography, such as being able to instantly review your images, can make the day more stressful, particularly if things aren’t going well. It is easy to become despondent, lose our enthusiasm and stop ‘looking’ when we’ve taken a series of images that we feel lack something. Suddenly, a whole day can spoiled because instant gratification has turned into instant dissatisfaction with our work.
The joy of film photography is that you don’t get that immediate feedback – good or bad – so, you can’t be dissatisfied, which means you carry on, loading one film after the next not really sure of the quality of the images you’ve captured but just enjoying the process.
I also think more when shooting on film. When I’m shooting on my digital cameras I’m always slightly surprised by how many images I’ve taken, which is usually 3 or 4 times more than I thought but that isn’t the case with film. If I’m out for a morning and I have four rolls of film, I know that I’ve got about 140 shots, and I know each film will cost to be developed and scanned, all of which means that I want to be sure about what I photograph and as such, my senses are more heightened. With film photography I really am in the zone, I’m scanning, looking, finding, framing and composing with total attention to where my lens is pointed; I’m more aware of what Cartier-Bresson described as ‘the decisive moment’, when thought, heart and eye all come together.
Reviewing the Results
Once a roll of film is shot, there is then the eager wait to see the results. I have the equipment to develop black and white film at my studio and I then usually scan the negatives but sometimes it is easier (although more costly) to send films away to a trusted lab who will often scan the negatives and email you a link to download them.
Whether it’s opening a link on-screen or unrolling the developed film and holding the strip of images up to the light for closer inspection, there is always a sense of relief when you can see images that are exposed correctly and in focus! But the most exciting discovery can be the double or triple exposure whereby the film hasn’t wound-on correctly.
Then there’s the quality of the images: the grain, the colours, the characteristics that give each image a sincerity and aesthetic that the manufacturers of digital cameras try to emulate through pre-programmed settings.
The joy of film photography is the combination of the experience of using analogue tools and the way that it forces you, as a photographer, to think and work differently.