Sometimes people wrinkle their noses and pull back a bit when they learn I am primarily a film photographer. Other people lean in with widening eyes and want to know more about this archaic method of photography.
I grew up with a film camera. Several, actually. I had one of those 120 cameras that was long and thin, like a big ice cream sandwich. You know, the kind with a mount for a flash cube. Am I dating myself?
My first digital camera was a gift in 2002. Through 2016, I created more images on a memory card than I did on film. In 2017 that balance tipped, and for the past seven months 85% of my work has been with film.
Film looks different. To me it looks softer around the edges and yet has more natural contrast. I describe film as having humanity.
I could absolutely create something like the image above, which is my son, by the way, with digital media. I could apply a film preset and deepen the contrast. I could get really close to this.
The difference between black and white here is astonishing, and yet it's not harsh. It's not sharp. The vulnerability of fatigue receives a gentler treatment through film that it might digitally.
This goes for color, too.
Here is The Boy again, framed by colors he loves. Nothing is oversaturated. There are no hard edges or super duper sharpening. His skin looks just like it does in life with no processing that adds haze, flare, or whatever else is popular. This looks natural to me, and because I want to represent real life, that's an important quality.
Film deepens my intention. Knowing that every frame costs money between the film itself and the processing makes a difference. Digital film also costs money, but because it's money that's already been invested we tend to think of it as free - it doesn't cost any more to fire 1,000 frames, so why not be totally sure?
When I put film into a camera, I consider my intention. I focus to develop connection with my subject. I treat film as a resource of greater scarcity, and because of that it feels more precious to me. I believe I am a better photographer with film because of that. No matter how much I intend to adopt that mindset with a digital camera, in the back of my mind I know I can shoot until the 32GB card is full and then pull out another. On film it's 36 frames at a time, and maybe I have just five rolls with me.
My clients deserve the best of me as a photographer, and film does that. My clients also want to preserve legacies, and film is archival (technically digital files are archival if they are properly maintained every three to five years and there are no hardware failures).
Film feels like a more accurate reflect of life to me. It has greater gravitas. It feels more special to my clients. I think they trust me a bit more because they know I don't need to shoot 1,000 frames to deliver 20 they'll love - I can do that in three rolls of film.
What do you love about film?
I see a lot of incredible moments of the human experience while being with families in love and grief. From each family I learn, and those lessons and points to ponder are what I wish to share with you here.