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What I Learned From Film

December of 2020, I made a commitment to shoot only 35mm film for my personal work for as long as possible in 2021. Pretty extreme right? I agree but I learned a lot not only about the process and history of film, but about myself.

I learned how to properly expose film and develop it at home in order to fully invest myself in the process (and save a few bucks). I tried different types of film such as Fujifilm, Kodak, and Cinestill at all different price ranges in order to find out what the hype was about. I found out that the cheaper film stocks such as Kodak Gold 200 and Ultramax 400 were my favorites as they had the best colors and reliability. Most importantly from the past 7 or so months of shooting film, I learned what my visual preferences are and how I like to style my work.

I found out that I prefer wider shots, warmer tones, vibrant colors, and heavy contrast in lighting. I am able to match these in my digital photography with the help of a little tweaking in my picture styles, white balance, and a few lens filters. I never shot black and white film because I figured out very quickly just how much I love and am fascinated by colors and how they interact. I've been studying color theory as best I can so that my images can be more dynamic in the future.

I also learned a lot about my shooting style. I used to be the kind of photographer who was so paranoid about getting the shot that I would focus less on posing and composition and more just spamming the shutter button. the analog experience taught me to slow down and think more about WHAT I was capturing rather than HOW. Don't get me wrong, the how is important to a point but there is no image without interesting composition and subject matter. I now slow myself down and focus more on how I am composing my frame or coaching my subject which has resulted in more engaging work for my portfolio. I used to walk away from an hour shoot with hundreds of images (most of which were just duplicates or uninteresting) and now I leave a shoot with under a hundred images, all of which have potential. I learned to trust my camera and get my settings correct before I even start shooting. I rarely look at the screen anymore (unless the weather is being unpredictable) because I keep an eye on my light meter and let the camera control some aspects.

My process now looks like setting a constant ISO and a shutter speed that lets me maintain a relatively low aperture for portrait shoots. I use the Sunny 16 rule when I do street photography where I have a constant ISO and a shutter speed too match, setting the aperture based on the weather or scene and level of contrast I want. Usually, this translates to preserving the highlights in order to increase contrast. If I'm feeling lazy, I'll do the first two steps but then set my camera in shutter priority and let it decide the aperture for itself.

Film has completely changed my digital shooting style for the better as it has made me more thoughtful of the elements that create an image such as light, subject matter, colors, etc. I focus less on my camera and more on the moment. Soon I will be in the market for a new camera that limits my capabilities like a film camera so that I can keep training my mind and my eye. Until then, I will keep applying these new skills in my work and see what the future brings!


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