Despite not being particularly proficient at it, photography was always something that captured my interest. And it wasn’t because I wasn’t exposed to a lot of other hobby-like things, because I was. It’s just that there was something about freezing a moment in time that spoke to me in a way picking up old coins from the subway never did.
Coupled with the low-key hipster that lives in the back of my mind, there was naturally only one path this interest in taking photos would bring me down: Film photography, an art form that I think can be best described as the photographical equivalent of edging.
Much like a lot of you who started out in digital photography, I was very hesitant about shooting film. It was one of those self-depreciating moments where I simply didn’t think I was worthy of using the medium. In my head, I had to at least master digital before even thinking about moving to film.
But I was wrong because it’s not the same
Through the process of completing my first roll of film I realised that these two forms of photography are vastly different. So different, in fact, that they’re almost foreign.
Sure, you still have to point and shoot. You still have to consider factors like lighting, composition and all that good stuff, but the entire experience is night and day.
You don’t get to see your shot before you take it. You don’t get the instant gratification of a winning shot. You can’t immediately upload it to Instagram and hope for the likes to roll in. There is no sharing the moment you’re in right now. And every time you pull the shutter — at least in my case — you don’t actually know if you have a shot or not. The urge to whip out the digital camera just to make sure you have the shot is almost irresistible.
Each shot matters more than the last
Especially when you’ve only got one roll of film. And when things (inevitably) go wrong, it’s almost like torture. You don’t have the luxury of shooting a thousand photos with the mindset of “there’s bound to be a winner in there, somewhere”. No, you only have 36 so you have to make them count.
Which means I had to plan my exposures in a way that I never had to with my 64GB SanDisk Extreme SD card which could fit nearly 5,000 images. It was such an involved process where I had to think about things I never did because of how spoilt I was by the conveniences of digital. Try getting a perfectly level shot handheld without an electronic level and you’ll know what I mean.
Identical yet distinct in its own way
Digital photography, especially with what people like Brandon Woelfel are doing with it, is almost a completely different art form now. Just look at his before-and-after shots and you can see how much he pushes the files in post to get that particular aesthetic. The end result looks good, but I don’t think you can do that with a medium like film.
Even the way you derive pleasure from these two forms of photography is completely different. I know I talked about how you don’t get that instant gratification with film, but what I didn’t realise until I sent my film in to be developed was how much better the waiting actually made the final payoff.
The joy, excitement and relief that washed over me when I finally got the Google Drive link to the high-res scans of my film was amazing. It was exhilarating. Going through each image, a part of me still couldn’t believe that I had usable photos. In a way, it gave me this sense of accomplishment that I kinda knew what I was doing with photography but also reminded me of how much more I had to learn.
Yes, there are some that are out of focus. Some that are not leveled. Some that are under or over exposed. But I love them all, even the weird double-exposure one that I still have no idea how I got.
And this is why I wholeheartedly encourage you to try out film photography if you’ve been hesitant to try it out. It’s challenging, rewarding and I think a completely new experience compared to digital. But most of all, it’s a welcomed change of pace from the instant nature of digital.
In a way, it’s almost poetic how the two sides of this same coin could feel so different. The contrasting nature of these two essentially identical forms of art is almost like a reflection of how dependent we’ve become on instant gratification — and the aproval of strangers we don’t even know — that we miss out on how much more joy we can get from actually taking our time with things.
But maybe that’s just my sentimental side talking. There’s really only one way for you to find out: Give film photography a try.
If you have no clue on where to start, you can see how I got things started myself on the next page. You can treat it as a “Beginner’s guide” but I’m no expert on film, so I guess it’s more like a “Beginner’s guide for beginners by a beginner”.
Every photo you see here was from my first roll of film, completely unedited.