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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Steel

Why I love film photography

Many of you reading this will have some fond memory of shooting on film, others a recollection of getting your negatives back from the pharmacy, only to be overcome by crushing disappointment.

When I bought my first camera in 2010, digital had already stamped its mark on the industry. Because of it I simply missed the age of film. Although over the years I have occasionally dabbled in shooting film, I have never photographed wildlife on it.

With a five-week trip to Botswana planned for last october, I decided it was time to start my film journey! Along with all of my usual camera equipment, I brought an Olympus OM-10 35mm film camera with a 50mm f1.8 lens, and two rolls of Ilford HP5 Plus film.

While it was certainly a learning curve, as someone who loves the process behind capturing creative images, I instantly fell in love with the more concise thought-out approach of photographing on film. From carefully planning out each image to the element of unknown results.

Averaging taking only one image a day, the excitement of getting the camera out each time there was a perfect scene was unlike anything I have felt in photography before. Investing huge amounts of time and meaning into each capture really is an exciting way of searching for beauty.

With digital's rapid-fire approach, capturing a moment in a sequence seems more important than getting that exact moment perfectly. Stepping back and thinking about each element of the image was a welcome reminder of carefully focusing on the details of the frame, rather than relying on a numbers game. By having a finite amount of film, you are forced to be intentional.

Creating something that holds a physical form (ie exposing on film) changes the way you view each exposure. This idea that that moment is frozen in time for history in the form of a negative, certainly made me feel like every shot should have a purpose.

After an impatient few weeks, before I could get home and get the first roll of film developed, I was excited to see the results. To be absolutely honest, I was Initially massively let down with the results. The world of digital has made us obsessed with clarity and 'perfection', and failing that, you can always edit the images to make them fit your vision. Even in the most technologically advanced age of photography, we are still complaining about issues in quality... and it is very easy to get sucked into this vacuum!

It took me a while to get out of that digital mindset, but eventually, I began to realise that the natural flaws in film are what give character to an image. The grain, the blown highlights, the unedited feel to the moment. In search of perfection, we have forgotten the beauty of imperfection. Whether it is the nostalgic visual qualities of film, or its gritty aesthetic, there is something undeniably unique about its look.

The dangers of perfectionism are real, and this is something I have touched on in past newsletters. We are exposed to an incredible amount of beautiful ‘perfect’ images on a daily basis, either on social media on our phones or in print. This overwhelming sense of what is a set standard of image quality creates constant pressure as a photographer to keep up that high standard. Often at the detriment of creativity and enjoyment.

Digital photography can be so clinical. Recently I heard the phrase “convenience without flavour”, while I don't remember the context, I can't help but think it applies to the constant desire for equipment to create the ‘perfect images’. Shooting on film was certainly a reminder of the lack of expression in the digitally perfect world.

When I initially got into photography, it was simply an exciting new hobby. When that hobby became a career, the purpose of my photography obviously changed. Picking up a film camera, for the first time in years, photography has become a hobby again, and I am loving the process of seeing the world through an enthusiast's eyes.

To paraphrase a rather cliche and overused quote, it is so important to remember that the best camera available is the one in your hands. Even a 42-year-old amateur film camera can take images that I am proud of. Enjoy seeing, enjoy being creative, and always enjoy the process!

I would love to know your views on this!? do you want to pick up a film camera again, or has it rightfully been pushed to the sidelines by digital?

- William


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