Editor’s Note: This blog post was originally published on photographer Gina Manning’s blog. It is being syndicated here with permission.
I’ve got the film bug! BAD. About two months ago I had a friend show me an old film camera she got from her father and proceeded to let me play with it. Big mistake — I became infatuated with the idea of owning my own dinosaur. I now have 5 and I regret nothing, I tell ya! Shooting film is such a glorious and unique form of art. If you haven’t already; here’s why I did and why you should ditch digital for a while, too.
“Shooting with film is an entirely new beast. The fear, the confidence, the wait, everything about the process. There were so many emotions that came along with the first film set I shot!”
Shooting with film is an entirely new beast. The fear, the confidence, the wait, everything about the process. There were so many emotions that came along with the first film set I shot! I’ve been shooting digital for years now and don’t get me wrong, digital is phenomenal. The amount of control you have over the entire process really helps you learn the craft and develop a system for the way you create and the overall quality of the photos. But if you know me or have read any of my posts thus far, you know I’m obsessed with finding new ways to break down the way I shoot and be able to see something differently. Film undoubtedly does just that; while shooting film it feels more like a relationship than a working agreement. You’ve got to handle each step of the way with care or else you’re shit out of luck.
Right off the bat I wanted to keep the prep for my first film photo shoot minimal and shoot with a model I knew would be down to experiment all day, since it was all new to me. We met up a couple times and talked inspiration, style, locations and the vibe of it all over (many glasses of) wine and eggplant fries. We knew we wanted to keep it funky and minimal with an authentic candid feel. I did my homework and watched as many YouTube tutorials as I could the week before the shoot on the camera I had yet to use (living life on the edge) and grabbed 7 rolls of film from my BFF Charlie over at Hunt’s. I’m a big fan of Fujifilm Fujicolor Superia X-TRA 400 right now – I love the look and all the green and blues that come out of it, plus it’s fairly cheap ($4.99 a roll). I chose to use the Miranda Sensorex camera mainly because it has the option to remove the viewfinder prism and shoot like an old forensic detective in the 50’s whilst making me feel like I had a snazzy medium format camera *cough cough* GIMME A HASSLEBLAD, plz.
“It felt very romantic, bringing nothing but a battery-less camera and a satchel of film rolls while following around a beautiful woman all day.”
On the day of the shoot we ran around the city with a tub of clothes and no shame. It felt very romantic, bringing nothing but a battery-less camera and a satchel of film rolls while following around a beautiful woman all day. We must have hit at least 10 of the amazing old shops still alive in the city, snuck into a recently closed down furniture store and stopped to eat one too many times. After a 12-hour shoot day we deliberately made our last location a bar because there were many beers there with our names on it.
“Shooting film felt like slow motion, like in sports movies where the star has only mere moments before the clock runs out to make the winning shot; a well timed montage with everything on the line.”
Whilst shooting on the go is when I really felt the difference between digital and film. When I found a sweet backdrop/location I had to prep the shot in my mind, light meter it and then wait until she settled in just right and SNAP. Maybe sparing 5 or so shots at most on a single location/pose. Alongside the solid and focused time you had to take out of the shoot to change each roll with utmost care. This transition was insane, being so used to testing lighting by snapping actual test shots until it looked good in the preview screen and then again with a wild trigger finger until you captured just the right moment. Shooting film felt like slow motion, like in sports movies where the star has only moments before the clock runs out to make the winning shot; a well timed montage with everything on the line. It took me a bit to realize the gravity of each shot as I found myself having to change the roll after just the first location.
While we were eating breakfast I sat there and ran through all of the shots I had taken with that first roll in my mind. I could only think of 3 or 4 that really stuck out – this made me realize that I only had 6 more to go for the entirety of the day. This is another beautiful thing I’ve found about film, how the shots you take are burned into your memory for the fear that it may be the last time you see them. If something happened to the film in the process of getting it developed or if you just shot it with terrible settings, it was gone – forever. There’s something to be said about an art form where there’s almost a 50-50 chance a mistake in the process could become a beautiful happy accident or ruin the piece entirely. There were a couple times in that set where not properly rolling and preserving the film created these beautiful light leaks and others where I lost a handful of the shots all together because of that same slip up.
“There’s something to be said about an art form where there’s almost a 50-50 chance a mistake in the process could become a beautiful happy accident or ruin the piece entirely.”
The next step in film you go through is THE WAIT. That one or so weeks after you send them off to “develop summer camp” where you convince yourself none of the photos are going to come out and you have ruined everything. The lack of instant gratification with film is in itself a good life lesson. The amount of knowledge and confidence it takes to shoot film is something you don’t get with digital these days. There’s no auto setting on that old metal rig from the 60’s (at least not one you can really trust anymore) and unless you know what you want from the shot and the settings it takes to get there, you’re really not aiming for success. That being said, the day you get the phone call saying your film is in, it’s the damn best.
“The lack of instant gratification with film is in itself a good life lesson.”
Half the fun is finally getting to throw that CD into your computer and see what things came through on the negatives. Film photos have this unique softness and texture to them I find myself always trying to replicate with my digital photos. They have such character without a lick of editing – rough edges where there are crooked black lines and weird speckles in the frame, accidental double exposure, banging!
I don’t like to over process and over edit any of my film photos, just a quick color alteration if needed. I don’t touch up the shots because the rawness and flaws of film are its beauty. At the end of the shoot I made it out with 31 final shots, and I couldn’t be happier. I love them because it’s something completely different for me. Both the look and the focus of the photos felt more organic. It was all about the moment itself over anything technical. The only true downside for me with film was the cost – if you already have the gear for digital, it’s basically free. But with film on each shoot there is an expense. The need to purchase the film and the processing fees, that ran me about $120 total. Not terrible, considering the amount of new portfolio work I got from this amazing shooting experience.
Look for the full spread release soon!