Stephen Shore says Young Photographers Should Start with Film

Stephen Shore thinks film has lessons to teach today’s photographers.

Want to become a more decisive photographer? Color photography pioneer Stephen Shore says you should start by shooting with film and developing a darkroom habit.

Shore may seem like the quintessential image of a contemporary photographer who established his craft in the 1970s, and has maintained a stubborn devotion for analogue methods up to the present, but you’ll be surprised to know he has embraced iPhone-ography in the last few years of his six decades-long career, posting his snaps on Instagram like the young ones do.

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Still, he maintains that film still has lessons to teach today’s generation of photographers, and strongly believes the darkroom still houses a wealth of creative experience up to the present.

He explains in detail in an interview with Artsy why he thinks a career in photography should be built on the foundations of film photography.

“I don’t have a prejudice against digital—that’s all I use now—but I’m convinced that there are certain things, very hard to describe, that are learned by doing darkroom work,” he explains. For one, he notes that a big chunk of the decision making is physical. It trains you to look at light differently, as compared to manipulating exposure using a slider in Photoshop or Lightroom.

“Turning a dial, pressing a button and exposing it, taking out the processing paper and looking at it—people get a more visceral sense of the decisions they make by working in analog.”

Apart from the more hands-on approach and slower process that film photographers today sing praises to, film is also widely regarded as a relentless teacher of discipline. This is what Shore himself learned, but more as a matter of economics than an “aesthetic discipline.” With limited shots, you simply have to learn how to be a more decisive photographer and shoot deliberately. Each shot with film costs money, especially today.

“With the color 8×10, it would cost $15 a shot—about $75 in today’s money—every time I took a picture,” said Shore, who began shooting with a 35mm camera and moved to 4×5 and 8×10 large format. “I just decided I wouldn’t take more than one picture of anything, and over time this became an extraordinary discipline—it forced me to decide what I really wanted.”

There you have it, young photographers, straight from Stephen Shore himself. Don’t dismiss your grandparents’ good old film cameras just yet. Grab one, load it with a roll, and begin your journey to becoming a decisive photographer today.