Why I love film photography:
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1. Aesthetically, they look beautiful.
I like the way all my film photos look. Kodak Portra 400 is gorgeous. Kodak Trix pushed to 1600 looks beautiful. Medium format film looks breathtaking.
I like both my film and digital photos. Yet this is the difference:
It is more difficult to make digital photos to look beautiful; digital photographs require more processing.
However with film, it always looks good. I just shoot it, get it processed then scanned, and I like the final result.
2. Fewer photos to look through
The curse of digital photography: too many photos to look through.
The benefit of film photography: when you look through your photos, you have more signal and less noise in your photos.
For example because film costs money to shoot and cumbersome to process, it means we only shoot something if it is “worth it”. With digital, you shoot a lot of random crap (because there is no downside of shooting digital).
Thus, you have a higher “keeper percentage” with film (when compared with digital).
3. Beautiful mistakes
Sometimes you get light leaks on film. But sometimes these look really beautiful! Which is fun and exciting.
4. Unintentional marination
This is the interesting thing about film:
Most of us procrastinate on processing our film (weeks, months, sometimes years), which means there is a “unintentional forgetting” of the photos you shot.
This means, you’re more likely to look at your photos more objectively, when you forgot the photos you’ve shot on film!
5. Happy surprises
Shooting family events and your loved ones on film is amazing, because there is always a delay between when you shoot the photo, and by the time you view the photo (often weeks, months) later (after the event). Which means,
When you look at old family snapshots on film, you re-live the event and happening in an enjoyable way!
Also, it sparks positive memories in the past; old apartments you used to live in, old adventures you went on, and fun things you’ve done in the past.
Often recollecting a past happy memory is the same as having that happy experience for the first time.
6. Unique aesthetics
There are some properties of film which just cannot be done digitally. For example:
- Film grain (random and chaotic). Simulates digital grain doesn’t look as good as film grain.
- Blur: Blurry photos on film aesthetically look better than blurry digital photos. I’m not sure why, but this is a difference I have spotted.
- Flash with film: Photos shot on a flash on film look different than when done digitally. FAR more dynamic range in film than digital (I think digital medium format film comes close to the dynamic range of film, but 35mm film is still superior).
- Random scratches and dust spots: Scanning without scratches and dust spots is difficult. Yet, I like the gritty, imperfect nature of these additional imperfections. Digital is too perfect (ugly). I believe imperfections are a pre-requisite to beauty.
- You can never have a digital photograph or sensor emulate the exact same look of Kodak Portra 400 color film, which I find has some of the most beautiful, random, chaotic, and sublime characteristics in terms of the colors. Sometimes the photos are saturated, sometimes more pastel; the randomness is what makes it fun.
7. You don’t know what you will get
What makes gambling and a slot machine so addictive and fun? The fact that there is randomness, chance, and luck involved.
There is more luck in film photography than compared with digital photography.
So film photography is fun because when you see something interesting you want to photograph, it is impossible to precisely know how the final photograph will look like.
Thus, you shoot things on film, just to fulfill your personal curiosity of how the final photograph will look like.
Or as Garry Winogrand said:
“I photograph the world to see what the world looks like photographed.”
Film Photography Assignments
- Pick up FILM NOTES, and use it to track your personal progress in film photography (or for instant access, get FILM NOTES MOBILE EDITION).
- For more knowledge on film photography, check out japancamerahunter.com
- If you’re new to film, just use any old film camera you have at home, or even use a disposable film camera!
- Always keep the film camera alongside your digital camera; shoot both. All cameras are good in my book.
- Learn more about Film Photography 101 Articles >