Why you should be shooting film in 2017 I

That's right, you should be stashing your digital camera away in your drawer for now, get yourself a film camera and some rolls and start shooting with it. Why would you do that? The answer is simple, to get better at photography. Isn't that what we all want?

Late Afternoon Light On Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT

Now the question is why on earth you'd want to forget about your 2010+ digital camera with an old camera from the 80's or 90's (or maybe older). That's because you don't have all the bells and whistles in an old film cameras. You don't have this shiny LCD screen on the back that tells you whether you got the shot or not. Your film camera will make you develop an instinct for that. 

Pulaski Skyway Bridge, Lincoln Park, NJ

If you one of the people who envision the shot before it's perceived, then shooting film is good for you, cause you can decide upfront if you want it black and white or color. From high contrast black dramatic skies with white clouds to muted subtle shades of gray. You can go crazy about color and choose different film for low contrast or high contrast situation. Whether you want vivid highly saturated colors or muted tones. You are in control to what you envisioned the shoot would be.

On the other hand if you like surprise shots, then film also got you. I'm sure you heard about the surprises that film photographers are talking about, when they develop the film and print it or scan it, there usually will be surprising shots in terms of composition, colors, tones, ... etc

Take the following shot for example. This was at sunrise at Catskill, New York. I spent the night doing some night photography with my Mamiya RZ67. Then I took this shot. What I didn't notice is that there was some dense fog on the lens from the change in temperature when the sun started coming up, and I got his shot with the whole scene looked fogged.

Fogged Sunrise Morning in Catskill, NY

Frozen Mamiya RZ67

However, the biggest benefit of shooting film is to train yourself how to get what you want in one shot! One of the pro and also a  con at the same time of DLSRs is that you can burst the hell out of scene. With an advanced DSLR like Canon 1D X Mark II that can burst 20 fps at 20.2 MP up to 170 shot in raw format! Or the Sony Alpha A9 with up to 20 fps at 24.2 MP up to 241 shot in raw format, you can just keep clicking!

Most cameras now have bracket shooting mode with either 3, 5, 9 stops. That's crazy, you could expose a scene at x EV and have 5 stops below x and 5 stops above x.

When you switch to film, you only have one shot! That's it. It's more complicated than just half press the shutter button then clicking specially if you got yourself a camera with no builtin light meter. You have to think about exposure range on film, how do you want shadows to be rendered? what's the maximum highlights in the scene? Are they blowing out? Are your shadows pitch black, or are there some details in them? That's what you will learn and I'm not going to lie to you, it's a long and hard way that can be sometimes frustrating, but the outcome is stunning.

Iona Island, NY -- Bad development

If you mastered this, even when you go back to your digital world, everything would seem so easy to you. You will override the camera settings at ease. You won't be bursting 9 exposures anymore, you would just maybe burst 3 exposures in very high contrast situation (like shooting in the sun), and when you do that, you just want to make sure that you got what you need for post processing.

Iona Island Sunset View, NY

Also, when you have only one shot to squeeze that crazy light in your film, you learn to make decisions. You learn what do you want to be dark, and what do you want to be light. A very annoying thing to me in DSLRs is that they make you not selective. Lots of photos come out with very well exposed shadows and highlights and everything is balanced perfectly specially with HDR processing, tone mapping, and luminous masks techniques. They give you a huge lee way with your shots that you usually forget what did you want out of the shot, or what did you feel when you came up to the scene and decided that yes this is worth a shot with my camera.

With film, you get to learn that dark shadows are not bad, but they add more depth and make the viewer looks more in your photo. Highlights are not your enemy as they are in DSLRs, but draw attention to your composition. Blacks or whites could help your composition by adding negative space. You get to be selective with what you want to include in your composition. You are in control. It's your shot, you are the artist who gets to choose what tones each part of the compositions have.

Sunrise In Catskill, NY

You will develop an artistic instinct and you will be more selective with your work. You will learn what to discard and what to keep from your shots cause the choice is usually very clear. On the other hand in DSLRs, most probably photographers have many same shots so selection can be sometimes hard. They usually throw away hundreds if not thousands of photos away. Maybe not even looking at them! Nope, not gonna happen when you shoot film.

Lone Tree, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

That brings us to the end of part I. In part II I'll explain which film format you should be shooting, the difference between shooting black and white and color. And how to be an expert and get your hands dirty and develop film by yourself.

Long Cold Night in Catskill

On a very cold weekend in early March 2016, I decided to take a ride to Catskill in upstate New York. My goal was to train myself on night photography with film. I parked at the Ashokan Promenade just before the bridge. I scouted the location before on a previous weekend and I knew where I was going. I reached there an hour and half before sunset.

It's very beautiful spot, certainly Catskill doesn't get its fame for nothing. It's truly a very beautiful area. I walked on the bridge and saw the scene below. Sun was setting already, water was so still and you can see there's some frozen water and ice on rocks. I setup my Mamiya RZ67, loaded it with Kodak Portra 400, and took this shot.

Sunset at Catskill. Mamiya RZ67, 65mm at f/22 1/60 sec. Kodak Portra 400

Just couple of steps to the left and I took another shot. Very quite cloudless sky, very cold air and still water at the southern tip of the Ashokan Reservoir.

Sunset at Catskill. Mamiya RZ67, 65mm at f/22 1 sec. Kodak Portra 400

Sunset at Catskill. Mamiya RZ67, 65mm at f/22 1 sec. Kodak Portra 400

And couldn't resist taking one more. I liked the symmetry between the sky and water. The mountains reflecting like a mirror.

Reflections at Catskill. Mamiya RZ67, 65mm at f/22 1 sec. Kodak Portra 400

Reflections at Catskill. Mamiya RZ67, 65mm at f/22 1 sec. Kodak Portra 400

After that I took couple of another shots, slightly different compositions. Then I had only one shot left in my roll, I saved it for the main event. I started taking couple of shots using my DSLR. I waited till moonset and with the help of the shots that I took with my DSLR and couple of reciprocity graphs for the Kodak Portra 400, I setup my Mamiya on f/8 and T and clicked the shutter release cable. Very quietly I rested the shutter release cable on the tripod, I head back to my car, it was freezing, I couldn't feel my fingers. I decided to take a nap and setup my alarm after 2 hours.

Two hours later I woke up, decided to go ahead and check the camera. It was still there (which is good, yayy) but according to my calculations I had one more hour at least to go, so I headed back to my car again and took a nap again. One hour and 10 minutes later I woke up, walk up to the camera, check the stop watch that I had running to calculate the shutter speed. I released the shutter after 3 hours and 13 minutes to have the following shot.

Stars above Ashokan Reservoir at Catskill, NY. Mamiya RZ67, 65mm at f/8 3 HR & 13 Min. Kodak Portra 400

Stars above Ashokan Reservoir at Catskill, NY. Mamiya RZ67, 65mm at f/8 3 HR & 13 Min. Kodak Portra 400

I spent the rest of the night shooting with my DSLR till sunrise, that's when I switched to Velvia 50 and took couple of shots for the sunrise, but that's for another post.

Surprisingly this shot turned out to be successful one. It certainly could have used more exposure, but I don't think that I could get any details in the mountains. There's definitely lots of grain in this one, I didn't enlarge it yet but I printed it with my Epson printer and it turned out pretty. As a first attempt for night/star film photography, I'd say that this one is a success.