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How Shooting Film Can Improve Your Digital Photography

The following tutorial on how shooting film can help you improve your digital photography was submitted by James Kerr of Sweet As Photography. An avid digital shooter he has recently been experimenting with film photography to help improve his results.

Olympus XA2 - The 35mm Zone Focus Camera I Use

Olympus XA2 - The 35mm Zone Focus Camera I Use

Taking time out of your digital photography to shoot a couple of rolls of film can be a liberating and educational experience. Below are a few ways that digging out that old film camera from the attic can help you to improve the quality of the digital photographs you take as well as some of the benefits shooting film can bring to your photography.

Think Twice Shoot Once

Every few months digital memory cards get both bigger in capacity and cheaper in price. When shooting digitally we rarely have to worry about running out of memory. As a result it is easy to slip into the habit of taking (and keeping) many poor or below standard shots. In effect we can become lazy and fall into the mind set that if you take enough shots you’ll eventually get a good one.

When shooting with a film camera however you are restricted by the amount of frames in your film (typically 24 or 36 exposures). In addition you’ll want to avoid taking more than one shot of a particular composition due to the processing costs associated with film photography. As a result you will immediately start thinking much more before pressing the shutter release button.

Results From A Recent Roll of Film

Results From A Recent Roll of Film


Get Back To Basics To Tune Your Photography Mind

Of course you may decide to shoot a few rolls with an old SLR camera however it is best to use an auto exposure 35mm compact camera. Such cameras usually only require the user to select maybe one of three focus zones (according to how far your subject is from the camera) and maybe the ISO.

Using a simple automatic film camera removes the need for you to make decisions before every shot about things such as white balance, aperture, shutter speed, exposure compensation etc. By being freed from such technical decisions you can focus all of your attention on two things: selecting a truly interesting subject and ensuring the composition is the most compelling.

Learn From Your Mistakes

By taking just one frame of each scene you photograph, when you get the prints back you will of course end up with some poor shots among the good ones. When sorting through vast quantities of digital images it is easy to forget to think about what went wrong with each of the rejected images as you continue to hunt for a better one of the same subject. Only having one frame for each composition forces you to think longer and harder about why the shot didn’t work or what you could have done better to improve the photograph.

Save Yourself Some Space

Shooting digitally you can quickly start amassing thousands of poor quality or reject photographs, that will never be hung up on your wall and will probably never escape from the depths of your computers hard drive. As a result of shooting film you’ll be taking fewer shots (hopefully of a much higher standard) meaning you should have less need for huge amounts of hard disk space.

Save Time With Post Production

As discussed above shooting with film should help you increase your ‘keep rate’, ensuring more of your images are perfect straight out of the camera. Perhaps the key benefit of this is that you will have to spend less time improving your digital photographs during post production.

Enjoy The Printed Images

When shooting film it is easy to forget all of the photographs you took on a film. Unlike digital cameras you can not immediately review your shots on the back of the camera. There is nothing quite like the excitement of picking up your film from the developing lab and having that first look through the prints. It is also nice to have physical prints of your photographs, something we as digital photographers rarely do.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

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  • http://www.os-am.com OsmosisStudios

    I’ve heard this argument time and again, and while it holds true to a certain extent, it isn’t quite valid as the catch-all it’s often billed as.

    I shoot both Digital and Film for several reasons, often exclusive to each medium. It’s not that shooting film slows me down or forces me to think about what Im doing: I have no costs associated with it (special circumstances): I Just LIKE film. I like the feel of it, the effects I get.

    I shoot digital for much of the same reasons: I LIKE digital. I like how I can use flash over and over and over and get it JUST right without burning through 2 rolls of film and a week or waiting. i like the instant response I can glean from it. I like how CLEAN digital is.

    Most of my serious work is digital, because that’s what I consider to be most powerful. Most of my personal work is film, because it has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that digital cant quite replicate for me. The decision to shoot one or the other is not based on technique or learning or anticipation or storage or what have you: its because I WANT to.

  • Bjorn

    I took it a step further and bought a FM2N to shoot film but shoot it fully manual.

    Soon enough, this progressed to trying my hand at developing. Then to getting my own equipment (free off craigslist by someone who had given up on film).

    Then to picking up a second FM2N. And of course a rangerfinder .. and now a holga (medium focus and lomo in one handy package).

    Beware of the danger of film. It’s addictive!

    I still happily shoot my D300 for what it’s worth ;)

  • http://vrillusions.com Todd Eddy

    I’ve been looking into a holga for both “the film challenge” with the added benefit/challenge of being a medium format camera. Not only does this add more challenges and making each photo “worth” more it also introduces something other than the standard 35mm cameras. Also been thinking about getting a better medium format camera although may hold off until I play with a holga since those are about as cheap as you can get.

  • johnp

    Good post. I do agree in the days when I was shooting film especially medium format I took a lot more care about what I was doing and a lot more time with each shot. With digital I find, even though beforehand I might work out settings etc, when I actually start taking shots I forget all that and just concentrate on the image. Quite often afterwards I could kick myself thinking “why didnt I adjust the ISO…etc”. I need to try to slow down and think more about what I am doing.

  • johnp

    P.S. I was very impressed to find my granddaughter’s photography teacher first made all the students use film cameras and process all their own film before allowing them to go near a digital camera. Now with digital she is not allowed to use any settings other than manual settings.

  • http://www.freakphotography.com/ AceSG

    i love shooting in film, only thing is that you cant post good pics online. and its even better if your the person whos doing the dev. iin the dark room.

  • http://www.tylerrobbins.net Tyler

    I love film, and for some projects it is the only way to go. A good medium format camera is bested only by the best and most expensive dslrs on the market. Sheet film is even more addictive, a scan of a 4×5 can yeild about 120 megapixles at 2400 dpi. Crazy detail! But at 25 bucks for a box of ten sheets plus $2.50 a sheet fro processing, you have to make keepers from the start. I think it is a great idea to learn on a film camera. I start my students with pinole cameras on the first day…. to tease them and strip away their preconceptions.

  • http://www.capturedconcept.com Ron Gibson

    I can’t agree more.

    It’s not the fact that you need to shoot film in order to improve your photography. It’s that you need to think about what you are shooting instead of just blasting off captures. I’m constantly asked how many shots I keep from a session and they are usually surprised. It’s not that I am blasting away and find one in the batch that is amazing and the rest are garbage. I set up for a shot and decide on everything. Then take a shot once I’m confident with lighting, composure, and field of view. I’ll still take about 20-30 images while coaching a model and 95% of those images would be acceptable. I just choose to finish one out of the bunch.

    Getting back to the point- think about what you are shooting and you will have a harder time deciding what images to toss, instead of what images to save.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/ksuwildkat/ Rob

    I am not about to go back to film for the sole reason of expense but I realized I had become a “spray and pray” shooter so when my new “flickr year” rolled around (I started my first 365 on 1 Sept), I set a new challenge for myself that I call “Tuesday Twenty.” Every Tuesday I take 20 pictures and 20 pictures only. I shoot in single shot mode and I dont allow do overs (ok, one time but that was because some butt head honked at me). And then I post all 20 on my flickr. It makes me really think hard about the picture I am taking. I really try hard to put my best pictures on my flickr so putting up all 20 no matter what really feels uncomfortable at times. I think it has made me a better photographer…and I didnt have to pay for film!!

  • LP

    I started shooting film again this year and I have to say it is addicting. I picked up a mint condition Canon AE-1 and 50mm 1.8 for $50 and have been shooting mostly B/W film the whole year. I learned with film in the 70′s and 80′s then left photography until two years ago. I have to agree with Osmosis’ comment that there is something about the feel of working with film, the process, the unknown until later whether you got the shot you visualized at the scene that just feels different (and good). I still love to shoot digital, but I also love to shoot film again.

    One can save on cost by taking the film to the local Walgreens/Costco and have everything put on CD. You can then import them into PS and manipulate them as you do any jpg or tiff image.

    Give it a try…I think you’ll like it!

  • Marcello

    i think this is a little silly. you’re sounding exactly like those 60 years old people that keep whining about how “things were better back in the old days”… like those who keep saying that LP are better than CD’s.
    film have it’s uses. i still shoot B/W strictly on film because i love how B/W looks on film and i can choose different films for different grain etc. etc.

    But all your trying to do here is taking film limitations and make them look like they’re nice features.
    They’re not.

    And, if you really really really want to have limitation you don’t really have to shoot film, you can still do it digitally:

    Think Twice Shoot Once
    You feel like you’re too trigger happy and don’t focus on composition?
    Well… First of all last time i checked people were gifted with free will: focus yourself on composition and take less pictures. Is this really so hard to do? You have the willpower of a gnat? Just put one of those 256mb CF cards you have lying around in your 12MP camera and shoot raw. Now you have a 20 exposure CF card. oh, and having to pay 1.5$ for film, process and print for each picture you take IS NOT a nice feature. Only snobs would think that.

    Get Back To Basics To Tune Your Photography Mind
    Too many things to focus on distract you from composition?
    Put your camera on full auto and, voila, you have a dumb point and shoot camera.
    If even that zoom lens is too distracting just put on that nice 50mm you probably have lying around.
    You don’t have a fixed lens? Well, a 50mm 1.8/F is around 100$. Just like developing and printing 3 rolls of B/W film. And, unlike processing, you will use it for the years to come.

    Learn From Your Mistakes
    Yeah, sure…
    Too bad that when you get your photos back (here in Milano it takes more or less a week to have your B/W films processed) you will have probably have forgotten why you shot that picture, how you shot it and what was the reasoning behind that particular frame.
    A nice LCD display allows you to consider what went wrong while you’re still in front of your scene. And, if you found something wrong, you could even have the chance to re-shoot it!
    no i’m no advocate of “chimping” constantly but, from a learning point of view, there’s nothing better than immediate feed back on what you did, while your choices are still fresh to your mind.
    and, should you really feel the need to let some time pass and watch the pictures after a while, well, just turn the post-shoot review feature of your camera off or simply don’t look at the d@#n LCD.
    Oh, btw, you should still possess the aforementioned free will, so taking only one picture at each scene and focusing 100% on composition is something you can do regardless of the medium.

    Save Yourself Some Space
    Yeah, sure, tell that to my 3 boxes of printed pictures…
    Hard disk space is much cheaper than shelf space in a single room apt, trust me.
    And computers have an amazing feature: the delete button.
    Oh, and should you ever want to share a picture online so maybe you can get some nice criticism after focusing so much on composition? Well… you need a scanner. Which, you guessed it, takes up space. And costs money and time.

    Save Time With Post Production
    Well… Unless you used up all your free will trying to resist the urge to go trigger happy you should still have enough left to choose not to do post production on your pictures.

    Enjoy The Printed Images
    Ah, those good-ole-times… when trains run on schedule, everything was nice and warm. What’s good in having to: go to the shop to bring the films, wait a week, go back to the shop and pay a nice sum of money to get your pictures back, hoping they didn’t screw up the process (believe me, it happens)? And what’s keeping you from printing digital pictures you like? (beside the fact that, just like every printed film picture you have, the prints will end up forgotten in a dusty box somewhere).

    Really, i have absolutely nothing against shooting film: it’s nice, once in a while, to do something different, especially if you have the change to shoot some old, exotic camera. And i still think that B/W on digital isn’t even remotely comparable to film. And medium format is simply a whole different planet (until someone comes up with a medium format digital camera than costs less than a BMW).

    Yet it really annoys me when people try to take blatant limitations and use them as selling points.
    You like the challenge they pose? Fine.
    Limit yourself to one picture per subject, use a fixed focal lens, build yourself a pin-hole lens or shoot with one arm tied behind your back.
    But saying “In addition you’ll want to avoid taking more than one shot of a particular composition due to the processing costs associated with film photography” is snob and moron-ish.

    Imposing yourself limitations by choosing a different medium won’t yield any of the results you speak about if you don’t also change your mindset. And, if you need to change your mindset anyway, what’s the point of putting up with all the hassle of film?

  • crunch

    @marcello:

    I agree entirely. I still use my film SLR for B/W. Otherwise it’s discipline and the will to learn which makes you a better photographer, not film.

  • http://acagedbirdsingsandthings.blogspot.com ACagedBirdSings

    This is a great post and definitely very valid. I have moved across to film for all personal work (traveling/friends/etc.) as I wanted to give myself more discipline as a photographer and I also find that the process of shooting film especially for taking portraits means that you get much more from your subject as you can’t just snap the image but have to compose it – I find my film portraits have much more feeling. Downside – I recently visited South Africa (I was flown out to shoot a wedding – which I did on Digital) and shot around 40 Rolls (including 120 for my Mamiya) and it cost me over £400 to process, which when there is no client footing the bill it definitely stung a bit.
    Unlike some of the others who have comment, I do like the softness of film, I also like that it’s look ages. The best thing about film is that as everyone has switched to digital you can pick up some sweet film cameras for next to nothing.

  • http://pandachromatic.tumblr.com Henning

    I almost completely agree with this post, mainly because I was a digital user for ages but only started to actually learn when I got a film camera. But that fact alone isn’t responsible for everything I’ve learned, although it helped a great deal. If I was to attribute my humble skills to one factor alone, I’d choose spending hours on flickr and copying other people over shooting film any day. What shooting film did was make me enjoy photography. Also, being a poor student, the fact that manual focus lenses are cheaper than their AF counterparts made it possible for me to actually build up a decent collection of gear without selling my soul to the devil.
    I’d also like to add that the things you learn by developing your film yourself are absolutely irreplaceable and in most cases DIY development is also a huge boost in motivation. So I’d definitely put that on the list even though it’s sort of a big step.

  • http://danferno.deviantart.com Danferno

    I love you now, Marcello.

  • http://www.ericsbinaryworld.com Eric Mesa

    This post reminds me of people who say they use cash because if they use credit cards they go crazy. What about using credit cards and only spending within your means? Ever heard of that?

    Turns out I’m just echoing Marcello (as I review the other comments), but, seriously, if you want to slow your photo process, just slow your darned photo process! There’s no reason why you need film to force yourself to go slow.

    And the thing that annoyed me the most is that when you shoot analog, you don’t know your settings. (ESPECIALLY if you use a point and shoot as the author advocates) At least with an SLR you can write your settings. I have learned SO MUCH ever since going digital simply because I was able to see what the aperture and shutter speed were on each photo and use that to learn.

  • Bluenoser

    Well, it’s a good article but I don’t see myself rushing out to purchase a film camera. As for becoming “lazy” because of huge amounts of space on a memory card, well, what’s wrong with taking tons of shots? Isn’t that part of the idea behind digital and mega storage space? I personally don’t care how many “bad” shots I get. There’s a delete option in my software.

  • http://photographyforsoul.com Can Berkol

    On alternative to shoot film. Turn off your camera’s (live) preview screen and do not use it during photo shoot until you get home. Try to see you images for the first time when you load them onto your computer.

  • http://www.seanmorrisonphoto.com sean

    I kind of agree with this post…I am a professional photog and also teach photography(digital) at the high school level. I have loads of digital equipment and love it…I would never go back to film full time(and would never want to teach film)…but…film is kind of cool. So, I bought a yashicamat 124 medium format TLR…and love it. Shooting film in a SLR doesnt really appeal to me at all and 35mm film…I’ll pass. Medium format is a little different though and I love the square format of TLR’s. Shooting with a TLR is like learning all over again and I love that…plus its instant retro cool :) It does slow me down and force me to think a little bit and I do think it will improve my photography on a whole. Getting used to a totally different tool is a valuable experience as well I think.

    I actually just bought a rolleicord TLR…the downside is having a whole new genre of gear to feed my gear addiction.

    just my experience

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/adamcha/ Adamcha

    My first photography class in school was Black and White film. We were not even allowed to shoot color until the third class. The digital class could only be taken after the first 4 film classes. Definitely made me a better photographer though. There is a lot more thinking involved when shoot film, and I have tried to think the same way when doing my digital photos. Doesn’t always happen… but I try.

  • Karl

    I would generally agree with most of Marcello’s comments regarding this article.

    That said, I’m shooting more and more with film these days. Why? Well, I much prefer the look of the B&W shots I get. I’m using rangefinders and I really like the manual focus and the way in which the cameras are focused (not having the $ spare to buy a Leica M8/9, film is the only way to go for me), I have some awesome lenses which I prefer the look of to my digital gear (CV 15mm Heliar, Canon 50mm/1.2, CV 35mm/1.2, Voigtlander Nokton 50mm/1.1).

    Plus, I really like the feeling of shooting film – it’s hard to provide a tangible reason for this; I simply just enjoy it more.

  • Keefe

    It depends on what you want to learn. Picture composition or shooting techniques (ISO, aperture, speed). I think the digital camera let us learn better. Manual mode.

  • http://dasphotos.blogspot.com David Smith

    Absolutely agree – my best portrait shots are with a Mamiya TLR – it’s a beast to handhold – prefer tripod – but have gotten good results with careful focus, a pocket-sized light meter, and some conversation to keep the subjects occupied while adjusting aperture, focus etc. A short cable release is very helpful to reduce camera motion.

    One of the responses mentioned using a DSLR in manual mode. Even better, try using older glass lenses if your DSLR can accept legacy mounts – that’s why I love the D40 – though it hasn’t got a huge number of mexapixels, it accepts older Nikkor lenses. The Nikkor 85mm f2 works like a 130mm with the DX sensor – it’s a fantastic portrait lens.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/thakellys rashard

    I think shooting film has helped me do a better job in post procesing digitally. I see so many do B&W conversions that are not pleasing to the eye. I think also studying the different colors various film produces can make you a bit more creative so you are not a slave to the xpro actions in LR or PS that many applies to a dslr image and coming out with a result that does not look like xpro, or makes the shifted colors not match.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/thakellys rashard

    i did not read the other comments someone may have touched on it already

  • Nozar Kishi

    Photography to picture, to me is like fishing to fish. You of course need to go to a river whewre there is fish in it, and you have to try to catch fish; however, and this is the core of what I mean, you may come back home hands empty without any fish, and still you can say you have done and enjoyed fishing. Likewise, you do need purpose of taking a picture when you go to photography, but photography is not taking pictures. It is MAKING picture. Digital photography brings possibilities and flexibity to take better pictures, not better photography. If pictures are what you want, then go buy postcards (like if you weant fish, then go to supermarket and why bother going fishing).

  • andy shand

    “limitation breeds creativity” applies to many things ..not just photography ..and with the arrival of all things digital this has never been more true.

    for me 10 shots on a hand held mamiya7 tends to focus the mind much more than digital and always produces my best work..

  • brian miller

    The only advantage I see to shooting film is that if you buy a nice film setup you can stay with that setup as long as you like. With digital every camera body you buy is basically garbage a few years later, but this is no different than having to upgrade your computer every few years, it is just expected. My experience has been the exact opposite of this article when it comes to becoming a better photographer; the more I shoot the more I learn, and I can shoot more and therefore learn more quickly with a digital camera. It would take years for me to shoot as much film as I shoot digital in one month…which means that I gain years of experience in only one month. Furthermore, I can bring what I learned to film(if I wanted to) without wasting all that time and money. I don’t know why classes would begin with film…that is so backwards to me. With digital I can shoot the same scene with the lens at f2, f4, etc. and see the results immediately. I can do the same with the iso settings, etc, and by doing so can really learn how all those changes affect the image. There is no magic when it comes to film…it is just more expensive and more time consuming…period, and for the medium format people…full frame dslrs are so close to the quality of medium format in real world application that it makes that argument for film a bad one also.

  • Craig Nelson

    I shoot sports (mainly little league baseball) with a 1d Mark III. The guy I work with ask me several weeks ago to shoot all the games I had that day using film and his camera instead. At first I was pissed and defiant but I did it anyway. I have to tell you that this dramatically improved several things for me as a shooter. First, I shoot less throw away shots by far then before. With film, I had 36 shots and then I had to change the roll, if a batter came up and I had 28 already taken but still needed him hitting and running I really had to focus on the action and squeeze off a shot only when I was sure it would be good. With digital I got into the habit of just merely pressing down the shutter button for 2 or 3 seconds and I would get a great shot amongst another 30 throwaways. I also learned that I had to trust my eye (no chimping), if I think it was good most likely it was and that was the case….but remember you find that out later so there was some tense time from when I sent the 25 rolls of film to our lab to when I was informed of how things turned out. Amazingly well according to the owner and I actually shot film the following weekend just to solidify what I learned. I am back to digital again but my technique has certainly changed!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/premaks/ premaks

    I have been shooting mostly b and w film since I was about five years old (1960s) and made around 500 mostly bw films (almost all developed by myself) with a rangefinder (FED) and slr (praktica L, PLC, PLC2) and hand-held lightmeter. One friend scanned my films to digital. Since 2003 am shooting digital Fuji Finepix and Nikon D40x and Coolpix. Digital is much cheaper and efficient etc however the quality is still much better in film. Any film photo (24×36) has more pixels (grain!) than any digital affordable! However, the contraints in my place is such that I HAVE TO shoot digital. And modern digital cameras are not very nice for shooting manuals. Both my Nikons are definitely not user-friendly when it comes to manual. I wonder why they do not produce a simple manual-like digital camera with only an inbuilt lightmeter to avoid crucial mistakes in exposre. Or maybe such a camera exists – only I do not know about it!!!
    (http://www.flickr.com/photos/premaks/)

  • Kapil

    The article is so apt and written to the point. With digital you just tend to go click click click sometimes without even thinking about whats in front of you – With huge memory cards, reviewing ability and deleting a image instantly probably makes one take multiple pictures rather then concentrating on taking a “really good shot”. With film SLR one tends to think about not wasting even one shot since you want to and hope all of 34 shots come out good, which doesnt happen. Since you cant review on film SLR and developing is expensive it makes the whole exercise more interesting and a good photographer transfering from film SLR to digital SLR better be good.

    Having said this. I am one of those people who given a chance can finish off about 10 rolls in 10 days, which I am not proud to say, I have done this on my Singapore trip. Ofcourse I got all those rolls free with the film SLR I bought there. But I had to shell quite a bit for developing with bad prints to boot. Same logic as digital, lot of rolls ..keep shooting without thinking.
    But at the same time, for my Switz trip I had to be really be careful of what I was shooting and how many, since I had to buy rolls. The only disadvantage was I missed out on some really gorgoeus scenery since I had finished off my rolls or the prints came out bad.

Some older comments

  • Kapil

    May 20, 2011 04:14 am

    The article is so apt and written to the point. With digital you just tend to go click click click sometimes without even thinking about whats in front of you - With huge memory cards, reviewing ability and deleting a image instantly probably makes one take multiple pictures rather then concentrating on taking a "really good shot". With film SLR one tends to think about not wasting even one shot since you want to and hope all of 34 shots come out good, which doesnt happen. Since you cant review on film SLR and developing is expensive it makes the whole exercise more interesting and a good photographer transfering from film SLR to digital SLR better be good.

    Having said this. I am one of those people who given a chance can finish off about 10 rolls in 10 days, which I am not proud to say, I have done this on my Singapore trip. Ofcourse I got all those rolls free with the film SLR I bought there. But I had to shell quite a bit for developing with bad prints to boot. Same logic as digital, lot of rolls ..keep shooting without thinking.
    But at the same time, for my Switz trip I had to be really be careful of what I was shooting and how many, since I had to buy rolls. The only disadvantage was I missed out on some really gorgoeus scenery since I had finished off my rolls or the prints came out bad.

  • premaks

    May 6, 2011 08:13 am

    I have been shooting mostly b and w film since I was about five years old (1960s) and made around 500 mostly bw films (almost all developed by myself) with a rangefinder (FED) and slr (praktica L, PLC, PLC2) and hand-held lightmeter. One friend scanned my films to digital. Since 2003 am shooting digital Fuji Finepix and Nikon D40x and Coolpix. Digital is much cheaper and efficient etc however the quality is still much better in film. Any film photo (24x36) has more pixels (grain!) than any digital affordable! However, the contraints in my place is such that I HAVE TO shoot digital. And modern digital cameras are not very nice for shooting manuals. Both my Nikons are definitely not user-friendly when it comes to manual. I wonder why they do not produce a simple manual-like digital camera with only an inbuilt lightmeter to avoid crucial mistakes in exposre. Or maybe such a camera exists - only I do not know about it!!!
    (http://www.flickr.com/photos/premaks/)

  • Craig Nelson

    May 6, 2011 01:16 am

    I shoot sports (mainly little league baseball) with a 1d Mark III. The guy I work with ask me several weeks ago to shoot all the games I had that day using film and his camera instead. At first I was pissed and defiant but I did it anyway. I have to tell you that this dramatically improved several things for me as a shooter. First, I shoot less throw away shots by far then before. With film, I had 36 shots and then I had to change the roll, if a batter came up and I had 28 already taken but still needed him hitting and running I really had to focus on the action and squeeze off a shot only when I was sure it would be good. With digital I got into the habit of just merely pressing down the shutter button for 2 or 3 seconds and I would get a great shot amongst another 30 throwaways. I also learned that I had to trust my eye (no chimping), if I think it was good most likely it was and that was the case....but remember you find that out later so there was some tense time from when I sent the 25 rolls of film to our lab to when I was informed of how things turned out. Amazingly well according to the owner and I actually shot film the following weekend just to solidify what I learned. I am back to digital again but my technique has certainly changed!

  • brian miller

    May 27, 2010 01:27 pm

    The only advantage I see to shooting film is that if you buy a nice film setup you can stay with that setup as long as you like. With digital every camera body you buy is basically garbage a few years later, but this is no different than having to upgrade your computer every few years, it is just expected. My experience has been the exact opposite of this article when it comes to becoming a better photographer; the more I shoot the more I learn, and I can shoot more and therefore learn more quickly with a digital camera. It would take years for me to shoot as much film as I shoot digital in one month...which means that I gain years of experience in only one month. Furthermore, I can bring what I learned to film(if I wanted to) without wasting all that time and money. I don't know why classes would begin with film...that is so backwards to me. With digital I can shoot the same scene with the lens at f2, f4, etc. and see the results immediately. I can do the same with the iso settings, etc, and by doing so can really learn how all those changes affect the image. There is no magic when it comes to film...it is just more expensive and more time consuming...period, and for the medium format people...full frame dslrs are so close to the quality of medium format in real world application that it makes that argument for film a bad one also.

  • andy shand

    April 28, 2010 11:54 pm

    "limitation breeds creativity" applies to many things ..not just photography ..and with the arrival of all things digital this has never been more true.

    for me 10 shots on a hand held mamiya7 tends to focus the mind much more than digital and always produces my best work..

  • Nozar Kishi

    March 16, 2010 06:47 pm

    Photography to picture, to me is like fishing to fish. You of course need to go to a river whewre there is fish in it, and you have to try to catch fish; however, and this is the core of what I mean, you may come back home hands empty without any fish, and still you can say you have done and enjoyed fishing. Likewise, you do need purpose of taking a picture when you go to photography, but photography is not taking pictures. It is MAKING picture. Digital photography brings possibilities and flexibity to take better pictures, not better photography. If pictures are what you want, then go buy postcards (like if you weant fish, then go to supermarket and why bother going fishing).

  • rashard

    January 29, 2010 02:55 am

    i did not read the other comments someone may have touched on it already

  • rashard

    January 29, 2010 02:55 am

    I think shooting film has helped me do a better job in post procesing digitally. I see so many do B&W conversions that are not pleasing to the eye. I think also studying the different colors various film produces can make you a bit more creative so you are not a slave to the xpro actions in LR or PS that many applies to a dslr image and coming out with a result that does not look like xpro, or makes the shifted colors not match.

  • David Smith

    December 18, 2009 05:24 pm

    Absolutely agree - my best portrait shots are with a Mamiya TLR - it's a beast to handhold - prefer tripod - but have gotten good results with careful focus, a pocket-sized light meter, and some conversation to keep the subjects occupied while adjusting aperture, focus etc. A short cable release is very helpful to reduce camera motion.

    One of the responses mentioned using a DSLR in manual mode. Even better, try using older glass lenses if your DSLR can accept legacy mounts - that's why I love the D40 - though it hasn't got a huge number of mexapixels, it accepts older Nikkor lenses. The Nikkor 85mm f2 works like a 130mm with the DX sensor - it's a fantastic portrait lens.

  • Keefe

    December 18, 2009 04:10 pm

    It depends on what you want to learn. Picture composition or shooting techniques (ISO, aperture, speed). I think the digital camera let us learn better. Manual mode.

  • Karl

    December 16, 2009 04:17 pm

    I would generally agree with most of Marcello's comments regarding this article.

    That said, I'm shooting more and more with film these days. Why? Well, I much prefer the look of the B&W shots I get. I'm using rangefinders and I really like the manual focus and the way in which the cameras are focused (not having the $ spare to buy a Leica M8/9, film is the only way to go for me), I have some awesome lenses which I prefer the look of to my digital gear (CV 15mm Heliar, Canon 50mm/1.2, CV 35mm/1.2, Voigtlander Nokton 50mm/1.1).

    Plus, I really like the feeling of shooting film - it's hard to provide a tangible reason for this; I simply just enjoy it more.

  • Adamcha

    December 14, 2009 02:37 pm

    My first photography class in school was Black and White film. We were not even allowed to shoot color until the third class. The digital class could only be taken after the first 4 film classes. Definitely made me a better photographer though. There is a lot more thinking involved when shoot film, and I have tried to think the same way when doing my digital photos. Doesn't always happen... but I try.

  • sean

    December 12, 2009 06:03 am

    I kind of agree with this post...I am a professional photog and also teach photography(digital) at the high school level. I have loads of digital equipment and love it...I would never go back to film full time(and would never want to teach film)...but...film is kind of cool. So, I bought a yashicamat 124 medium format TLR...and love it. Shooting film in a SLR doesnt really appeal to me at all and 35mm film...I'll pass. Medium format is a little different though and I love the square format of TLR's. Shooting with a TLR is like learning all over again and I love that...plus its instant retro cool :) It does slow me down and force me to think a little bit and I do think it will improve my photography on a whole. Getting used to a totally different tool is a valuable experience as well I think.

    I actually just bought a rolleicord TLR...the downside is having a whole new genre of gear to feed my gear addiction.

    just my experience

  • Can Berkol

    December 12, 2009 01:33 am

    On alternative to shoot film. Turn off your camera's (live) preview screen and do not use it during photo shoot until you get home. Try to see you images for the first time when you load them onto your computer.

  • Bluenoser

    December 11, 2009 11:27 pm

    Well, it's a good article but I don't see myself rushing out to purchase a film camera. As for becoming "lazy" because of huge amounts of space on a memory card, well, what's wrong with taking tons of shots? Isn't that part of the idea behind digital and mega storage space? I personally don't care how many "bad" shots I get. There's a delete option in my software.

  • Eric Mesa

    December 11, 2009 11:08 pm

    This post reminds me of people who say they use cash because if they use credit cards they go crazy. What about using credit cards and only spending within your means? Ever heard of that?

    Turns out I'm just echoing Marcello (as I review the other comments), but, seriously, if you want to slow your photo process, just slow your darned photo process! There's no reason why you need film to force yourself to go slow.

    And the thing that annoyed me the most is that when you shoot analog, you don't know your settings. (ESPECIALLY if you use a point and shoot as the author advocates) At least with an SLR you can write your settings. I have learned SO MUCH ever since going digital simply because I was able to see what the aperture and shutter speed were on each photo and use that to learn.

  • Danferno

    December 11, 2009 08:30 pm

    I love you now, Marcello.

  • Henning

    December 11, 2009 07:09 pm

    I almost completely agree with this post, mainly because I was a digital user for ages but only started to actually learn when I got a film camera. But that fact alone isn't responsible for everything I've learned, although it helped a great deal. If I was to attribute my humble skills to one factor alone, I'd choose spending hours on flickr and copying other people over shooting film any day. What shooting film did was make me enjoy photography. Also, being a poor student, the fact that manual focus lenses are cheaper than their AF counterparts made it possible for me to actually build up a decent collection of gear without selling my soul to the devil.
    I'd also like to add that the things you learn by developing your film yourself are absolutely irreplaceable and in most cases DIY development is also a huge boost in motivation. So I'd definitely put that on the list even though it's sort of a big step.

  • ACagedBirdSings

    December 11, 2009 07:05 pm

    This is a great post and definitely very valid. I have moved across to film for all personal work (traveling/friends/etc.) as I wanted to give myself more discipline as a photographer and I also find that the process of shooting film especially for taking portraits means that you get much more from your subject as you can't just snap the image but have to compose it - I find my film portraits have much more feeling. Downside - I recently visited South Africa (I was flown out to shoot a wedding - which I did on Digital) and shot around 40 Rolls (including 120 for my Mamiya) and it cost me over £400 to process, which when there is no client footing the bill it definitely stung a bit.
    Unlike some of the others who have comment, I do like the softness of film, I also like that it's look ages. The best thing about film is that as everyone has switched to digital you can pick up some sweet film cameras for next to nothing.

  • crunch

    December 11, 2009 06:21 pm

    @marcello:

    I agree entirely. I still use my film SLR for B/W. Otherwise it's discipline and the will to learn which makes you a better photographer, not film.

  • Marcello

    December 11, 2009 06:02 pm

    i think this is a little silly. you're sounding exactly like those 60 years old people that keep whining about how "things were better back in the old days"... like those who keep saying that LP are better than CD's.
    film have it's uses. i still shoot B/W strictly on film because i love how B/W looks on film and i can choose different films for different grain etc. etc.

    But all your trying to do here is taking film limitations and make them look like they're nice features.
    They're not.

    And, if you really really really want to have limitation you don't really have to shoot film, you can still do it digitally:

    Think Twice Shoot Once
    You feel like you're too trigger happy and don't focus on composition?
    Well... First of all last time i checked people were gifted with free will: focus yourself on composition and take less pictures. Is this really so hard to do? You have the willpower of a gnat? Just put one of those 256mb CF cards you have lying around in your 12MP camera and shoot raw. Now you have a 20 exposure CF card. oh, and having to pay 1.5$ for film, process and print for each picture you take IS NOT a nice feature. Only snobs would think that.

    Get Back To Basics To Tune Your Photography Mind
    Too many things to focus on distract you from composition?
    Put your camera on full auto and, voila, you have a dumb point and shoot camera.
    If even that zoom lens is too distracting just put on that nice 50mm you probably have lying around.
    You don't have a fixed lens? Well, a 50mm 1.8/F is around 100$. Just like developing and printing 3 rolls of B/W film. And, unlike processing, you will use it for the years to come.

    Learn From Your Mistakes
    Yeah, sure...
    Too bad that when you get your photos back (here in Milano it takes more or less a week to have your B/W films processed) you will have probably have forgotten why you shot that picture, how you shot it and what was the reasoning behind that particular frame.
    A nice LCD display allows you to consider what went wrong while you're still in front of your scene. And, if you found something wrong, you could even have the chance to re-shoot it!
    no i'm no advocate of "chimping" constantly but, from a learning point of view, there's nothing better than immediate feed back on what you did, while your choices are still fresh to your mind.
    and, should you really feel the need to let some time pass and watch the pictures after a while, well, just turn the post-shoot review feature of your camera off or simply don't look at the d@#n LCD.
    Oh, btw, you should still possess the aforementioned free will, so taking only one picture at each scene and focusing 100% on composition is something you can do regardless of the medium.

    Save Yourself Some Space
    Yeah, sure, tell that to my 3 boxes of printed pictures...
    Hard disk space is much cheaper than shelf space in a single room apt, trust me.
    And computers have an amazing feature: the delete button.
    Oh, and should you ever want to share a picture online so maybe you can get some nice criticism after focusing so much on composition? Well... you need a scanner. Which, you guessed it, takes up space. And costs money and time.

    Save Time With Post Production
    Well... Unless you used up all your free will trying to resist the urge to go trigger happy you should still have enough left to choose not to do post production on your pictures.

    Enjoy The Printed Images
    Ah, those good-ole-times... when trains run on schedule, everything was nice and warm. What's good in having to: go to the shop to bring the films, wait a week, go back to the shop and pay a nice sum of money to get your pictures back, hoping they didn't screw up the process (believe me, it happens)? And what's keeping you from printing digital pictures you like? (beside the fact that, just like every printed film picture you have, the prints will end up forgotten in a dusty box somewhere).

    Really, i have absolutely nothing against shooting film: it's nice, once in a while, to do something different, especially if you have the change to shoot some old, exotic camera. And i still think that B/W on digital isn't even remotely comparable to film. And medium format is simply a whole different planet (until someone comes up with a medium format digital camera than costs less than a BMW).

    Yet it really annoys me when people try to take blatant limitations and use them as selling points.
    You like the challenge they pose? Fine.
    Limit yourself to one picture per subject, use a fixed focal lens, build yourself a pin-hole lens or shoot with one arm tied behind your back.
    But saying "In addition you’ll want to avoid taking more than one shot of a particular composition due to the processing costs associated with film photography" is snob and moron-ish.

    Imposing yourself limitations by choosing a different medium won't yield any of the results you speak about if you don't also change your mindset. And, if you need to change your mindset anyway, what's the point of putting up with all the hassle of film?

  • LP

    December 11, 2009 04:42 pm

    I started shooting film again this year and I have to say it is addicting. I picked up a mint condition Canon AE-1 and 50mm 1.8 for $50 and have been shooting mostly B/W film the whole year. I learned with film in the 70's and 80's then left photography until two years ago. I have to agree with Osmosis' comment that there is something about the feel of working with film, the process, the unknown until later whether you got the shot you visualized at the scene that just feels different (and good). I still love to shoot digital, but I also love to shoot film again.

    One can save on cost by taking the film to the local Walgreens/Costco and have everything put on CD. You can then import them into PS and manipulate them as you do any jpg or tiff image.

    Give it a try...I think you'll like it!

  • Rob

    December 11, 2009 03:05 pm

    I am not about to go back to film for the sole reason of expense but I realized I had become a "spray and pray" shooter so when my new "flickr year" rolled around (I started my first 365 on 1 Sept), I set a new challenge for myself that I call "Tuesday Twenty." Every Tuesday I take 20 pictures and 20 pictures only. I shoot in single shot mode and I dont allow do overs (ok, one time but that was because some butt head honked at me). And then I post all 20 on my flickr. It makes me really think hard about the picture I am taking. I really try hard to put my best pictures on my flickr so putting up all 20 no matter what really feels uncomfortable at times. I think it has made me a better photographer...and I didnt have to pay for film!!

  • Ron Gibson

    December 11, 2009 01:51 pm

    I can't agree more.

    It's not the fact that you need to shoot film in order to improve your photography. It's that you need to think about what you are shooting instead of just blasting off captures. I'm constantly asked how many shots I keep from a session and they are usually surprised. It's not that I am blasting away and find one in the batch that is amazing and the rest are garbage. I set up for a shot and decide on everything. Then take a shot once I'm confident with lighting, composure, and field of view. I'll still take about 20-30 images while coaching a model and 95% of those images would be acceptable. I just choose to finish one out of the bunch.

    Getting back to the point- think about what you are shooting and you will have a harder time deciding what images to toss, instead of what images to save.

  • Tyler

    December 11, 2009 01:33 pm

    I love film, and for some projects it is the only way to go. A good medium format camera is bested only by the best and most expensive dslrs on the market. Sheet film is even more addictive, a scan of a 4x5 can yeild about 120 megapixles at 2400 dpi. Crazy detail! But at 25 bucks for a box of ten sheets plus $2.50 a sheet fro processing, you have to make keepers from the start. I think it is a great idea to learn on a film camera. I start my students with pinole cameras on the first day.... to tease them and strip away their preconceptions.

  • AceSG

    December 11, 2009 12:43 pm

    i love shooting in film, only thing is that you cant post good pics online. and its even better if your the person whos doing the dev. iin the dark room.

  • johnp

    December 11, 2009 10:08 am

    P.S. I was very impressed to find my granddaughter's photography teacher first made all the students use film cameras and process all their own film before allowing them to go near a digital camera. Now with digital she is not allowed to use any settings other than manual settings.

  • johnp

    December 11, 2009 10:03 am

    Good post. I do agree in the days when I was shooting film especially medium format I took a lot more care about what I was doing and a lot more time with each shot. With digital I find, even though beforehand I might work out settings etc, when I actually start taking shots I forget all that and just concentrate on the image. Quite often afterwards I could kick myself thinking "why didnt I adjust the ISO...etc". I need to try to slow down and think more about what I am doing.

  • Todd Eddy

    December 11, 2009 09:39 am

    I've been looking into a holga for both "the film challenge" with the added benefit/challenge of being a medium format camera. Not only does this add more challenges and making each photo "worth" more it also introduces something other than the standard 35mm cameras. Also been thinking about getting a better medium format camera although may hold off until I play with a holga since those are about as cheap as you can get.

  • Bjorn

    December 11, 2009 08:54 am

    I took it a step further and bought a FM2N to shoot film but shoot it fully manual.

    Soon enough, this progressed to trying my hand at developing. Then to getting my own equipment (free off craigslist by someone who had given up on film).

    Then to picking up a second FM2N. And of course a rangerfinder .. and now a holga (medium focus and lomo in one handy package).

    Beware of the danger of film. It's addictive!

    I still happily shoot my D300 for what it's worth ;)

  • OsmosisStudios

    December 11, 2009 07:35 am

    I've heard this argument time and again, and while it holds true to a certain extent, it isn't quite valid as the catch-all it's often billed as.

    I shoot both Digital and Film for several reasons, often exclusive to each medium. It's not that shooting film slows me down or forces me to think about what Im doing: I have no costs associated with it (special circumstances): I Just LIKE film. I like the feel of it, the effects I get.

    I shoot digital for much of the same reasons: I LIKE digital. I like how I can use flash over and over and over and get it JUST right without burning through 2 rolls of film and a week or waiting. i like the instant response I can glean from it. I like how CLEAN digital is.

    Most of my serious work is digital, because that's what I consider to be most powerful. Most of my personal work is film, because it has a certain je-ne-sais-quoi that digital cant quite replicate for me. The decision to shoot one or the other is not based on technique or learning or anticipation or storage or what have you: its because I WANT to.

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