Why Film Still Matters

When my generation thinks of photography, we think of digital cameras. We think about dslrs and cell phones. We think of Instagram and Photoshop. While these tools are all extremely useful and effective, they sometimes overcomplicate photography. I recently had the opportunity to take a photography class at my university that dealt completely and exclusively with 35mm film, black and white 35mm film to be precise. In those 15 weeks, I shot over 30 rolls of film using a camera that is substantially older than I am. I learned many things, but above all, I learned that film still matters.

Film makes every shot important. 35mm film rolls generally contain enough film for either 36 or 24 exposures. This finite nature of film means that each picture costs you. There is no delete, and there is not redo. Once you have exposed that piece of film, it is no longer usable. I found myself thinking about each shot. I spent much more time planning and composing. Film costs money, so I did not want to waste a single shot.

Film teaches patience. Digital photography is convenient. The screens on our cameras offer immediate gratification. Film, on the other hand, does not. There is no screen and no instant playback. Before I could see my images, I had to develop my film, make a contact sheet, and print my images. I did all of this by hand in a darkroom, which meant that sometimes it was days later before I could actually see my work. Developing my own film was a long and tedious process. It took many hours and many late nights, but it taught me patience. I had to work for each image, and that made it much more rewarding.

Film eliminates all distractions. Shooting on film was simpler. My 35mm film camera had no complicated menus or trivial setting. There was no screen on the back and the batteries in the camera almost never die. Because of this, I found myself more present when shooting. Because I couldn't look back through the picture or check every little detail, more of my attention was placed on actually shooting. The simplicity of the process was freeing.

I enjoy shooting on film. While film will never replace digital for my professional work, I feel as though every photographer should explore the medium at least once. Shooting and developing your own film is a challenging and highly rewarding process. I encourage you find an old camera and explore the history of photography through film!