A few days ago I was talking with a friend of mine Darren Doxey and we got to the subject of film vs. digital shooting. Both for photography and filmmaking. It really got me to thinking about the way that I shoot.For the sake of clarification, this post is going to be solely about photography.When I began shooting photos, I started with a film camera. I used a Canon AE1-Program. I never used any film other than 400 speed. My father had some photographic experience in the past and I will always remember how he told me that 400 was a very well-rounded speed of film. At the time, I barely even knew that you had to load the film into the camera in order to shoot a photo, let alone really understanding the difference between film types.
So, needless to say, I just stuck with 400. Thinking back on it, he was pretty spot on. Shooting outside, 400 isn’t TOO sensitive and for a reasonably lit place indoors, 400 usually works just fine and has fairly minimal grain. Thanks for the advice, Pops – I never forgot it!Anyway, back on topic.
When you shoot with film, every snap of the shutter costs something. At the moment that I write this, I can buy a roll of 400 speed Kodak Film (24 exposures) for $4.50 or a pack of four rolls for $9.00 altogether. This price, along with all of the other prices I’m going to mention,
If you’re running low on cash and can only afford to buy 2 or 3 rolls of film, you’re looking at around $0.19 per exposure (give or take). Not including the amount it costs to get film developed – Unless you like developing it yourself… But let’s say you’re like the rest of us who just don’t particularly have the desire to do that and want to get your film professionally developed.
Since we’re talking 35mm film development, it’s going to cost somewhere in the area of $3.75 to get up to 27 exposures for one roll of film developed. Anything over 27 exposures and you’ll be looking at around $4.60 for a single roll. This price includes the actual film negatives AND a single 4×6 print per each exposure that can be found on the roll you shoot.
So, if I were to go out today and shoot one roll of that Kodak film using a Canon AE-1 Program, I’d end up spending roughly $0.35 per exposure that I shot. Add on shipping ($1.95 plus $1.60 per roll of film = $3.55) and you come out paying around $0.50 for each exposure that you shoot using the method that I used to use.
To me, there is absolutely nothing that can beat the look that shooting on film can give me. The contrast is just right, the style and quality of dynamic range that a 35mm film camera can provide is a thing of beauty, and the entire process of switching out rolls of film can be quite therapeutic if you have the time to do so… But, at the end of the day, there is a lot of time and money that is most often wasted.
Imagine if you were shooting a digital camera and captured 200 shots in one photo session. How many of those photos are you really going to use? Maybe a handful of them – Let’s say you find 50 of them that you actually want. That means there are 150 left – If you were to shoot this way with film, at the end of the day, you just wasted 75 bucks (since you’d have to get all of them developed to see how they came out). Just with one day of shooting. And that’s also trusting that you loaded the film correctly and there weren’t any unforeseen accidents that happened when the film was getting developed.
So, with all that being said… I grew up being very, very careful about what I would shoot. Not only did I not quite understand how light worked back then but I also wanted to make sure what I was shooting was in focus (AE-1 Program is a manual camera, no auto-focus), composed the way that I wanted, and other varying obstacles would poke their head out and play all the time.
For the first year or two of shooting, these were the conditions of how I worked. Needless to say, I got used to it.
I finally got my hands on a digital camera and felt like I was in heaven – No more having to send in my film to get developed, no more having to reload film, no more restrictions! But… I found myself still shooting the same way. Old habits die hard.
As a matter of fact, I still shoot that way to this very day. But a few things have changed.
Since I’ve started shooting, I’ve learned about what I like and dislike (photographically speaking). I’ve learned how to shoot at a much faster pace and still get what I want the first time around or very close to it. Just like the exposures on a roll of film, I place value on the digital space I have left on my memory card.
Of course, this way of shooting does backfire sometimes but that’s not the point. The way that I grew up shooting photography made me be very careful about what I shoot and, because of this, I find myself having a lot less images that I throw out because something wasn’t in focus, or the depth of field wasn’t right, or whatever the case might be.
Sure, I may have a memory card that can hold over 1,000 exposures and can quickly be emptied onto my computer’s hard drive at any given moment, making it virtually free of cost to shoot whatever I’d like… I still don’t want to have to go through 1,000 images only to find 100 of them that I really like.
Mindlessly shooting 900 images that I don’t like in order to get 100 that I do like. It just seems like a complete waste of energy on my part. It may ultimately be worth it in the end if the images are phenomenal… But it just seems that the energy and effort used get them may not have been focused in the most potent and efficient way.
This is the curse and the blessing that film photography has placed on me – I shoot much more carefully than most, possibly losing a few chances here and there to capture meaningful moments, but the images that I do get are rarely ever thrown away as they are exactly the way that I want them.