Film Photography

Drew Terril

Staff member
Joined
Feb 18, 2015
Messages
666
Location
Fort Wayne, IN
As a bit of an offshoot from something I said in the Minimalist Chase Forecasting thread, I'm curious as to how many of y'all regularly shoot in film these days? When I first seriously learned photography in HS in the early 2000s, DSLRs were just coming out and were prohibitively expensive. In addition, my mom (who is also big into photography) had a great film SLR setup that I was able to learn on. Fast forward a decade and a half later, in 2019, I decided to dive back in to film, after running digital for most of the previous decade. Grabbed a Canon Elan 7ne (one of the last film SLRs that they produced and as a bonus, all my EF lenses work with it), and I realized very quickly just how lazy I had gotten with my settings over the previous decade. That said, once I dialed myself back in and cut simple operator error out of the equation, I rediscovered a love for film that I had forgotten. It's a little more logistically intensive now, as I have to send my film either to South Bend or Indy to be developed; there's nobody that handles it in house here in Northeast IN like there was in OKC when I was still living there. In addition to that, a few months ago, I snatched up an old MiniDV camcorder that I'm going to play around with this spring, and see if I can capture a bit of an old school vibe across the board. For that, fortunately, Final Cut Pro still supports direct importing from older devices, so I won't have to do anything out of the ordinary to import any video that I do get with it.

With all that said, any of y'all that still shoot in film, feel free to share in here! I've long felt that film has its own vibe that can't really be duplicated with digital. I'll start us off:

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Film was great when it was all you had. There are many fails within the camera and even bigger risks in processing it. You are limited to 36 frames before you have to open the camera, exposing it to the elements and losing precious time. The only advantage back in the day was that you actually had to know something about photography to be successful. It was also an investment to own good equipment, especially high quality long lenses.

To me, the biggest advantage of digital cameras is being able to preview a shot. Digital was also a savior for shooting hurricanes, as I can shoot hundreds of frames in a water-proof housing, as long as the batteries hold out.
 
Oh there's no doubt of the advantages of digital. I will say though that getting back into film has forced me to tighten up my settings when I'm running digital. Like I had said, I'd gotten pretty lazy about my settings since I could just trial and error my way to a better shot, and getting myself back into that kind of focus has certainly made me a better photographer. Or I guess remade is probably the better term. I don't know about the schools where I'm at now, but when I was in the OKC area, the local high schools that had photography classes made their students learn on film for that reason.

And to be fair, it's still an investment to get high quality lenses, especially longer ones. In my case, both film and digital SLRs use the same EF mounting system, so I swap lenses back and forth between bodies as I go. When I was at last year's Indy 500, I think I went through 3 or 4 rolls of film, and still probably shot 200 shots with the DSLR, so it's not a "one or the other" deal for me.
 
With the advances in DSLR technology, including mirrorless DSLR, I doubt I will go back to film for lightning photography. The high resolution sensors, along with applied corrections to simulate the logarithmic response of film, really has pushed my film use to zero. A big gain (if not the biggest gain) using digital? Even fine grain B&W films will show some granularity caused by variations in the silver particle size, but the sensors effectively offer a uniform "grain size". Plus no halation, that is: strongly-exposed regions of film "bleeding" exposure into neighboring regions due to multiple scattering of light in the film. Somewhere I have a picture that illustrates this pretty well but I think the description above is pretty clear and does not need illustration.
 
I’m very nostalgic for the film era and how storm photography was in general back then. It was truly rare to pull off a good lightning shot, and not many did. Today, similarly great shots are being captured most every day, posted to social media, consumed by the masses (making the platforms their money) then cast aside and forgotten a day later. I know I’m sounding like the classic old guy complaining about the kids today and longing for the good old days (that’s probably because it’s true).

I still have my old Pentax K1000 and always think about doing film again for the novelty of it. But just as before, great storms are already hard enough to get into position and get set up to shoot as it is. Then add dealing with wind-blown rain and other complications. I rarely can even get my video camera going alongside stills now in those situations. And since I started shooting high speed in 2019, my ability to add another camera to the mix has dropped even more. Not to mention, my old go-to film of Sensia isn’t even made any longer.

I need to just go order some Provia and have it ready for the rare slow-moving, easy storm that gives me time to set everything up. That doesn’t happen very often for me (maybe once or twice a year).
 
I used to love shooting landscapes on b&w film with an infrared filter on. It's been a long while since I did though.
 
Another, often over looked aspect of film vs. digital is the "gratification factor." Back in the day, before the internet and social media, it would take hours or days before you could enjoy (or cry) at the results of your efforts. Besides showing off the images to friends, there were few accolades. The exception of course was journalism work, where photography ended up in print rather quickly. There were no "thousands of likes" or wonderful comments from followers on social media. When I made the cover of Life Magazine (Hurricane Andrew), my girlfriend threw a party. That was upper limits of appreciation, unless you won an award for your work. I believe It was a more of internal, personal pursuit rather than an extroverted endeavor seeking immediate feedback.

I often wonder if there was no social media, along with the fall of stock photography, would people still actively and aggressively film weather?
 
I have an old Olympus 35 mm that I used for photography class in HS. I recently bought some more 400 ISO black and white film and plan to take it along this year. I had shot some stuff in 2019 but never developed it. I need to dig back out my developer kit and see if I can print some of those.
 
I used to love shooting landscapes on b&w film with an infrared filter on. It's been a long while since I did though.
You can buy infrared film. I took some lightning shots with infrared film from the top of Swan Road in Tucson (back when there was a moratorium on building above a certain height in the foothills...but...I digress.)

The storm didn't produce any CG lightning, but the IC flashes looked weird. Plus, you could see the reflection of the city lights in the cloud base. It reminded me of looking at a pond upside-down.

I might bring my K-1000 out and try IR-sensitive film again while chasing. [shrugs] Who knows? (My wife will probably kill me--she bought me my first digital camera primarily to offset the cost of shooting with film.)
 
Another, often over looked aspect of film vs. digital is the "gratification factor." Back in the day, before the internet and social media, it would take hours or days before you could enjoy (or cry) at the results of your efforts. Besides showing off the images to friends, there were few accolades. The exception of course was journalism work, where photography ended up in print rather quickly. There were no "thousands of likes" or wonderful comments from followers on social media. When I made the cover of Life Magazine (Hurricane Andrew), my girlfriend threw a party. That was upper limits of appreciation, unless you won an award for your work. I believe It was a more of internal, personal pursuit rather than an extroverted endeavor seeking immediate feedback.

I often wonder if there was no social media, along with the fall of stock photography, would people still actively and aggressively film weather?

In all fairness (speaking for myself), anything more than a half dozen likes on anything I post that's not family and close friends is a lot for me, so I really don't even pay attention to that. I don't have a following, otherwise I might put more effort onto the video side of things. I'm not passionate about video the way I am stills, and so it skews my priorities when I'm chasing. What video I do have has never made it onto YouTube or any kind of social media. I'm literally the only one who has seen any of the video that I've done chasing.

So, while that probably is a valid question for people who are actively pursuing followings and the like, for me it's about preserving memories for myself down the road. My single biggest regret (and my other regrets aren't even in the same ballpark) from my first half dozen years of chasing was not getting photos while I was chasing, because over time, those memories fade and I only have the faintest memory of what most of those storms look like. That's the main driver for me, aside from my passion for still photography. The market was already going to crap for stills when I started chasing, so my focus on that side of things is purely passion driven, and I've never made a sale of anything in nearly two decades. To be totally fair though, I've never made a concerted effort to get any sales, but I do realize that I'm probably in a very distinct minority among chasers.
 
With the advances in DSLR technology, including mirrorless DSLR, I doubt I will go back to film for lightning photography. The high resolution sensors, along with applied corrections to simulate the logarithmic response of film, really has pushed my film use to zero. A big gain (if not the biggest gain) using digital? Even fine grain B&W films will show some granularity caused by variations in the silver particle size, but the sensors effectively offer a uniform "grain size". Plus no halation, that is: strongly-exposed regions of film "bleeding" exposure into neighboring regions due to multiple scattering of light in the film. Somewhere I have a picture that illustrates this pretty well but I think the description above is pretty clear and does not need illustration.

If lightning is a big priority, I get that. I've never had any real desire to do lightning photography. What I've found with other stuff I've shot though (a lot of which is not weather related in any way), is there's a vibe that film conveys that I've never been able to duplicate with digital. Maybe that's just nostalgia on my part, but I've noticed the same thing with some of the older video formats vs modern HD and 4K video. Sure, modern quality is undeniably better, but it also loses an element that I'm having a very difficult time finding the proper word for.

That's like comparing an old muscle car to a modern sports car. The modern sports car is better performing in every way (power, efficiency, handling, etc), but the old muscle cars will turn heads, not just from a looks standpoint, but from the sounds and smells.
 
With my 40th birthday fast approaching, my partner fishing for gift ideas brought up the age-old question of film vs digital and where my preference lies today. He left me in a state I often found myself in the mid-2000s, truly confounded and perplexed. He reminded me of the constant battle I had with the digital revolution. My frequent bemoans of quality being lost to quantity- and how even when printed, digital lost the element of specialness.
I thank each of you for sharing your expertise, experience, and preferences. You've made my decision-making on this subject much easier.

I often wonder if there was no social media, along with the fall of stock photography, would people still actively and aggressively film weather?
Great question, I'm sure they would. I don't think we would see the numbers we see today. I do believe the need to get close, and truly behold and understand will always be there.
 
If lightning is a big priority, I get that. I've never had any real desire to do lightning photography. What I've found with other stuff I've shot though (a lot of which is not weather related in any way), is there's a vibe that film conveys that I've never been able to duplicate with digital. Maybe that's just nostalgia on my part, but I've noticed the same thing with some of the older video formats vs modern HD and 4K video. Sure, modern quality is undeniably better, but it also loses an element that I'm having a very difficult time finding the proper word for.

That's like comparing an old muscle car to a modern sports car. The modern sports car is better performing in every way (power, efficiency, handling, etc), but the old muscle cars will turn heads, not just from a looks standpoint, but from the sounds and smells.

I get what you’re saying. It’s like audio - digital might have objectively better quality, but there is a richness and depth to vinyl even when the sound is imperfect and a little “scratchy”. I suppose the imperfections are part of the appeal!

Another consideration is the “fragility” of all-digital. You can print digital photos of course, but I suspect those who do, do it for only a fraction of their shots.
 
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I get what you’re saying. It’s like audio - digital might have objectively better quality, but there is a richness and depth to vinyl even when the sound is imperfect and a little “scratchy”. I suppose the imperfections are part of the appeal!

Another consideration is the “fragility” of all-digital. You can print digital photos of course, but I suspect those who do, do it for only a fraction of their shots.
Honestly I think it’s a form of nostalgia.

Memories evoked by those details. I talk about context for photos. That’s essentially what I mean. You look at a picture (or hear a song) and you are transported to the moment related events had an impact.

When I record LP’s to audio, I spend hours removing the pops and clicks. Likewise when I scan negatives, I spend hours removing visual artifacts introduced by the film medium. But the “context” remains….
 
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Back when I was young film cameras were all we had...
My 1st camera used 128 film (or something like that...don't remember for sure what the number was)
Eventually I got a 35mm. Still have both somewhere, the original as I remember something broke on, and the 35mm worked but towards the end started having issues with the button to take photos.
Once I got a digital camera, I took allot more photos (since there was cost or wasted film). I have zero interest in the old film cameras / can't see myself ever using them again(but also don't want to dump them either)

My dad has an old super-8 movie camera, thats what home movies were done on back in the day(I never used it though)
At some point I got a vhs-c camcorder (free as it was outdated tech at the time...better 'tape' camcorders existed)
I've had a couple different digital camcorders since then. And like with still image cameras, wouldn't go back to the old tape camcorders...
(though I admit it'd be kinda cool to record a thunderstorm with that old super-8 camera just for fun. .lol. )
 
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