Five things I learnt when shooting street photography on film

Last month I took part in a darkroom printing workshop where we shot a roll of film, developed it and then printed a couple of frames from it. I hadn’t shot film for 13 years so it was an exciting experience to go back to. It also made me realise why film shooters are so infatuated with it, so here are my five things I learnt shooting film street photography.

I almost find it odd when someone considers shooting film as a novel thing. I’m not that old, but even I did start taking photos with a film camera – Well, “started”… I was a kid who had the family camera to shoot with any random thing I found. To me shooting film again is like playing music from a vinyl, using a fax machine, or paying with cash, haha.

Prior to the darkroom printing workshop, a friend lent me her film camera to use at the workshop, an Olympus Superzoom 140 compact camera. It’s fairly simple to use, inconspicuous, and small enough to fit my coat pocket. The zoom range is between 38 and 140mm, but I shot mainly with the 38mm focal length because I’m used to the 35 mm focal length on my regular camera. Also, if you zoom in, the lens was ridiculously long to almost such extent that it would hit my subject in the nose.

If I were to continue shooting with film, I would probably opt for another camera than the Olympus. I found that the shutter button was too sensitive and I kept pressing it accidentally, ending up with several blurry shots of my feet whatnot. I also disliked how the flash works because it would default to automatic mode whenever you switched on the camera. Everytime I forgot to switch off the flash and it was a bit dark at the time of taking photos, the flash would fire off and my subject would notice me taking a candid shot of them. Embarrassing.

Enough about the camera. Camera doesn’t make the pictures, the photographer does. Here’s why I think you should try film street photography.

1. You are more focused with a film camera

I’m one of those people who chimps when shooting with a digital camera. Chimping means that you instantly review the shots you’ve taken on the display of the camera, which distracts my flow of shooting. I hate it but I don’t usually have the discipline to not chimp. Shooting with a film camera I stayed more focused and relaxed because I couldn’t review the photos at the time of shooting.

I also took more time to compose my shots because with film I only had 36 frames to shoot and it takes money to buy and develop the film.

2. Film camera makes street photography less intimidating

For some strange reason I felt less intimidated shooting street photography with a film camera. I think it was because the camera was so small and inconspicuous that I felt no one could see me taking a photo of them.

The other reason was that the camera was an analogue camera, which in my mind makes it more innocent, less intimidating. No one could come and tell me to show the shots I’ve taken of them or ask to have them deleted because that wouldn’t be possible.

I realise that these are intangible reasons, like a placebo. But if a placebo works, why complain.

3. The excitement of getting to see your printed photos

So once you’ve taken your 36 shots, you have to take them to a photo shop and wait for them to be developed and printed. It’s exciting! While waiting to receive your photos, you lose the emotional attachment to your photos. You won’t judge your photos based on how you felt at the time of taking them but only judge them based on their photographic quality.

Once you receive your photos and get to hold them in your hand instead of watching them on the screen of your phone or computer is so rewarding. I prefer printed photos over digital ones any day.

4. Scan your negatives, not your prints

I guess many people still want to see their photos in digital form. It’s naturally easier to disseminate digital photos to your friends and social media. I previously didn’t really know how to scan your printed photos, so what I did was to scan my prints with a friend’s home scanner. That wasn’t the most optimal choice although it was convenient at the time.

Now I know why film shooters scan their negatives instead of their prints. The quality of the digital versions of the photos stays better because the light of the scanner doesn’t reflect from your prints, possible dust particles aren’t being scanned as well, and you don’t get these light leaks on the edges of your prints. You can post process your photos just like you do with your JPEGs and RAWs so don’t worry.

If you pixel peep the photos in this blog post, you can see the quality isn’t all that good. That’s because I scanned the printed photos.

Scanning your negatives isn’t as practical as scanning your prints because you need a special scanner capable of scanning with higher resolution than a regular scanner. Still, next time I need to scan film photos, I will ask a favour from a friend with a negative scanner. That way the digital versions will simply look better.

5. Shooting becomes more deliberate with film camera

Overall, shooting with a film camera becomes more deliberate because you have to be more concentrated on choosing your subjects and composing your shots. You are also more in the moment with a film camera because you can’t have that instant gratification you get with digital camera or with a phone. I really liked shooting with the film camera because there were less distractions than with a digital camera.

Try it

I don’t know if my photography was any better with a film camera than with a digital one, but it felt better to shoot and view the printed photos after the wait of having them developed. I highly recommend you to try film photography than simply label it a trendy hipster thing to do. Film photos also have a special aesthetics compared to digital ones – they’re more organic somehow. I recommend you to try film photography!

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