Why film photography? At a point in time where everything is digital, there has been a resurgence of old mediums. Such as vinyl records and film photography. I, personally, did have the curiosity to get a film camera – a Yashica Electro 35 GSN – to see what the fuss was all about. And oh boy, did I fell in love with it.

Allow me to say that I do love digital. I still use it for some specific situations such as studio photoshoots. Digital photography revolutionized photography in a way that allowed people without much technical knowledge to get into it. It also incentivizes people to photograph even more as each photo doesn’t cost anything. Oh, and makes it fast to edit and share photographs. Very fast.

Having said this, what made me shoot and continue to shoot film where digital seems to be the best medium?

#1 Better Photo Lifespan

I bet that you weren’t expecting this one as the first reason why I shoot film. It is and let me explain to you why. I was at my grandfather’s one day and he had the idea to show me his box of old negatives. These negatives were dirty and a bit moldy but the photos were still there! I cleaned some of them with isopropyl alcohol and they looked almost as good as new! And can you guess how old they were? They were 50 years old! Putting it in other terms, my father was still 3 years old in those photos!… While I don’t have any photos of me, my family and friends older than 3 years because my computer got broke back then and my external hard drive was corrupted shortly before. This could simply be bad luck, but it’s common.

And this made me think. How can I be sure that the photos that I digitally take today will still be with me 10, 25 or even 50 years from now? Will I be able to show these photos to my children, grandchildren, and friends later on? I am not sure, but I would be safer if I also had a physical copy of them. Just in case, you know? And film is the perfect candidate for that. Think of it as the blueprint of every photo that you take – you can scan, edit and print with it as many times as you want. Of course, it has to be properly stored which can be easily done. You only need to buy an archive and a pack of good quality 100-sheet film archive sheets. These will last you for quite a while. 

Medium format slides over a light table.
Slides have the most longevity and are beautiful on a light table.

When you shoot film, you have something real and tangible which makes you give more value to it. You don’t unexpectedly lose it as you can lose digital files. And you can perfectly scan and print them. You can have as many digital scan backups as you want and in case something happens to them, you’ll still have the negatives. And that means a lot to me if I want my photos to last.

#2 Delayed Gratification = Better Enjoyment of Photos Taken

This is a very subjective reason that I have. For those who know me, I was really, really into gaming since I was little until a couple of years ago. Instant gratification was present in my life every day as it also is right now. It’s on social media, our smartphones, television… and in photography. In photography mostly because I wanted that social media gratification as soon as I edited a photo. So I wanted it fast. Something that isn’t the best approach for good photographs at all. And I wasn’t going to quit photography nor social media.

In my search to comfortably reduce the amount of instant gratification I get, I found that film helps reduce it quite a lot. Especially if I do the whole film process by myself. It wasn’t a reason why I started to shoot film. It’s something that I actually ended up enjoying quite a lot. There’s something about only seeing your photographs for the first time after days, weeks or even months that makes them really special. Simultaneously, this also makes it more challenging. You might find out that the photo that you were looking forward to the most ended up not quite right! Regarding this issue, it has been very rare to me and I also like the extra challenge and the error punishing nature of film. 

Film shoot of a woman drinking tea.
This portrait stayed undeveloped in my drawer for 6 months and it was such a surprise!

I now achieved the point where I can have rolls of film in my drawer that were shot in a trip two weeks ago and I don’t feel any rush on developing and scanning them.  And I’m comfortable with it. Funnily enough, I do have them in my drawer right now and I’ll develop them when I do have the time and focus to do it.

#3 Less Pressure to Take the Perfect Photo

If you don’t see the photograph immediately after shooting, this will sound counterintuitive. However, I find that I feel less stressed when I shoot film. This makes me enjoy it even more. After composing carefully and taking the photo you just forget about it and move on. If you really want to be sure that you’ll get the best out of a subject, you can take two, three or more photos but from different perspectives. However, I find that I am doing this less often and only take one to two photos of the same subject. Yes, a few of them end up slightly underexposed, out of focus or with a garbage can lurking on a corner. But I can live with it and just be more aware to avoid it in the future.

Man looking over Lisbon.
I only took one shot of this because I knew that I got what I wanted and I moved on.

Let me give you two examples of situations where I feel more at ease when photographing:

  1. Taking a portrait of a friend or group of friends. They cannot ask you to show them how the photo turned out and most of the time they end up well. Just be sure to take at least two photos just to be sure.
  2. On a trip. I find myself taking less, but more interesting photographs on my trips. I see something that is interesting, frame it as best as I can, take the shot and move on. Photographing with film on a trip has been immensely liberating because of this.

But what makes a photo to be perfect? Does it exist? I find that most of the time we think that a photo is bad because it isn’t technically perfect. Does it necessarily mean that a technically bad photo is always worse than a good photo? This is a question to be answered on another post, but I find that Jamie Windsors’ video shares the same opinion as me and probably explains it better than I. Be sure to check it out if you find this topic interesting.

#4 Simpler Photo Selection and Editing

Coming from digital photography, I find the photo selection and editing steps not as overwhelming with film photos. Mostly because of these two reasons:

  1. As film isn’t free, I end up with way fewer photos with a better keep-to-drop ratio. This makes photo selection faster and easier.
  2. The photo already comes with a predefined look of the film stock. This simplifies the editing process and allows me to only make small adjustments.

This may not be important to you, but it is huge for me. The less time I spend in front of the computer, the better. It means that I have more time to go out there and shoot. And that’s exactly what happened with digital. I got very bored and sometimes stressed while selecting between tens of very similar photos and then deciding on how to edit each photo from scratch. 

Film shoot of a woman on the beach
Portra 400 is the best color negative film for portraits due to how it renders skin tones.

There is some controversy in the film community about editing vs not editing film photos. I’d say to just do what makes you happy, but keep in mind that film scans already edit your photos. Also, labs perform scans with flat contrast so that you can edit them at your leisure. I’ll not go deeper as this is a topic for a whole post.

#5 I Can Experiment With Different Equipment

Small (full-frame, crop, micro four thirds…) and medium format limit what we can use in digital photography with the latter being really expensive to get into. While film cameras are broader and much more accessible to get into. You can start from small frames of 110 film up to 8×10 ultra-large format cameras.

When starting out, you can get a good 35mm camera in between 50 to 150 €/$. Take into consideration that it will probably not depreciate if you take good care of it. The first camera I bought was a Yashica Electro 35 GSN for about 80€ and I loved it. I decided to sell it recently because I wasn’t using it as much. Oh, and I got my money back.

I shoot film mainly with my Mamiya RB67
Photographing with medium format cameras has been amazing to me.

Even if you want to try medium format, it’s still pretty accessible! I got my Mamiya RB67 for 450€ (~500$) with a 127mm Sekor f/3.5 lens. And I do love shooting with it. If you want to have a medium format digital camera you’d have to spend more than 2000 €/$. That’s quite a stretch! I would not be able to try it out if there weren’t any medium format film cameras. Also, the digital sensors are still cropped compared to the real medium format frame sizes of 6×4.5, 6×6 and 6×7.

Large format is amazing and I do want to try it out in the future. It’s the only format that isn’t available in digital and that cannot be beaten by it. At least until now. There are still people that shoot large format and they all shoot in film.

Final Thoughts on Why Film Photography

Fortunately, there is still space for film photography in a digital world and both have their place. Digital photography is great to learn photography, day-to-day use, and common professional word. Film photography is also great when we want to experiment with a different way to photograph. And who knows – we might end up falling in love with it.

Are you new to film photography? Don’t forget to visit my homepage and check the services that I offer! Spoiler alert – one of them is film photography workshops!