5 Ways Using Film Made Me a Better Photographer
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5 Ways Using Film Made Me a Better Photographer

When I decided to learn to shoot film, most people thought I was idiotic. “Film is not dead!” I would declare with a flair of hipster and an accent I claim to be British. My husband thought it was both ridiculous and wasteful seeing as I have thousands of dollars worth of digital equipment, but, as usual, I ignored him. I destroyed 7 rolls of film while trying to figure out how to load my hand-me-down minolta and 3 more rolls while trying to wind them up after shooting. I both confessed my love and hate for film, sometimes on the same photo. I am far from being the great shooter as some of the photographers I follow on social media, nor am I abandoning my digital BFF, but the following 5 things I learned from film have forever changed my shooting.


5 ways using film made me a better photographer by Ashley Manley via Click it Up a Notch

  • No.
    01
    Patience Is A Virtue

    I’m going to say 2 words that might make some of you cry: manual focus. Yeah, I went there. It has taken me forever to try to kind of get the hang of manual focusing and I’ve gotten many scans back that look like some kind of crazy UFO sighting. Swear word, exhale, repeat. Other patience pushers for my high-strung soul? No digital preview and waiting weeks on scans. Such misery!! As frustrating as these things have been, it has made be slow down and appreciate the instant world of digital so very much more.

    ashleymanley-1

  • No.
    02
    Be Deliberate

    If I load a roll of film correctly, I have 36 opportunities to capture something fabulous. Thirty-six. When I have a 1-hour family session, I take over 300 digital photos on average. 36? Like so many of us, I’m an over shooter…but 36?! Yes, I can load another roll of film, but it gets kind of expensive with a lead finger like myself. The solution? Get it right. Meter correctly, shoot deliberately, don’t be wasteful. How much easier is the culling process when you don’t don’t have a bazillion duplicates!?

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  • No.
    03
    Bend the Rules

    I learned photography from a very technically correct instructor. Tack-sharp photos, textbook composition, clean and vibrant editing, etc. He was fabulous but it made me hesitant to think outside of the photography box. Later, when I became interested in film, I looked at hundreds and hundreds of photos from history. They were grainy, softly focused, and deemed as beautiful. And the greens, reds, and skin tones?! Delightful! That’s what I wanted. After getting my first scans back, I challenged myself to be more film-like in my digital shooting. I now crank up the ISO when needed and embrace the noise it creates, I edit creatively with a splash of clean (currently loving the VSCO presets!), and I’m thrilled with a photo if it tells a lovely story but isn’t a marvel of technicalities.

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  • No.
    04
    Stuff Doesn’t Matter

    Stuff really doesn’t matter, people matter. More specifically to photography, the person holding the camera matters. I used to really think that camera gear is what made a photo great. Sick, I know. When I started in photography, I really thought I would be shunned if people knew I entry level gear (Yes, if you haven’t picked up on it, I can be a tad dramatic) But y’all, let’s be honest, stuff is great, but not great enough to act like a reality TV star. I shoot film with a Minolta X-370 and a 50mm 1.4 lens. I literally have no idea if this is considered a good camera or lens in the film world and I really don’t care. I love it and it does the job. I have no budget to spend on my 35mm gear so I’ve embraced what I have. While I have upgraded and make sure I have professional quality digital gear, I don’t get too wrapped up in the latest and greatest because I know there is so much more that goes into a great photo.

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  • No.
    05
    Never Stop Learning

    A few months ago I told my dad I was working on an assignment for a photography workshop I was taking. His response? “I thought by your age people were done learning new things.” Wow. Thanks dad. Maybe for some people at “my age” that’s true (for the record, it’s 30) but not for me. I have so many questions about the world I can’t even handle myself sometimes. I want to know more and do better at almost everything I try. Film was absolutely no different and turned into this wonderful and frustrating adventure. I took the time to ask the questions and really learn. I found wonderful people that would help and spent a good chunk of my time feeling like a moron. By acknowledging we don’t know everything, we open up so many doors to learn anything. (That’s probably the most insightful thing I’ve ever said!) Next on my list of things to learn? Photographing the night sky. :)

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And just like that, I became a different and better photographer. While everyone won’t want to try film, I challenge you to try something different (different doesn’t have to equal expensive or fancy!) to help define who you are as a photographer. Remember, we all feel like idiots at first :)

{Note about the photos: All shot on a Minolta X370 with 50mm 1.4 lens; Black and White Photos shot on Kodak 400TX, developed and scanned by Indie Film Lab; Color photos Portra 400, developed and scanned by FIND lab.}

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20 Comments
  • Stephanie
    May 27, 2015 at 12:18 PM

    I love this post. These are wonderful “tips” to remember when learning and/or shooting photos.

    • ashley
      May 27, 2015 at 10:56 PM

      Thanks, Stephanie! <3

  • Terri
    May 27, 2015 at 2:07 PM

    This is fabulous!! I miss film photography and knowing I only had so many shots so I was picky and always focused manually. Have to get back to my “film brain”.

    =)

    • ashley
      May 27, 2015 at 10:53 PM

      Film Brain is an awesome way to put it, Terri! haha! It’s such a fun way to look at photography! ;)

  • Brie
    May 27, 2015 at 3:28 PM

    I love this post!! I too have a hand me down Minolta, but am so scared to try the film thing. I think that I might give it a try, since I have almost mastered the Manual mode on my digital camera. Thanks for your insight!

    • ashley
      May 27, 2015 at 10:52 PM

      Yes, Brie! Dust that sucker off and give it a whirl! :)

  • tina
    May 27, 2015 at 3:58 PM

    I grew up with film: polaroids (as a child we used to delight in watching the image appear), instamatics with 110 cartridges, and finally a borrowed 35mm Canon that I never returned to my mom after I returned from an archaeological dig (in my defense all of her pics were blurry because she refused to wear her glasses!). I drug my feet on going digital. I loved getting pictures back from the developer and sharing the duplicates with friends/family or sorting them into piles for the scrapbook. But technology won and I crossed over to what I believed to be the Dark Side and bought a point & shoot digital camera (which I hated). Fast forward 12 years and I’m on my 3rd digital camera and love it as much as I loved my old 35mm film camera.

    It’s refreshing to read that film is not a completely lost art and I have recently been thinking of having my old gear cleaned at the shop so I can play around with film again. Your images are wonderful and I especially love the B/W. Your point about film forcing you to slow down and think about what you are shooting so that you don’t waste the film is a great lesson I think all (digital) photographers can learn from. And after reading this, I’m really itching to pick up some film again. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • ashley
      May 27, 2015 at 10:55 PM

      I love reading about your background, Tina! Pick up the film! I could never totally leave “the dark side” but I LOVE shooting film for my personal stuff. Thanks for the kind words!

  • Joyce Kang
    May 28, 2015 at 12:46 PM

    What a fun read!! Isn’t film awesome?!? Film is so addictive: you can’t shoot just one roll! Have fun with your new venture with the night sky on film.

  • Kristal
    May 29, 2015 at 9:28 PM

    I just got a film camera from someone cleaning out their house. Came with a zoom lens and a 50mm. I’m so excited to play with it this summer!

  • Jon Woodhams
    June 1, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    Enjoyed your article very much, in part because we apparently have the same film camera and lens! I too am enjoying getting “back” to film (I put “back” in quotes because in many ways, I’m really learning it for the first time). Thanks for sharing your experiences and insights.

  • Rebekah Baier
    June 3, 2015 at 4:24 PM

    Recently got back into film – and loving every second. Making myself slow down and really focus on each and every detail I want to capture before pressing the shutter is like a breath of fresh air. It seriously clears my mind to spend one purposeful hour with only film at my fingertips. Next step – learning to develop my own film! Excellent post, thank you for sharing!

  • Michele
    June 3, 2015 at 6:57 PM

    I so needed to read this today! My husband recently fixed my old film Canon Rebel that I loved, but then the shutter broke on it and I set it aside. Fast forward to today with two digital cameras and a handful (or two) of lenses. Dear husband recently bought me some film and I’m slowly starting to remember the thrill of NOT being able to see the pictures immediately, but having to wait to get them processed. Really, it’s the thrill of simplicity and patience! Thanks for a fun and encouraging post. I think I’ll go grab that camera right now, and finish off a roll. (or two). :-)

    • Robin
      June 16, 2015 at 11:36 AM

      curious – where do you get yours processed?

  • Chelsea
    June 3, 2015 at 9:15 PM

    I’ve recently been very interested in starting to shoot with film…I’m completely digital right now. However, I have absolutely NO clue where to start. I know nothing about film. Do you have any tips or resources? Great post, by the way! Ashley, I see you’re from central Illinois–I’m in that area too! Whereabouts are you located? :)

  • Robin
    June 16, 2015 at 11:35 AM

    Can I ask why you used Indie film lab for B&W and FIND for color? I have my old 35mm Rebel and am thinking of using it again!

  • Fred
    June 22, 2015 at 9:07 AM

    I have said for many years now (since digital started taking over) that everyone that really wanted to learn photography should start with film.
    Not only shooting film but also learning how to develop and print it the traditional way.
    Digital is great for a lot of things but the look and feel of a well done film image just can’t be topped by a megapixel.

  • Julie Anne
    June 25, 2015 at 11:04 AM

    Great article. My favorite points in order 5, 2, 3.

    A manual film camera made me step back and think about the basics.

    I love No. 2 and 3! I have two hard-drives full of digital photos; however, the first time I put a roll of film in my camera I struggled to take a single photo. I went out and set in my horse’s pasture for 45 minutes without taking any pictures. If I was going to take a photo I wanted it to be perfect. I ended up putting the film camera away and digging out my digital camera. Over time I have learned to be deliberate, but experiment and embrace imperfection.

    I have enjoyed getting off auto expose with my cameras and learning manual; although, I am struggling with learn manual focus. I am slow and often cannot see the focus in the camera. I am still trying, but it is a huge struggle.

  • Scott odell
    September 11, 2015 at 2:09 PM

    i have read your post a dozen times, finally someone who understands those things!
    Without film I would have never gotten to ynderstand photography. I took it up a notch further and started working in photo labs with film.
    My best work as always been on slide film… Miss those days

  • Jess
    November 19, 2015 at 9:01 PM

    This article means so much to me!!! Absolutely love it… I learned photography from my Mom as a child in the early 80’s… She was in photography classes and I used to get to go with her and even hang out in the dark room to develop. I often feel the true talent of a “Photographer” has been lost in all the technology but this brought me back to my roots and warmed my heart!! Thank you

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