What Is It About Shooting On Film That Makes Everything Feel More Real?

Element5 Digital

The beauty of shooting film photography relies on the artist’s ability to create an image that feels intentional, real and authentic. In a world where we want our content as soon as yesterday, film photography and the analog process forces us to slow down.

Film photography is still a medium of choice for creatives who never transitioned to a fully digital landscape. Holding on to what they know about creating art, this love for film photography is making a resurgence in the industry by the way of new photographers rediscovering this timeless piece of photographic history.

And although there seems to be this new hype around film photography, with many digital photographers investing in analog equipment or learning how to master the darkroom – what is it about this medium that makes film photography feel more real?

You Only Have A Set Number of Frames

Unlike using a digital camera with a memory card to store your images, film cameras rely solely on film rolls for their photographs. Depending on the size of your card, you can easily store hundreds to thousands of images onto one single sliver of memory. This abundance of space, gives photographers the ability to take as many images as they want.

With this type of freedom, photographers often see the unlimited amount of space as a way to capture image after image, in hopes of finding the best options later in post production culling. While memory space isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the thought process of shooting just to shoot turns photography into less of an art form and more of a mass produced commodity.

On the opposite end, shooting film limits you to the set number of frames available in your roll. While you could argue that a photographer could buy hundreds of rolls to mimic the concept of a digital method, you would need to think about the financial investment of shooting film.

A film roll can cost anywhere from $6-11 per roll. With a 35mm roll offering 36 frames and medium format offering 12 frames – you are limited to how many images you can create in a set period. Most photographers will use a pack of 5 film rolls within one shoot, which still allows for a large set of photographs to choose from after development.

Limiting the number of images you can create from the available frames in a film roll allows the process to feel more intentional and natural. With this, you must choose your shots wisely and create with purpose.

There’s No Reviewing And Deleting

One of the most real aspects of shooting film in comparison to digital is the inability to review your images after you have shot them.

Film cameras are mechanical bodies that have absolutely no digital parts or pieces. Every nob or lever will need to be manually adjusted and the only way to know how to adjust your settings is through the camera’s light meter or a hand held equivalent.

Therefore, the concept of a display screen when you can view your images only exists in the latest digital technology. In fact, this type of reviewing, selecting and deleting process seems to be a modern day luxury. Back in the day, film photographers never worried about the outcome of their image.

Instead of worrying that some component was off, they focused on what they knew. Photographers learned how to use their cameras and trusted the process of shooting on film. It was a method that required a certain amount of ambiguity, leaving the final product up to the development.

If a roll didn’t turn out, film photographers had to accept this and start again. A concept that may seem strange, but gave the entire technique of film photography a true and realistic depiction of creating art.

You Have To Be More Intentional

Since we know that in film photography you had a set number of frames per roll and you cannot review and delete images once you have captured them, this calls for photographers to practice shooting with intention.

To shoot with intention means to truly think and decide about the image you want to create. This removes the idea of shooting everything in site just to have captured your entire surroundings or to quickly snap every movement of your subject to ensure a range of emotions. With intentional shooting, you select each frame with definitive precision.

Film photography requires patience. If you are shooting in an outdoor setting, you may have to wait for the opportune moment to capture your image. This may include waiting for the background to clear or for the light to shift in your favor. If you are photographing a person, this will require you to guide your subject into a specific pose or facial expression that you hope to capture.

Although you want to be intentional with your process, film photography is often about the in between moments that make the process feel real and authentic. You can guide your scene to a certain point, but always be willing to allow things to change and develop on their own. It is the photographs that we didn’t expect, that end up being the ones we value the most.

There Will Always Be Surprises in Development

Even if you have shot the perfect film photo – correct shutter speed, aperture, set your ISO to match your film speed, crisp and sharp focus – there can still be surprises in the darkroom.

Changes to the photograph that happen in development are rarely the fault of the photographer, but more due to the fact that you are utilizing an older process. Despite film still being manufactured today, the technique isn’t exactly perfect. There will be light leaks, potential streaks and even an out of focus subject, even when you’re completely sure you focused perfectly.

These little details shouldn’t be viewed as mistakes. The imperfections of film photography is what makes the process real to life for the photographer. Having everything go according to plan isn’t realistic, but creating beautiful images with a few mishaps is. Take these surprises in development as a part of the analog process, showing photographers that sometimes creating art means giving up control.

The Color, The Grain And That Film Aesthetic

The final product of a film photograph has all the markings of a true image – the rich color tones, that fine, yet distinctive grain and the overall aesthetic that exudes the feeling of another moment in time. Film photography is inherently vintage, retro and old-school for us new wave digital creators. It is a process that is recognizable, definitive and cannot be replicated by our digital technology.

Film photography takes time, planning and patience to create. It is a masterpiece of imperfections. With film, post editing barely exists. You may adjust some elements, such as shadows, saturation and black or white points, but overall the image stays intact. With film, you don’t feel the need to make substantial changes because the image itself is already appealing.

The idea of shooting film photography may not be for everyone. It takes a certain level of trust for the process and a belief in your abilities as a photographer to create the photographs you envision.

While shooting with intention, letting go of reviewing your images and allowing the development process to work its magic, capturing and producing film photographs are about as real, natural and authentic as you can get to creating true works of art.