13 reasons why you should shoot film in Street Photography
These days it feels as if everyone is shooting with digital cameras. The reasons are many, but the basic and most obvious one is that like everything else surrounding us, photography too has been digitised. Digital photography produces great results, just as good as film, and some even claim it has now surpassed film. More and more amazing high quality Full Frame and APS-C sensors are being squeezed into small modern cameras with tremendous abilities. But still, there are Street Hunters out there that prefer film over digital. The Romantics of photography, the analogue masters of light. Why though? Why would someone living in our time choose to still use film over digital in Street Photography? What could film offer that digital can’t do even better? I have thought about this many times, especially during my transition from digital to film 2 years ago and I’m come up with 13 reasons why I think you should shoot film in Street Photography.
13 reasons why you should shoot film in Street Photography
Film in Street Photography makes you think before you hit the shutter release (Film constrains you so it makes you work harder for each shot & Film makes you pay more attention to the light)
Each roll of film has a specific amount of frames. Sometimes, one can be lucky enough to squeeze in 1 or 2 additional frames on a roll, but the amount of photos that can be shot with a roll is standard (12 or 24 or 36) and it can’t be changed due to physical constraints. Subconsciously and even consciously, every frame feels like it must count, so naturally a Street Photographer shooting with film tends to think more about the shot before releasing the shutter. Another reason is that contrary to Digital RAW files, film negatives can’t be saved from really bad exposures. So, before each shot is made, the film Street Photographer tends to be more particular with their exposure.
Film in Street Photography can be used with a mechanical camera without batteries for ever
Shooting Street Photography with digital means that the Street Hunter is dependant on camera battery life. Most Street Photographers carry a 2nd or even a 3rd battery for that reason, especially the more prolific ones. With film cameras, especially the fully manual ones that don’t even have a light meter, running out of power is not an issue. Everything is achieved mechanically, thus the whole battery issue is removed from the equation, helping the Street Photographer focus on taking the picture, not worrying about remaining battery life.
You can start shooting Street Photography with film for a very low cost
One of the best reasons why I think you should shoot film in Street Photography is because you can get in the game for a very low cost. You can purchase great film cameras online for the fraction of the price of a digital camera, buy yourself a few rolls of film and off you go, you are ready to hit the streets and make street photos. I purchased my Canon Canonet QL17 for just €90. My Yashica GTN for around €70. Both these cameras can produce amazingly sharp, high quality photographs that any digital camera would be jealous of. Just pop in a €5 roll of film and you are good to go. If you do the maths, you can see that you can have your “new” old camera and your first 1000 photos shot and developed for around €350 – €400. All photos will have high resolution, amazing grain, fantastic colours and yummy full frame-ness! The cheapest full frame camera starts at just over €1000 and your first 1000 photos shot on it will probably be test shots of cups, mugs, clouds or badly composed, hasty photos just because you can shoot as many as you like without worrying about wasting frames. Once you have got the hang of the menus, dials and features it comes packed with, read the menu and got a feel of your digital beast, you will be ready to start shooting. Film cameras all work the same. If you know how to use one, you know how to use them all.
You can shoot Street Photography with film at night. Not being able to do so is a myth
Oh yes people. Film latitude is amazing. You can push it and get great night shot results. If you have a fast enough lens you don’t even have to push because film is much more sensitive to light than any digital sensor. I shot this photos below at box speed (400 ASA). My lens was at f1.8 and my shutter speed at 1/30th. With my digital APS-C sensor camera I would need at least 6400 ISO to achieve this result using the same settings.
You can’t beat film grain. It just looks awesome
Something that digital just can’t do yet is to produce good organic looking grain, especially in low light images. Digital grain looks like something has gone wrong with the photo, whereas film, organic grain just looks natural. Sometimes it looks so good, it makes the photo look even better than if it didn’t have any grain in it.
Film cameras work for ever and will not let you down
A film camera is basically a light sealed box that works just like the first ever negative film camera did. Maybe it has better mechanics than an early 20th century camera, but it still works in the same way. It lets light in through the lens that burns the film and creates the negative image that is then printed out as a photograph. Because film cameras work like this, they don’t have a specific component that creates the image, like digital cameras do with digital sensors. Their “sensor” is the film and each image is made on a fresh piece of it. So, no matter how many photos a film camera takes, its “sensor” will never, ever lose image quality, colour and shadow tonality – it will not corrode or break. As long as the mechanics of the camera work, it can make photos. There are still cameras out on the field used by Street Photographers that are more than 80 years old, working just as well as when they were unboxed. What a solid investment.
Film really helps you achieve a specific look & feel in your Street photos
Each film emulsion produces a specific look & feel and if it is a colour film, it also produces specific colours. So, for example if you are a Street Photographer that loves grainy B&W shots, you can use Kodak Tri-X 400 pushed to 800 or even 1600 and get the same results each time. Or if you are into colour, load the gorgeous Kodak Portra 400 in your camera to achieve the colour rich, crystal sharp images you love. Your style can be defined and identified just by the combination of film emulsion and film developer you use.
Film has the original filmic look and feel everyone is looking for in their LR filters
I have noticed that most of us use film presets on our digital images to make them look more filmic. That is ironic if you think about it because if we like the filmic look so much we might just as well shoot film and get the results we need nice and easily! What is the point in shooting digital if all we want to do later in post is to make those digital images look like they were shot on film?
Some of the best ever Street Photos have been shot on film
Many of us never think about this, but some of the best and most iconic images ever shot in the Street Photography genre have been shot on film. That means that film has what it takes and can produce fantastic results.
You can do the same things with film that you can with digital, if you know how to really use a camera
What I have noticed personally (and this was the main reason why I switched to film a couple of years ago) was that digital cameras with all their image processing, automatic metering and amazingly super-fast autofocusing turned my Street Photography experience into a point and shoot game. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy just focusing on composition sometimes and leaving the whole photography technique on the side, but that happens to me rarely. I want to feel that I have total control over my photography and what better way to do that than by using a manual film camera? Once you have control of your camera and know exactly how to use it you understand that anything you can do with a digital camera, you can also do with a film camera. What makes the difference is your level of experience and photographic knowledge. With film cameras you use your brain more that you use it with digital cameras. Your digital friend will usually save the day by giving you the best exposure, the fastest AF and a RAW file that you can squash and squeeze to your liking. But, who made the photo then? You or the little silicon computer brain in your high tech camera?
Film will not let you chimp, so you focus more on Street Photography and less on your already shot photos
This reason really doesn’t need any explanation at all. Chimping and talking on our phone are the top 2 reasons why we miss shots in the streets. Film cameras at least eliminate the chimping parameter, giving you more time to focus on your Street Photography and not your photos.
When shooting film in Street Photography you spend more time on the streets shooting and less time in LR and Photoshop post processing
One of the reasons why we Street Hunters love shooting Street Photography so much is because we enjoy being outside, in the streets. The more time we are in the streets taking photographs, the better Street Photographers we become. Film usually doesn’t need any post processing. It might need some leveling, maybe a slight tonal correction but that’s it. That means that when you get your shots back from the lab, all you have to do is do some minor tweaks and you are done. Digital photographs, especially RAW files look quite boring and dead out of the camera and almost always need post processing that could last for as long as 5 or 10 minutes. Imagine having to process 36 RAW files, 5 minutes each. That’s 180 minutes in front of your screen that you could have been spending in the streets.
People tend not to mind to be shot with a film camera. Digital cameras feel more like a gateway towards Social Media (Facebook, Flickr, etc).
Yes, this is something I have experienced many times. If I am confronted in the streets while shooting with a film camera, I usually get a different reaction to when I am using a digital camera. Because film cameras are old and they don’t have instant image production capabilities, people that are shot on film seem to believe their photo will remain on the negative, maybe even be printed on paper but then it will stop its journey. Somehow, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram seem disconnected from film cameras, making film cameras less of a threat to people that don’t like their photo taken. Additionally, because these people can’t see their photo on the back of the camera, it makes the photo feel more disconnected from them, it is as if it affects them less. Seeing a digital image is more substantial and thus makes it more possible in their minds that it may be shared on social media.
Fellow Street Photographers that shoot film already know all the above reasons and probably even more and that is why they prefer to shoot analogue rather than digital. Have you ever considered any of the mentioned points? Have you ever tried shooting film? If you are already a film Street Photographer please share with us what your reasons are for shooting analogue. We would love to read them. Before we say goodbye, we would like to present you with a few more reasons why film is generally cool to shoot with, not taking into account the Street Photography parameter. Hope you enjoy!
Bonus: 13 more reasons why film is super cool
- You get a feeling of anticipation before you send your prints to the lab.
- You get an unexpected high and sense of gratification when you receive your prints from the lab.
- You get a full frame, high res negative on each frame.
- Film has the best and highest dynamic range.
- Film produces much better colours and skin tones.
- Film makes you want to experiment (pushing, pulling).
- Film sometimes rewards you with pleasant surprises.
- Film allows you to actually hold your photos (Holding your photo in your hand beats looking at it on any high res screen).
- You get to understand how cameras operate and work when using film.
- Film cameras have a certain character that make you look cool as hell.
- FIlm can be stored and archived for hundreds of years.
- Because Film negatives and printed photos are archived physically, that gives them more value than digital files.
- Negative film handles highlights better than any digital file and post processing can.
reminds me on an article 20 years ago, why writers should use typewriter instead of computer. I swear same arguments 🙂
Thank you for your comment Chris :). In the future we plan to write another post with reasons why to shoot film, so stay tuned!
you talk about processing film and prints at professional labs. I find that half the enjoyment of Photography is processing my own Black & White. It’s basically very simple and there is nothing more exciting than seeing the image magically appear on the paper in the developing tray. It also enables seeing the results of the shoot within hours and not having to wait for the prof. lab.
another ‘side-effect’of your own processing is that if you screw up, you can learn from your mistakes, but lab. processed screw ups are much harder to swallow and all you can do is find another lab!
I totally agree with you Sey! I love developing my B&W negs. It feels like magic 🙂 .
I left this out on purpose, because I thought it wasn’t something that most Street Photographers might do. I might be wrong. Out of all the film shooters in my town for example, I am the single one that self develops. Everyone else goes to a lab, or come to me 🙂
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!
Great article and right on time for me. I went to a little shop the other day and bought a Minolta XG-1 with a 50 mm rokkor lens. Old film cameras were build like tank I really had the feeling that camera can last for 20 more years. I finished my first roll and can’t wait to see the result. Keep up the good work !!
Hi there and thank you for your comment. I am glad you liked the post. I hope you find film an enjoyable way of making photos!
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!
First of all, I do love film. And I am thrilled seeing 16 or 17 y/o girls experiment with film, posting analog photos of their holidays and friends on Tumblr. I really hope that companies such as Fuji and Ilford continue to produce films for analog shooters.
However, after shooting film for 30 years myself, I recently switched to 100% digital. I could no longer justify the extra cost of film (€400 for 1000 photos sounds great, but where I live – the Netherlands – processing might set you back almost twice as much).
Shooting digital, I do try to mimic the analog workflow though:
– I do not chimp. I shoot one or two photos of a scene – like I did on film – and move on. Too bad when I missed focus or something, but especially in street you cannot redo anyway.
– I use memory cards with a limited capacity. This might sound silly, but it works. My SD card fits about 200 images. Yes, that is still five roles of film, but you don’t tend to go into burst mode and shoot 20 frames, hoping to get one good one.
– After a day of shooting, I do not look at the photos. I send them to Dropbox and check them days or even weeks later. That gives the same “zen” feeling that I liked in film photography.
Of course, you’ll never get the real film look with digital. But “film simulation” editors like BLACK, VSCO and RNI are doing a decent job. When I had just switched to 100% digital and didn’t tag my Tumblr posts as such, I still got the question – even from analog die hards – “which film I used”. So the difference might be more subtle than we like to think.
Robert thank you for your detailed comment. I totally understand where you are coming from and I feel the same way some times. I went through a period where I was analogue 100% but I felt that I missed the convenience of digital. So now I shoot both and in a future post, I will explain why I also like digital for Street Photography.
Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!
The negative film ‘look’ is the result of the smooth exposure transition in the highlights which cannot be emulated with digital sensors, they are more akin to positive film. It’s nearly impossible to overexpose negative film but pretty easy to blow out the highlights on a digital camera. The drawback of film is the expense, which is getting more expensive as time goes by. As it stands film photography is mainly for hipsters with Lomo’s, which is a shame.
Good comments. Allow me to comment; for many users analog remains less expensive than digital. Yes, film can become expensive along with processing. Analog can be less expensive than spending thousands of dollars for digital cameras, and all that goes with it, computer equipment, editing software, and more; we cannot forget the ongoing upgrade cycle as well. For the cost of the aforementioned one can shoot much film and process it, then by the time it amortizes itself the digital shooter again will be upgrading their equipment.
“Hipsters” are not the film shooters. For over 200 years analog photography have been used, then about 2006-ish for the masses digital became economically available. At the beginning of the digital craze and through today folks do their best justifying their large amount of money expended on digital technology, a technology that continues its attempt at replicating film. Those analog shooters that switched to digital (true hipsters) then disposed of their still working high quality analog equipment for the newer ever evolving, ever changing, continual upgrading, digital technology.
Thus my conclusion, true hipsters are shooters that switched to digital. Why, digital for the masses is comparatively new ten to twelve years old technology (again analog is over 200 years old). Digital shooters are leaving behind a proven still fully viable highly regarded analog technology used around this world by millions.