Recently an editor with one of our fine art magazines asked me to write a few replies to readers’ questions about film. As I have not used film for quite a while, this prompted some research, which proved both surprising and educational. First let me preface this: I’ve been a professional photographer for over 30 years, starting out long before the digital age did its “hit and run” on film.
What I found is that there are still photographers who have a passion for film, and many are still using it, despite the difficulties it presents. Gone are the days of the local pro color lab, or at least those that will process film of any kind. If you’re in a larger market this may not be entirely true, but, for the rest of us, getting film processed requires a web search and shipping. Actually finding professional film is another issue. Again, you will have to order it from one of the major suppliers.
Black-and-White Film Photography
My research showed me that most of the film holdouts are shooting in black and white and lean toward the fine art side of photography. This is understandable as the processing and printing part can be done in your home-based darkroom, eliminating the lab search and shipping. If you have clients that you can talk into using film you will still need to create a digital file before delivery. The publishing and printing world had gone digital quite a while ago and most won’t accept film at all anymore.
The allure of film that attracts people seems to be both in the aesthetics and in the process. The grain, the tonality and the feeling that film has are the big topics that come up in discussions on film. The process applies to the slowing down of your approach; you have only a limited number of exposures on a role of film. This helps you to think more and spend more time on the craft, removing the “we’ll fix this in postproduction” thoughts that go through your head when you blast off hundreds of digital exposures. The editing process is also more of a hands-on affair, looking at your shots with a loupe brings the intimacy that seems lost in digital. When I was teaching university-level classes a few years ago, I required my students to learn how to expose, process and print black and white. This requirement often met with grumbles and resistance, but, once students got into it, they understood the point and became better photographers.
I drag out old portfolios from time to time and reminisce about days gone by, I love the quality and saturation these old 8×10 transparencies have, and the luster and depth of the black-and-white prints. If you long to get back to the roots of photography or want to have some fun in the dark room, by all means take a look at film again. You could discover a new muse or re-discover what turned you on to photograph in the first place. My day job offers little time for playing with personal work, but, after doing this research, I will break out the old Hasselblad this summer and have some fun.
Ric Deliantoni is a professional photographer and director with thirty years of experience, with a focus on still-life and lifestyle imagery for advertising, design and publishing. He has developed a unique style that has been described as impressionistic and bold. Ric has also spent much of his career teaching and mentoring students of all levels to better themselves as artists.