Film is not dead. Uncover the intricacies of analog film with tips and experiences from these seven professional photographers.
As of this writing, there are well over 7 million photographs tagged #FilmIsNotDead on Instagram. In the wake of the digital takeover of recent decades, analog photography hasn’t receded into the annals of history, as some might have thought. Instead, it’s evolved and adapted to suit a new age.
As reported by TIME last year, more and more camera companies are re-introducing beloved, long-gone films. And after years of decreasing sales, they’re witnessing an uptick in demand. Whether it’s because of the process itself or due to the tone and depth of the final image, film is experiencing a significant resurgence with photographers of all ages, and the industry is taking note. #FilmIsNotDead is not the only popular hashtag for Instagram photographers; #StayBrokeShootFilm has been used approximately 1.5 million times, while #AnalogueVibes has more than 750 thousand images.
We asked seven Shutterstock contributors and Offset photographers to tell us about why they continue to choose film in a digital world. We also picked their brains to get their best advice for working with analog cameras and purchasing film. Below, they tell their stories.
1. “Film feels so raw and real and tangible and just the right amount of whimsical and unpredictable.”
Image by Lea Ciceraro. Gear: 35mm Nikon F100 camera, Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 lens, Kodak Portra 160 film.
What’s the story behind this photo?
In 2015, I went to Joshua Tree for an art retreat. One morning, we went as a group into Joshua Tree National Park with our cameras and hiking boots. When we arrived in the parking lot, I saw this amazing camper, and I just had to snap a photo of it. When the owner appeared in the doorway with her dog, I asked if I could take a few shots of her standing there, and she agreed! I’m happy I did; it’s one of my all-time favorite photos.
Image by Lea Ciceraro.
Why do you still use film?
Non-film photographers may have a hard time understanding why I choose film over digital, especially given the cost per click and the steep learning curve. It’s complicated. It’s tedious. You have to be willing to screw up. Then you have to try, try again. So why is film photography making a comeback? Why do I love it so much?
Film feels so raw and real and tangible and just the right amount of whimsical and unpredictable. It forces me to slow down and think about each shot, rather than haphazardly firing off the shutter. Shooting film creates an amazing, physical negative that will last far longer than 1’s and 0’s on a hard drive that will inevitably fail.
Then there is the technical beauty of film. When it is exposed just right, somehow it manages to retain both highlights and shadows in the most stunning way. And even when it’s not shot perfectly, film has this way of surprising you in the most magnificent and rewarding ways. It is delicate and subtle and timeless. Film feels honest and emotional. Printing film to enjoy and share is the final piece of the beautiful puzzle that is image-making.
A fun way to expand your film shooting knowledge is to rent (or borrow) a different camera to experiment with. I learned photography from my dad on his Nikkormat (c. 1972) using nothing but 35mm film. That is where my comfort zone was for a long while. It’s amazing how many different types of cameras and formats are out there. Learn as much as you can about as many different types as possible. It will only help you in the long run!
I am a part of the ongoing online workshop FINDinaBOX, led by Jonathan Canlas. Since it’s hard for me to attend in-person workshops because of family obligations, this is just what I needed. It’s a better bang for my buck, and I can do it right from home. FINDinaBOX is constantly helping me improve my film shooting and my business, and it’s keeping my creativity alive when I hit those inevitable rough patches.
2. “I like the lack of control and the element of surprise that comes with shooting film.”
Aaron Joel Santos
Image by Aaron Joel Santos. Gear: fixed-lens plastic toy Holga camera, 400 speed black & white film.
What’s the story behind this photo?
I was on a short trip to North Korea a few years back and didn’t want to bring my digital camera, as I thought it would attract too much attention. I also wanted to photograph in a way that mirrored the strangeness and lack of information in the country, so I decided to bring an old broken Holga camera with me. This particular image was taken in downtown Pyongyang. It was just a lucky moment as two children were walking past a monolithic communist building. The broken lens gives it a very ghostly feeling that I like.