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“Technology, I believe, does have the potential to water down the art form of photography, taking away the essential skills and processes a photographer should use.”

Zac T. Lee

Photography has become available to almost everyone. With cameras built-in even in mobile phones, we can take images wherever we are and without having to worry about costs and amount of frames.

Modern society is marked by an abundance of visual imagery; advances in digital technology has democratized photography. Richard Buckley sums it up in his foreword to Nathan Benn’s book “Kodachrome Memory: American Pictures 1972-1990”:

“By giving meaning to everything, we give nothing value.”

That observation is certainly true.

But what is it exactly that film photography can teach us about becoming better photographers in the digital age? Here are some thoughts on the matter:

5 Lessons Film Photography Can Teach You To Improve Your Photography

  • Patience: Sometimes you have to be quick. Especially when shooting an event that’s evolving at a fast pace. Then a digital camera that allows you to shoot various images in a fraction of a second comes in handy. But if not, what’s the great hurry? Shooting with analog cameras can really teach you to be patient. You’ll discover that the more time you take to think the composition and framing of your photographs shooting film, the less superficial and predictable will be the results. With only a very limited amount of frames on each roll of film and considering the cost for developing the negatives, people shooting the analog way are more likely to carefully think about what to take a picture of. Thus every single photograph would be a record of a special moment worth remembering. That has changed dramatically with the rise of the digital era in photography with a camera incorporated in almost every electronic device these days.
  • Material: Different types of photographic film give you different qualities depending on what are the results you are looking for. Size of grain, texture, saturation of the colors, etc. Knowing the characteristics of a certain photographic material opens up new ways to creatively express yourself as an artist. Not to mention the technical options analog cameras give you to explore and play with, such as double exposures, cross processing, different formats and so on. You might even go as far as building your own camera, a pinhole camera for example.
  • Skills: Using an analog camera and sticking to film photography makes you aware of the fact that the results of your shootings are closely related to your skills as a photographer. With a digital camera and seemingly endless space on your memory card, you can fire away hoping that there’ll be at least one good photo the more often you click the shutter button. Analog photography on the other hand is more challenging: you don’t want to waste chances and thus are forced to connect more with your brain before taking a picture.
  • Control: Using and developing analog film allows you a direct and psychical relationship with the work you are creating. Going to the darkroom to develop your images demands sharp senses: It’s your eyes and vision that make the adjustments instead of the technology within a digital camera that “thinks” for you. Film photography offers a more hands-on approach to photography: each individual photograph is a crafted art form.
  • Mystery: Not everything can be planned. Some things are always left to chance. Film photography teaches you just that: humility. You never know what the results will be like beforehand. Sometimes they are quite different from what you’d expected them to look like. Then you analyze the reasons for that, so you won’t make the same mistake twice. Shooting film is a constant reminder of paying attention to details – and occasionally be surprised by unexpected outcomes.

Having elaborated on the advantages of film photography, one shouldn’t deny of course the obvious advantages of digital photography.

This article is not about glorifying the past and traditional photographic processes. It’s purpose is to remind us of the beautiful things shooting film can teach us about photography in general and that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Taking in mind the points mentioned above about film photography can help us to become a better photographer – not only using analog cameras.

Image from analog photographer Christian Finbar Kelly

A pinhole photo of a ghostlike looking woman in a park taken by film photography lover Christian Finbar Kelly

 

If you are interested in exploring traditional photographic processes related to analog and film photography, please check out the inspirational interviews with analog photographers on this site.

Your opinion on the subject of digital versus film photography is also very much appreciated as well as references to interesting resources on the Internet regarding analog photography.

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