Trip to California - Learning Film

The first film image that I came across belonged to Andrew Mark Photography. I still remember how I felt that day after browsing through his images and blog. From the beginning, I have been drawn to bright and airy images. It was very frustrating because I just couldn’t get it. The images that speak to your soul, the grain, the softness, the pastel, the muted green, etc. I just didn’t know how other photographers do it, how they made their images so beautiful and soulful. It was until I saw Andrew’s photo that I know that it was the film look that I was drawn into. The whole fog disappeared that moment. I found the answers to all the questions that had been in my head for months. Since then, I changed my perspective and worked on my editing differently, to emulate the look of film. It took 2.5 years for me to find the style that I love and that is of my own.

During that process, I discovered more and more film photographers. Andrew Mark and Katie Nicolle who are local to us in Niagara areas. Julie Paisley, Lauren Fair, Tenth and Grace (Tanya Menoni), Perry Vail, and of course Alexandria Smith. I LOVE their work. They are my inspirations and force that drive me to learn about film. When I signed up for Alex’s workshop, I knew it’s time to take action so I bought my first film camera, the Pentax 645nII. I love their system for many reasons: the medium format, fast focus and affordability.

Unlike digital cameras, most film cameras are antique and/or pre-owned and are not widely available at your local stores. After many research, I decided to get mine off of Ebay. The camera and lens arrived from Japan 3 weeks before the workshop. There was no manual book or instructions on how to load the film in. It took several Youtube videos, a trip to Henry, many posts on the Pentax FB group and a coffee date with a local photographer to figure this machine out. But, it was so worth it!

Although I am still very new, here are a few things I found different from shooting digital (without going into too much technical):

  1. This Pentax machine is LOUD. And by that I meant, the shutter click is loud. It’s even louder when the roll is finished.

  2. There is no LCD screen for you to review your shot. You must take your time, compose the shot, watch for every details before hitting that shutter. Then you need to trust that it will turn out good and no one blinked.

  3. One roll of film gives you 15 images so you must watch what you shoot carefully or you will be going through 20 rolls before you know it, and I tell you, film stocks are not cheap!!

  4. There’re also different kind of film stocks, but the most popular ones are Portra and Fujii. They are slightly different in colour tones as one is bit more pastel than the other. My favourite so far is Fuji 400.

  5. Film images, in general, are grainier than that of digital. To some photographers, the grains are beautiful. I personally don’t like too much grains/noise in my images so I tend to reduce them (only to certain extend) in post.

  6. Some film images could have soft focus, some are even blur, but even so, they are still so beautiful!

  7. Metering - because you cannot view your shot right away like in a digital camera, how would you know that the shot you just composed has the right exposure? The answer is you use an external metering. It’s a small meter that photographer places in front of the subject and it will tell him/her what the ISO, apperture and shutter speed should be. I haven’t used one because the Pentax has pretty good built-in meter and so far, it works for me.

  8. There are many ways to scan your film. You must communicate with your lab about your style and colour so that they can scan the film to what you want. This is a work in progress for me! And even so, when the scans come back, I still have to do some minor editing before sending them out to clients.

I’m pretty sure as I continue shooting film, I’ll discover more differences. For sure though, film and digital are like two completely different languages. One thing that applies to digital might not apply to film.


So, what changed for me since shooting film?

  1. I learned not to overshoot. When you think about it, there’re only 15 images in one roll of film, so unless you want to spend $$$ on film stocks and scan, you must learn to shoot strategically. That means instead of firing the shutter way and picking the perfect image among 25 shots later, I just need to nail ONE shot. It is not an easy or overnight change though. After shooting with my Canon for many years, the habit were formed and they are hard to break. BUT, it does feels so good when I come back from a session with good quality images, all are different with less duplicates. I get to spend less time in culling, which I dislike so much and more time in editing. What it means for my clients is that they will have a gallery with a wide range of images and no 5 images of the same pose.

  2. Intentionality. The word has appeared so many times in my blog already, but you know what, I just LOVE it so much. Like I said, you can’t overshoot with film, so you must plan your session and pose your subject with intentions to recreate the daily occurring and capture those moments in the most natural and beautiful way. It definitely gives me a butterfly in my stomach when I shoot this way and it feels SO accomplished.

It has been 5 months since I started shooting film, and I’m not doing a full transition yet. There’re still so much to learn and to master this medium. I still shoot majorly on my Canon but I’m loving the Pentax more and more. I’m enjoying this not-so-rushing process and I know for sure one day, I will be able to proudly call myself a film photographer :). But for now, may I present you some of my first film images taken at the Magically Mundane Workshop. I hope you love them as much as I do!