5 reasons how shooting with film will make you a better photographer

Film seems to be pretty much obsolete nowadays, which is a shame because it’s actually really useful in perfecting your skills. People now have great quality cameras on their iPhone and DSLRs that are point and shoot with auto modes and pretty much just take the picture for you. Throw it into sports or portrait mode, point it at any object and bam – a beautiful photo has been created. Post it to Instagram, and you are now a professional photographer.

Right?

Not exactly.

Before the digital world made every person with a phone a photographer, people actually had to know how a camera worked in order to take a good photo. Film brings it all back to the basics and helps you understand what exactly it is you’re doing with that camera in your hand.

Here’s 5 reasons how film will make you a better photographer.

#1 You’ll know how a camera actually works.

Do you know how your digital camera works? Or do you just turn it on and start shooting and with a push of a button there’s a photo right there on your screen? With film cameras, you can’t do that. You need to understand the mechanics of it. You have to know the kind of film to get and what ISO and how that will look when you shoot based on the settings you choose – because you won’t be able to look and see how they turned out until later. Your settings have to be right the first time.

What’s great about film cameras is that you can see every moving part and what it does. It’s also required that you read the manual. How to load and unload film, how to change the settings – you can’t guess and just move levers and knobs around or you might break it. With digital cameras, reading the manual is simply encouraged but not at all required to start shooting (confession: I read zero of my digital cameras manuals).

Understanding how a camera works at the most basic level will help you when you’re out shooting. You’ll know when to change settings and how changing certain settings and not others will affect the photo before you even take it. Film cameras are easy to understand because they are simple. Once you understand the camera, you’ll know how to take a good photo without googling “what settings do I need to shoot ______?”

#2 Improved framing & quality

How many photos can you take with a digital camera? 1,000? 10,000? How many shots do you take before you find one that looks good? Is it 1 shot per every 50? 100? With film, you don’t have the luxury of taking shots until you get lucky with a well framed one. You have to plan your shot out carefully before you even think about touching the shutter. The average 35mm film roll has about 36 exposures (photos), so you have 36 photos and then you’re done (or you change rolls but it usually costs $5-10 per roll of film depending…so you want to save money!).

With film, you have to really look at the shot. Is this a nice shot? Is it set up well? What could be better? What other angle could I get so I don’t have 36 of the same type of photo? The great thing about film is that it kind of forces you to get a variety. When you get your film developed and you look at the entire roll, it always looks so much better when there’s close-ups, wide shots, low angles, overlapping planes – literally all the various angles & aesthetic elements that you probably overlook when taking pictures with your digital.

It’ll change the way you see when you’re taking pictures. You almost feel more artsy with a film camera because it takes a lot more time and thought to frame the photo. You’re not standing there snapping away because you have limited shots. The camera is forcing you to take a step back, evaluate what you see in your viewfinder and challenging you to take a good photo every time.

#3 Patience

While anyone can admit that taking a photo and seeing it immediately after is wonderful in so many ways, I sometimes find myself getting slightly annoyed when I take a burst of photos and have to wait for them to get written to the SD card. It takes probably 30 seconds, but for me that’s 30 seconds too long. I want to see how my pics turned out now so I can continue to shoot something else.

Film has helped me – and can help you – to just chill. When you’re shooting film, you already know you won’t see how they turn out for at least a few days, so what’s the rush? Whether you shoot all 36 photos in 5 minutes or spread it out over 5 hours, you still won’t see the finished product for a while. So – as I tell my horse when she’s racing to get back to her field after being gone for a mere 5 minutes – where’s the fire?

The entire process of shooting film takes time. It takes 2 seconds to put the SD card in your digital camera. It takes several minutes to load film into your camera – even longer if you’re loading a new camera for the first time. Once your film is in, you have to change the settings and use manual focus to get your shot. You also have to frame it and make sure everything looks just right before taking the shot. If you try to rush, you could damage/expose the film or camera and mess the entire process up so your photos don’t turn out at all.

This kind of patience will translate over when you’re shooting your digital camera. You’ll slow down a bit and really take your time setting up shots. Most digitals can shoot at least 5 FPS, but what good is that if those shots are mediocre? Not to mention clicking your shutter a lot or holding it down actually shortens your camera’s lifespan. So by taking your time and really paying attention to what you’re shooting, you can extend your digital camera’s life by simply taking your time (and film helps ya do it!).

Slow down, enjoy the ride and you’ll capture amazing shots.

#4 You’ll appreciate your photos more

So I have used almost 1TB of my 2TB cloud storage of photos. Out of the hundreds of thousands of photos I’ve taken, I can think of maybe 5 shots that I really, really loved. Of course I know there’s more shots in there that are great that I’ve posted to Instagram – but I don’t really remember them. I see a photo in a magazine and I’m like – oh, I took that? Someone the other day posted a photo to Instagram and tagged me in it, and I was like oh that’s my photo?

I literally take so many, I can’t even tell anymore because I don’t pay attention. It’s like I’m on autopilot. I’ve deleted entire albums of photos on my cloud storage because those photos meant so little to me (and I was having to pay to keep them there). It might just be me because I take so many, but when digital cameras yield SO many pictures, they have a lot less value.

With film, I could never imagine deleting any of these pictures. I get 36 exposures per roll, and with film I usually take pictures of things that are really important to me. When you have a limited number of shots, you’re not going to waste them on random strangers you don’t know (unless street photography or the like is your passion). Film costs money and isn’t reusable like a SD card. These 36 shots to me are like gold because I won’t get to retake them, so I spend an awful lot of time setting up the shots, deciding what subject to shoot, what film to get, etc. It just takes more time and effort to shoot with film that it makes me appreciate those shots so much more.

It’s also made me appreciate my digital photos more too. Now that I touch the shutter less, the shots that I do take with my camera have a bit more importance to me than they did before.

#5 Boosts your self confidence

Since film cameras are more complicated to work and take a bit more of working with to learn, you can be proud that you were able to take photos that turned out at all. Loading the film up, shooting with settings that you chose yourself and weren’t automatic, unloading the film, sending it to get developed in a chemical process then getting those photos back to you days later – that’s pretty awesome.

If you can essentially shoot blind like that, then you can know that you’ve got more talent than you’ve given yourself credit for. There’s so many ways film can get messed up. When you’re doing your settings, you can’t look at a screen and see all the settings you have to change. You have to instinctively know – oh I have to set this, then this and this too. One of my mistakes was I was too eager to shoot and completely forgot to change my shutter speed, so it’s safe to say none of those photos turned out! That’s what’s great about film – it makes you think and pay attention. You can’t be sloppy in any part of it or none of your photos will turn out.

So if you’ve been able to take good, crisp, gorgeous shots with film knowing how tedious it is to shoot with and how easy it is to screw up, then you should have a massive boost in your self confidence as a photographer. Shooting digital should be a breeze also, since you’ve got the experience shooting with film!