Shooting Film

Kate Kelley with her Hasselblad
Kate Kelley Partner Devlo Media

Have you heard the sound of a Hasselblad 501CM shutter as you so delicately and steadily press the button? It makes my heart swell (all photographers reading this are now sighing). It’s the sound of your image forever etched in light. It creates a tangible image, something you can physically hold onto. Well, that being said, you are still going to scan it, retouch it, back it up across a few hard drives, size it down (like, wayyyy down), and throw it up on your website, post to social media… and on it goes.

I graduated from college just before the rise of the digital camera, which meant that when I studied photography I shot on film and I am forever grateful that I did. There is something beautiful about the torture of waiting for your film to come back from the lab... did that amazing shot come out? Did I expose it properly? Did the lab lose power when my film was in the machine?! A lot of these fears may seem irrational to most, but some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Shooting digitally, you can snap away hundreds of photos in just a few minutes and not think a thing of it. Then you can look at what you are shooting, usually referred to as chimping (not a very endearing term) and check exposure, framing, adjust, and continue shooting. You are limited by the size of your compact flash card and battery. THIS IS GREAT! Well, maybe not so much. Who am I kidding, it is really great.

Shooting film, you don’t have that instant gratification of knowing if the shot came out the way you planned. First, you only have 36 shots, or 12, or even just one. Shooting this way, you really have to take a longer look at the frame and make your editing decisions on the spot - do I keep that tree branch, how much sky does this shot need, ahhh crap I have to remember to leave room for type. And second, it takes 3 hours to run through the developing process, and that would only happen if you shot the film at the lab and handed it directly to the tech. These days it takes 3 days or up to a week to get your film back as labs will do one run a week. Today everything moves so quickly and turnaround times are crazy. We shoot, dump, process, and send - in a day. You can’t move that fast with film, which is why its great to take the time to switch things up, throw a roll in the Hasselblad, and see what happens. Its like hitting option-command-esc on your Mac when you have the spinning wheel of death, but for your brain. For those of you on a PC, well, thats cool.

There is still a time and place for film. I yearn for the days when I could take a week or two to decide what my favorite shot was from a shoot. Look, I’m not knocking technology. As photographers, we can do so much more with so much less (I’m not talking money though, duh). Film is romantic. Film is why most of the photographers working today got into this profession, it is their first love. Most students in photography programs today are not learning on film, they’ve gone straight to digital not ever experiencing the agony of waiting. BUT these students know that they are missing something. They are exploring film in all formats, craving the feeling of suspense in their work. Film is having a comeback. My younger colleagues ask me all kinds of questions about film and its made me realize that I’ve been missing it. I’m currently editing photos that I shot on FILM while on a trip to Norway, Sweden and Iceland this summer. And yes, I’m scanning them, retouching them, backing it all up, and I will size wayyyy down so that I can share with you on social media.

-Kate Kelley

Kate Kelley