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WHY I STILL SHOOT FILM

I love digital photography as much as the next guy, but I refuse to let film photography die with our generation.  As a child, I spent my allowance on 110 film, processing and prints (okay, and candy from Mini Mart) for my little fuchsia Mickey Mouse camera.  My mom would take me down to Pamida and help me fill out the envelope, and we’d drop it in the bin to be sent off for processing.  Weeks later I’d pick up my prints and excitedly flip through the stack several times before we were out of the parking lot. Not exactly instant gratification, but definitely worth the wait!  Digital photography is so prevalent that most of our children will never lay eyes on a roll of film, let alone a camera that doesn’t show you the picture on the back.

If you follow my blog, you’ll pick up on the fact that I’m incredibly nostalgic.  Perhaps that’s part of my reluctance to let go of film.  Filters and Photoshop actions can never truly replicate a film photograph.  The unpredictable nature of some cameras, particularly the plastic “toy” cameras that I’m so fond of, is impossible to re-create using digital means.  When you only have 12 frames to work with, photography becomes more of a calculated science than the snap-happy digital experience.  Filling up a memory card with hundreds of throw-away images taken in rapid succession is the norm, so it’s no surprise that at least one or two photographs come out looking great.  But if you’ve ever processed your own film and printed your own prints in a darkroom, you’ll agree that the feeling of creating that perfect image from start to finish is pretty satisfying.  You put your heart and soul into each image, each print.  That’s not to say that digital images are soulless, but somehow my cell phone just doesn’t thrill me.

Film photography, or analog (analogue if you’re hip enough) photography, has its place in my personal and professional work.  But most of the time, purely for reasons of practicality, I grab my DSLR and get down to business.  I save my film for a handful of shots, and dream about what they’ll look like when they finally make their way to me.  You may hear photographers compare the excitement of viewing prints or negs for the first time to the excitement of Christmas morning.  I compare it to the feeling of having a new baby (which is legit since I’ve had 3).  Hear me out.  You wait and wait for months (sometimes film sits in the camera for a while until the last few frames are used up) and you imagine how it’s going to look when you finally see it.  Is it going to be beautiful or ghastly?  In the end, you’ll love it despite any imperfections because it’s yours.  You created it.  And it was worth the wait.

Now that I live in Helena, I have to ship off my film for processing/printing once again.  A friend spotted a complete darkroom setup at a yard sale last summer (a fellow photographer who could’ve snagged it for herself!) and in the next year or two it will have a proper home in a proper darkroom somewhere on our property.  For now, I trust my good friends at the Darkroom in Missoula as I always have.  Michael Patterson and his staff are top notch.

I love to experiment with old cameras that other people have tossed aside.  I’ve also been known to buy new film cameras and toy cameras, which I use as frequently as my DSLR.  Here are a few of my current favorite film cameras from my collection:

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  • Canon Rebel Ti (used since first college-level photography course)
  • Fuji Instax Wide (my old Polaroid bit the dust, so I replaced it with this instant wide-format camera)
  • Holga (a longtime favorite plastic 120 camera)
  • Diana F+ (a modern, hip/more expensive version of an old plastic 120 camera…I sometimes use a 35mm converter)
  • Minolta 110 Zoom SLR (a Christmas gift from my grandpa that I will be experimenting with ASAP)
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