Can Analog Photography Help You Take Better Photos?

First of all, you should know that I love photography. It has been one of my hobbies for a very long time. But my relationship with photography has changed over time and is still changing now, which I consider to be a good thing. The following article reflects on these changes and photography as a hobby.

Think about this: How many people you see on the street every day carry a digital camera with them at all times? Probably everyone. Or at least almost everyone.

But is this a good thing for photography? Yes and No.

Digital cameras have become ever-present in the form of smartphones. We don’t even think about the smartphone as a camera because it can do so much more. If I take a picture with my smartphone, I often do it in between phone calls, text messages and checking my email. As a result, I do not really concentrate on the photo itself. It is more like a fast snapshot. A great sunset? Snap. Some new sneakers I like? Snap. Sushi at my favorite restaurant? Snap.

Most of the time, I want to create a memory by taking the photo. I almost never take the time to immediately check how the photo turned out, because there is already another notification or something else that takes away my attention. Sometimes, I even find photos in my gallery that I don’t remember taking.

This can be a good thing. I create memories the fastest way possible. I have something to show my friends and I do not have to worry about how many photos I take because memory space practically never runs out.

But all these photos are “only” snapshots.

(By the way, I know that there are a lot of great photographers out there, taking professional photos with their smartphones. But I think many people will agree with me, when I say that most of us use their phones mainly to take snapshots.)

It is almost the same with my digital camera. Having interchangable lenses and the possiblity to control more settings than on my smartphone, makes me concentrate on the photography a little bit more but in the end I still take many pictures without really thinking about them beforehand.

Some time ago though, I found some old rolls of film and an analog camera that I used as a child when I first started out with photography. It was a point-and-shoot camera. That sort of camera is only useful for taking snapshots, right? Well, … maybe.

Since I didn’t even have to buy any new film, I decided to try shooting a roll or two on my trip to Portugal last spring. Of course, I also took my digital camera and my smartphone because I expected the analog photos to be more of an experiment anyway.

When I came back from that trip and I developed the film, I was very surprised by the results. I liked most of the analog photos much more than many of my digital ones.

One of my first analog shots in a long time

How is it possible that my analog photos are better than my digital ones even though I only use a point-and-shoot camera where I have no control over settings like aperture and shutter time? After thinking about it for some time, I figured out that there is probably more than one reason for this.

#1: The Viewfinder

First of all, the process of taking a picture is very different when you shoot analog. You do not have a big screen showing you all the settings and letting you control every pixel of the photo, which can often be distracting. With your analog camera you always have to look through the viewfinder. There, you can only see the scene you are pointing your camera at. No big screen, no other distractions. This makes it possible to completely concentrate on the subject you want to capture, which takes me to reason number two.

#2: The Composition

When I concentrate more on the subjects that I see through my viewfinder, I start to think about the composition of my shot. What do I want to capture? What is the most important thing in the scene? What do I want to emphasize? What do I not want to show in the picture? With analog photography you do not want to waste your roll of film. Therefore, you better think about your photo before you click that shutter button.

#3: The Limited Number of Shots

I am shooting 35mm film. One roll of 35mm film only has 36 exposures. Some rolls only have 24 exposures. I realize: this is not my smartphone. Memory space actually does run out with analog photography. With a maximum of 36 pictures per roll, I don’t want to take more than one or two shots of the same scene. When I shoot digital, I often take at least three shots of the same scene and choose the best shot afterwards on my laptop. But if I always took three photos in a row with my analog camera, I would be “wasting” a lot of film. Therefore, I take one picture, maximum two, then I focus on another scene. This is where the magic starts to happen: I discover so many great new scenes that I probably wouldn’t even have noticed if I was shooting digital.

#4: The Surprise

Everyone who takes digital photos will probably agree that it is great to see your result immediately. Wow, instant gratification. And as a bonus: if you are not happy with your shot, you can try again momentarily. With analog photography though, you have to wait much longer until you are able to see your results (assuming you are not shooting instant film). The overall process slows down. You take your photos. You develop the film. And, if you are not shooting slide film, you have to reverse the negative colors. Only then, you can see the results. Often, you might even forget which scenes you shot before you can see the finished photograph. Therefore, it will be a surprise looking at your final results for the first time.

#5: The Look

Film has its very own look. Depending on the manufacturer and type of film, colors, grain and contrast can be very different. You can never really predict how your analog photograph will look like before you have developed the film. If you use expired film, you will get even more unpredictable results. You can try to “fake” the film look for your digital photos using filters. But very often, these filters make the picture lose its real character and the result looks somehow over-processed.

This probably depends a lot on personal taste. I simply love the look of real film!

Surprising colors of expired film

All in all, analog photography has helped me to get back in touch with “real photography” once more. I stopped taking snapshots most of the time. Instead, I focus on taking photographs.

Shooting analog for some time also helped me integrate these practices into my digital photography. Now, I try to slow down and think about my photo more before I take a picture on any camera.

Recently, I bought an old analog SLR camera, where I can adjust all my settings and have to focus manually. This makes me think about my shots even more than using the analog point-and-shoot.

I hope that my story inspires you to try analog photography for yourself. You might be surprised by the stunning results!

This is my first article on Medium. Please clap if you liked this article. Thanks for reading!

Check out some more of my analog and digital photography on Instagram!