Working With Film In A Digital Age

The era of film was already beginning to fade out by the time I took
an interest in the craft of photography. I am a relatively young
photographer and being so makes me a part of the digitally native
generation. I grew up during a time when many of the analog tools used
in the past were being replaced with digital equivalents. This disruption
was seen across many different industries and practices, but it is
particularly visible in the field of photography. Because of this change
in the medium, I began learning about photography with digital tools. I
learned about memory card formats before I ever considered learning
how to load film into a camera. I was training myself to use Photoshop
before I had ever seen darkroom equipment.

I was 12 when I received my first camera, which was digital, but it was not until later in school that I became serious about refining my skills as a photographer and developing my eye to create stronger, more artistic photographs. When I decided I wanted to advance from taking snapshots of the elements around me with a digital point and shoot, and learn how to make better photographs, I began learning how to use an SLR film camera. This process of working with an SLR taught me so much about the craft of photography. I found out about the effect shutter speed and aperture had on my photographs. I educated myself about the tools involved in making pictures.

This love of the visual arts combined with a passionate interest in the developing world of digital communication lead me to study and eventually earn a degree in New Media Communications from Oregon State University. When I went to college, I began taking photos with a Nikon DSLR, and I worked with it for years. I took thousands of images and made thousands of mistakes, but my brief background in film photography gave me a firm foundation in the way a camera worked.

I felt comfortable using my camera in manual mode. Over time I learned more about composition, lighting, and the visual language. On occasion, I’d get frustrated or find myself in a creative rut and put my camera down; sometimes for far too long. However, I tried to engage in opportunities where I could take photos. I worked for the school paper as a photographer, and over the summers I found work photographing white water rafters along the Rogue River in my hometown.
 Following the completion of my degree, I set out to travel the western United States to dive into photography and begin working to refine my craft and my creative process. For this trip, I was camping in the backcountry and living out of my car the entire time. As with all travel, this experience gave me a new perspective. This trip solidified my passion for capturing the natural beauty of the outdoors. I followed this trip by traveling for 100 days through the west coast, exploring the light land and people of the area with my camera. This book is intended to expand on the lessons making film images has taught me as a photographer and discuss the influence it has had on my creative process. My hope is that these lessons can be implemented by anyone or with any camera.

This past year I undertook a personal project to reintroduce film back into my photography. This project of working with film along with my digital camera was meant to help me slow down and focus. These intentional constraints help me develop my creativity and continue to learn. I began to feel like there was an implied expectation with digital gear. The modern DSLR is one of the most versatile photographic tools ever made, but there are so many features, and options, so many lens choices and ultra lowlight CMOS sensors that make it feel like photographers are set on an almost unattainable mission to make perfect, noiseless high dynamic range photos. This project was to discover what would happen if I had none of that if I gave all of that gear up for an old film camera from the 80s with a few manual focus lenses. Photography is simple; it is not grandiose or high art. It is taking your camera and pointing it at something. Better still, is pointing your camera at something you care about. Photographer Marc Riboud is quoted as saying “Photography is savoring life at 1/100th of a second.”

This return to working with film was with the hope that I might try to savor life more than I savor my camera. I found that placing these creative constraints on myself helped me make more genuine, intentional images. In this project, I wanted to practice taking photos that captured a specific moment. I wanted to create photos that took advantage of the aesthetic look and tone of film. I wanted to retrain myself to think more intuitively about the photograph I was capturing. I placed these constraints on myself because I wanted to grow and develop my photography.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Billy Newman’s story.