Exposed! :: Return of Film ::

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"That was terrible!" I exclaimed when I returned from picking up some newly processed medium format film I'd shot.

My ever-patient wife asked, "What happened?"

I grumbled a bit and finally admitted, "The work wasn't perfect."

I explained that in event photography, candid portraiture and weddings excellent is good enough. But when it comes to certain types of artwork, especially with film, it needs to be perfect, or it's just plain "terrible!"

Film is a tricky medium. There are no guarantees -- just experience and knowledge to help guide your way. I still shoot film for certain aspects of my photography work and in this edition of Exposed! we help answer the question "Why shoot film photography?" Below are many reasons some working and hobby photographers shoot with film:

Surviving harsh conditions

Digital cameras are more susceptible to water, cold, power shortages, and other harsh environments. I have shot in some unwelcoming environments -- pouring rain of Iceland and New Zealand's south island, dusty dry heat of Australlia's outback, bug-infested Northern Ontario, ski events and ice fishing at 25 below, as well as the wet, sloppy conditions of spring skiing where equipment got slushed to get "the shot." In these environments my mechanical film cameras far out-perform their electronic digital relatives.

The process

Shooting film is a different process than digital. It requires a slower pace and a stronger skill set to ensure you achieve the results you want. In the world of fine art the work's value is measured in aesthetics as well as the process used to create the art. There is value to how the photo was taken.

Digital version of a 4 x 5 slide shot for artwork, printed very large.
Digital version of a 4 x 5 slide shot for artwork, printed very large.


Film offers an additional back-up to make sure your photos remain accessible. Digital archives are susceptible to corruption. A piece of well stored film is at risk of damage, too, but gives an excellent back-up.

Last year my parents wedding album surfaced. I opened the 47-year-old album and the B&W photos inside were in perfect shape -- vibrant with good contrast -- I hope we can say that about current digital prints in 47 years.


People are often surprised to hear I continue to shoot on film.

Shooting film requires better skills. There are tools that can help you ensure a good exposure -- external light meters, Polaroid backs, digital cameras to preview but they all give an approximation -- even pre-shooting digitally will not ensure you get a correct exposure.

Effectively shooting film -- especially in tricky lighting conditions -- requires a better foundation in the fundamentals of photography. And going back to re-shoot is not always practical.

If you have solid skills with a digital camera, try a film camera. They're quite cheap and should accept many lenses you already own. The challenge may ignite a new passion for your photography.

File size

Do you want to print big AND have it look jaw-droppingly good?

Shooting with a 4x5 camera will produce a sharp and enormous reproduction. Large-format equipment is readily available with a little search and produces slides that are 4 inches by 5 inches. Most digital SLR cameras shoot with sensors that are approximately 0.6 inches by 1 inch. That's JUST over 3% the coverage of 4x5 coverage. Now, size of 'sensor' is only a small part of the puzzle when talking quality of reproductions but there is value in capturing imagery on large film for large prints.

There are other reasons to shoot film, too. lists these reasons to shoot film:

Large Format Film Photography - Ottawa
Large Format Film Photography


This month I have two challenges for you:

Pro Perspective

For commercial work, most portraits and most magazine work I shoot digitally. Digital is usually expected in these situations. For artwork and some personal work - especially when I want to print big - film is my first choice. And much of this work is shot on medium or large format.

There are still many people who shoot with film locally and afar.

Helene-Anne Fortin runs a busy portrait studio in Wakefield Quebec with clients traveling from afar.

As she explains, "[I shoot film]...for the quality and longevity. In a piece of black-and-white film, there are 180,000 gradients from pure white through the mid-ranges of gray into pure black. In digital, pure blacks are difficult to achieve, and the mid-ranges of gray can easily turn to mush."

Final Frame

Challenge youself.

Take (film) photos.

Have fun.