Why not an abacus?

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This might be my favorite image from the Tampa workshop.  It made me giggle (so a big thank you to Stacy’s husband!)  It’s definitely a great point to ponder, so that’s what I’m going to do.

Does it sound familiar to you?  Yes, many people believe that film is a thing of the past, fully and happily replaced by digital technology.  In some ways they’re right.  It is true that film is not required to have a successful photography business, nor to document your family, nor to create art.  Film is not necessary‑‑just like wine, vacations, and ice cream.  You can get along without it, but you might be missing out on something you really enjoy.

There are plenty of reasons to enjoy film photography.  For some, it’s a way to slow down and shoot more thoughtfully.  For others, it’s a way to shoot with fewer rules to hinder creativity.  Others enjoy the process of making photographs without relying on a computer.  Still others love the romance of chemicals, antique cameras, and even the waiting to see the results.

But beyond the fun reasons for shooting film, there are some serious skills to be learned from it as well.  Shooting film helps you to learn how to pre-visualize your images; without the instant feedback of a display screen, you have to understand the concepts of light, exposure, and composition.  You have to trust your ability to get the shot right without a safety net.  And, if you’re shooting medium or large format, you will quickly understand the need for anticipation; catching the split-second when the emotion or action is at its height is a learned skill when you have only 12 or 16 frames and no auto film advance.  You don’t get to shoot 20 images in rapid succession and hope one of them is right.

Shooting film forces you to slow down and be present.  The larger the format, the more true it is.  Film isn’t cheap; you won’t be shooting hundreds of frames and hoping for the best.  Every shot will count, and you’ll have to pay attention to what you’re doing.  Some would argue that that limitation is detrimental to creativity, but I disagree; it simply requires that your creativity be explored in a more thoughtful and considered way, and that deliberate approach will teach you more, faster.

The reality is, film is what you make of it.  If you want to learn your craft, it is an invaluable learning tool.  If you need a break from technology and “work photography”, it can provide you with that.  If you need a free form way to express yourself and shoot with no rules, it can do that as well.  It is both art and craft.

Whatever your reason for exploring what film has to offer, you’ll find that it is what you make of it.  Even if you have no intention of becoming a “film dinosaur” like me, understanding the process of exposing and developing film can greatly enrich and enhance your photographic technique, no matter what medium you choose.

And if you do decide that film is right up your alley, don’t be surprised if you also find yourself collecting 45’s for your record player and getting dirty under the hood of a ’68 Cadillac.  Or that could just be me.

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