How Shooting Film Changed Me as a Photograper

My interest in photography began about three years ago when I picked up a digital camera and starting taking the same images that any photography noob would take: long exposures, landscapes, still lifes, sometimes street photography.

I shot everything that was “interesting” to me: a leaf, my cat, a globe, a tree, editing them, putting them on the Web, and waiting for the big likes (they never came). But the process didn’t gave me any real satisfaction. My photos rarely had a story to tell, and even if my friends or relatives encouraged me, every time I looked at my photos I felt like something fundamental was missing.

That’s when film photography came to the rescue. On a shelf in my home I had a superb Minolta X700, my father’s camera, just sitting there gathering dust. Without any advice or really knowing anything technical about film, I picked it up and shot my first roll in Prague. I was excited to play with an old mechanical camera that seemed to me a thing so complex.

Unfortunately, I inserted that first roll of film incorrectly, and my enthusiasm was rewarded by a completely blank roll from the developer; however, I came out determined to know everything about film. How to shoot it, how to develop it, how to print it, and how it works.

It was difficult at first—I was used to instantly seeing what I had captured and unloading my memory cards as soon as I got home. In the beginning, I lived in constant fear of having under or overexposed an entire roll, or ruining everything in the development phase, leaving me with nothing usable.

Fortunately, as time went on, none of this happened. I’ve only ever produced a couple of images that were a little bit underexposed in two years of shooting film. In the process, the slower workflow of film photography combined with old cameras that only have a few buttons and controls was crucial for my development as a photographer.

I learned how to handle the sunny 16 rule and evaluate the light, becoming more disciplined and careful. The imposition of a slow and calm approach gave me the opportunity to be more present at a scene, in a situation, evaluating what is beautiful or important enough to be immortalized on a piece of celluloid.

Gradually, this slow and deliberate methodology permeated myself and my photography, and I have found it difficult to go back to digital ever since (I have tried…). Not being able to see the photo I’ve just taken forces me to try and do the best I can in with every single press of the shutter—it is a psychological factor that I can no longer give up.

I often wonder if film is worth the trouble—the digital approach is objectively easier (not simpler, just easier), quicker, and more malleable. But I’ve discovered that, in the end, it’s not the medium I find most enjoyable, but the whole creative process. It’s palpable… it’s real.

Opening a a tank and seeing a roll correctly exposed and developed is as satisfactory (if not more so) as taking a great shot in the first place.

Today I shoot almost exclusively street photography, and I feel that most of my images have something to say. I’ve had a couple of exhibitions, and I’m going to have another one soon. So, does film make me a better photographer? Objectively no, subjectively yes.

I feel better when I’m out shooting, and this is reflected in my images. Mostly, though, I just enjoy it.

Image credits: Davide Marcelli is an amateur photographer and “light writer.” The opinions in this post are solely those of the author. You can find more of Davide’s work on his website or by following him on Instagram.