That’s right – totally true! Film is NOT dead. One is reminded of this when you stumble across a photograph that takes your breath away for a reason you just can’t put your finger on…until you realize it’s got that character that can only come from a photograph shot on film. With the explosion of digital cameras over the last decade it can be difficult to find a photographer still shooting film on any regular basis. At Clickinmoms we have our very own resident film photographer, the fantastic Jaclyn Michele. Every time Jaclyn posts shots from her latest shoot or even mentions that she’s an all-film shooter for that matter, she is inundated with questions about the ins and outs and hows and whys of shooting film. She is so gracious in sharing her love of film and, quite frankly, she is just a super cool chick in so many ways. I am thrilled that she agreed to share her journey back to film with us here on the Clickinmoms blog. Here she is in her very own words…
jaclyn michele, film photographer
It started as a personal challenge, this love affair with film of mine. When I was learning manual photography with my digital SLR camera, the photographers I looked up to were all shooting film. Many even developing and scanning their own film in their homes. I yearned for the tangibility of film negatives. Longed for the depth of the black and whites and the color tones unique to the medium. Ached for the smooth grain where I was instead seeing rough digital pixels. But it seemed so out of reach. And digital was safe – I could shoot a hundred frames and only use a handful of those images with little consequence. The call of film photography had been a seductive little muse whispering in my ear for quite some time. So, I hunted around the Internet for some way to achieve the look I was trying for and unable to obtain. Actions, presets, plugins.. Some came close to imitating the look but it just didn’t feel right.
When I went on maternity leave last year, I needed a project to keep my frustrated creative eye from going to mush and finally surrendered to the siren song. I bought a 35mm SLR and a few rolls of black and white film and started shooting. And you know when something is just meant to be? Like you have been wearing two left shoes all your life and somebody gives you a right? This was it. Film and I must have been lovers in a previous life because it had me at the first frame. Literally. The above photograph of my son was the first one made with film outside of random Polaroids. How could I argue with that?
After that first roll I couldn’t stop. I was like a fiend looking for a fix. One of my clients happened to have her baby around that time and I just couldn’t help myself – I had to shoot that baby on film. As addicted as I was, I was admittedly scared. Afraid to screw up without being able to peek at my LCD to make sure I got the shot and unable to trust myself and the skills I had honed over the years. So I mirrored most of my film shots with my DSLR.
Yes, I was uneasy and insecure and that is why I shot both formats, but I also decided there was no better time to test whether or not shooting film was a wise business decision. I logged the hours spent editing the digital images, the time spent going to the post office to mail the film to my lab, the cost of packaging it up, then editing the film scans. And the comparisons were pretty close. Assuming I was “paying” myself a fair hourly wage for the time spent editing the digital files, the cost of film, postage, developing, and scanning was only slightly more expensive.
There was no question in my mind that my film camera would be riding shotgun at my sessions from that point on. But after experiencing the lushness of my film scans, I was totally uninspired by anything I did with my DSLR. And so she sat in my camera bag collecting dust. Reserved for “throw away” pictures like eBay listings and self-portraits to document the progress of my dreadlocks. What a waste, right? That is when I decided to sell my digital camera kit and use the funds to buy a medium format film SLR outfit.
Have you heard of the phrase, “spray and pray”? You know, firing off your shutter with hardly a pause in between “just in case” so you don’t “miss a moment”? Is that enough quotation marks for you? Hah! I wasn’t a horrible machine gun shooter when I shot digitally, but I certainly didn’t slow down and really focus on the moments I was capturing all the time. But that changed when I started shooting film. I slowed down. Started waiting for the moments before pressing the shutter instead of going all trigger happy and hoping for some keepers. That slowing down did something else aside from just save me cash by not burning through film, it made me see what was in my viewfinder in a new way. More acting on instinct and “cleaning up” of the scene. Making sure that everything included in the farme was there for a reason, adding to the story I was trying to tell.
I’m often asked if I miss shooting digitally and right now, I really don’t. Maybe film and I are still honeymooners all flirty and in love – it has been just over a year now since she became my mistress, after all. Low light situations? Shoot some 3200 speed film or push some slower speeds. Shoot wide open or grab a flash or video light if you wanna get fancy. The waiting on film scans is the only part that has been hard for me. It is a sometimes agonizing two weeks waiting for that email telling me my scans are ready for download but at the same time, it’s kind of nice. Because when I am shooting, in my head I am thinking, “Oh, that’s a good one,” then the initial mental impression made during capture fades. By the time I download my film and go through the images, I get to fall in love with the photos all over again. Smiling and telling my husband, “Oh! Look at this one!” over and over again. There’s just nothing like it. And when I’m craving some instant gratification? Hello, instant film.
Shooting film requires a certain amount of confidence in yourself, I’ve learned. Framing the shot, focusing, pressing that shutter, and knowing in your gut that you nailed it. That is probably the most challenging part. Which is a little ridiculous if you think about it. For so long I was afraid of shooting film and didn’t even think it was a viable option for business. But then I noticed more and more professional portrait and wedding photographers who have been shooting film for years running successful businesses and realized I had misjudged the format. Cheryl Jacobs Nicolai, Elizabeth Messina, Jonathan Canlas, Leah McCormick, and so many others were doing it, what was stopping me? The same thing that may be stopping you. Comfort. Familiarity. Fear. Well, I got over it and man, am I glad I did because I cannot imagine giving up film. And with companies like Kodak still invested in producing new film stocks and labs like Richard Photo Lab working hard to develop, scan, and print awesome work for all sorts of photographers, I’m hopeful that film and I will continue this relationship for a long time to come.
Thank you so very much for taking the time to share your story with us and inspiring us, Jaclyn!