In a high tech digital age, why have I chosen to go back to an older, somewhat archaic process of shooting film?
In a simple statement – “It feeds my soul”
For some strange reason, I have never been on a photo shoot with a film camera and said to myself, “I wish I had brought a digital camera with me”. But, there have been many times, where I think to myself, “man, I wish I would have shot that with the 4×5”.
That scene coming back from Kodachrome Basin, looking north at Escalante and Capitol Reef. Late afternoon sun highlighting the snow up on the top, beautiful spring colors, and a great sky… alas… I can only remember it in my memory these days. Too tired to stop, my friend nodding off on a nap, me driving… Ahhhh. Next Time!!
Why is that?
What is it about film that continues to draw us?
My Boomerang Story
I started shooting film with a Canon AE-1 in 1977. A summer school photo class prompted my brother and I to both buy cameras and start taking photo trips. I continued to enjoy photography through all my high school and college days, and into my early married years, taking several Yosemite hikes with the new brother-in-law.
…I even carried the 4×5 Crown Graphic up to the top of Half Dome, and again out on the North Dome trip.
This is one of those unique photo trips with a view from across the valley right at the face of Half Dome.
In 1991 I purchased a Pentax 645 and tried shooting medium format, but I found the developing and printing to be very expensive. My goal was to use this platform to document my kids as they grew up. It was challenging and exciting, but I struggled to afford the luxury of medium format.
Add to that, my wife had no idea or interest in such a complicated system. So she picked up a fully automatic 35mm film camera and snapped away. Eventually we converted to digital, (yes, I joined her) and the pace picked up!
Gigabytes of images, totally unorganized and sporadic….no sense of art, total documentary photography. A kid’s birthday. A graduation. A school event… And yes, we were capturing life’s moments, but missing out on life.
So, what drew me back?
Moving forward in the story, my two daughters went off to college and life moved on. But, during their school breaks, I was looking for some activity to create some quality time for us.
So in 2012, I pulled out my old film gear and used photography as an avenue for that quality time. We did many one-on-one trips using photography as the excuse to get in the car and drive for hours to see and experience something new.
Those car rides were some of the best dialogs we have ever had as daddy-daughter moments. But, what I also found was how much I missed photography. Real, film photography.
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Several more changes occurred, which helped move me back to full-time film photography. In 2014, my wife bought me a photo workshop for my birthday, (sweet gal that she is!) and I went with two film cameras and my daughters’ Canon T1i DLSR – a very basic 15MP digital with a standard kit lens.
I shot Kodak Ektar 100 in medium format, and a few black and white frames on my 4×5 Crown Graphic. Alongside those, I “snapped” a few copy images using the DSLR so that I would have something to show the workshop instructor later in the day. Can I just say how hard it is to use three formats at one time…what was I thinking!
Regardless, the workshop was a blast, and I came home with about 40 film images and over 200 digital images.
One awkward byproduct from this trip was that I had to accept and practice digital photo editing. Something I fought kicking and screaming. That was manipulation, false reality, and just not honest photography!! Hey, I grew up reading Ansel Adams’ books and even had a 35mm darkroom in college!
This transition was difficult, but my daughter supplied me with her old Macbook and Photoshop 5 to “play” for a while. I had to come to grips with the concept of art and science merging. I had to accept that Ansel used every tool in his day, to manipulate the image taken to meet his perceived vision. Film, filters, developing, chemical treatment, and dodging and burning all were employed to gain a final product that matched his initial vision.
Moving on…a year later, I received a flatbed scanner as a Christmas present. This created a hybrid workflow that allowed me to shoot and develop film at home, and scan into a digital platform for final editing.
The process that created the long hiatus was solved, and so I dove back into film, full speed ahead. There was a lot of scanning and editing that year.
But to this day, I still struggle with digital manipulation, and I move forward with images very cautiously. I can look back just a few years and see my progression in this area. Less sharpening, better control of saturation, and just conservative techniques and limits to my “expression” of the vision.
Some of my best edits are simple black and white conversions from Ektar 100, with a few simple tone curves to gain dynamic range as appropriate.
What does the future hold?
Many bucket list photo trips for sure.
Experimenting with various new and untested film stocks. Possible another medium format camera, a TLR if possible.
Since a chemical dark room is probably not in my future, a better ink jet printer and some experimentation with various photo papers will be needed as well.
In closing, as I enter into my later years, I realize that I only have a dozen or so years, with good vision and the health to hike and explore. So I will be leaning in hard. Shooting as much film as the budget allows. I encourage…implore others to do the same.
Stay tuned… and keep shooting!
~ Todd Reed
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