So…why shoot film?
Frankly, there is no sensible reason for shooting film. Concerning technical issues, digital has outrun film in most aspects: more pixels, incredible ISO-range, faster processing speed – let alone the possibilities of instant control and even making movies. So…. why shoot film?

Just pick up any film camera you find – either deep inside your grandfathers drawer or at any eBay-store for a bargain – and let us open a freshly bought box of film and unroll it just long enough so that it reaches from one side of the camera to the other, where it is grabbed and held by a geared spindle.
Do you notice anything? Just close your eyes and take a deep breath. Yes, there it is! They typical kind of smell that goes with film. Film smells funny (it’s old, so of course it does!). Ever put your nose close to an SD-card? No comparison. Tommy would have liked film.
Remember Tommy, the Pinball- Wizard? No? Ok….its a hard lesson today. Tommy is the star of a rock-opera written by “The Who” back in 1975. Tommy, the deaf, dumb and blind kid plays the pinball like no one else. He might do it by the sense of smell. So one thing is for sure: Tommy would shoot film!

Film reaches your senses before you even start to shoot. There is this physical attraction to film, thin and flexible, the part of handling it, choosing the appropriate film for the session, fiddling it into the camera… INTO the camera, you know, you have to open it, take a look inside and check it. Any dust to remove? Any seals to renew? Any screw to tighten? A film camera is like a steam-punk-engine: you have to care for it (I will not go as far as saying that it is alive, though…. not really… am I right, my dear old camera-darling?).
Now close the back carefully. The film is buried inside the black box like an old Pharaoh inside his tomb. The only difference: film never sleeps! Open the shutter and it will come to life without any battery or “wipe-to-unlock-screen”.

The most important thing to check when you are shooting film is to have an eye on the film transport! There is nothing more depressing than finding out that the film transport has not been working properly, especially after that glorious trip to the Grand Canyon at sunrise, which you were able to afford by saving all your money for years and which you surely wont be able to do the same way again in your lifetime – not only because of that tall blond girl you met on the bus that spontaneously agreed to do some exciting shots….but that is an other story.
If everything is loaded correctly, go out and shoot! Stroll right through the city and into the woods with the knowledge, that your film offers you 36 exposures before you will have to change it. Do you feel the difference to a 64GB-SD-Card-holding-digital-camera which allows you to take and delete as many photos as you like?
Film teaches you to be careful.
Take care about the light, the location, the combination of time and aperture – take care of everything that defines a good photograph. Film will teach you all that with ease. Simply because there is no display on the backside, no instant control. You have to be sure of what you do BEFORE you shoot. This is an incident that keeps you from wasting time staring at a tiny LCD-screen in the sun and finding out which of the 500 parameters hidden in ten sub-menus have to be altered to deliver a pleasant image. All you have is the metering system of your camera and time and aperture settings. And this is all you need to take brilliant photographs! You shoot and you ́re done. And you can concentrate on the next scene, the next view, the next photograph.

After 36 exposures you rewind the film and the pictures take shelter in the darkness of the cannister. If you are ambitious, you will develop the film by yourself in your private dark room – something close to a Voodoo-like experience when the images appear out of nothing.
The other possibility is to send your film to a professional service but one way or the other, some time will pass until you see what you did, creating some distance between the shooting and the judging. If you shot positive-film you just let sunlight shine through it. Take a magnifying glass and have a closer look: you will not find any pixels, no steps or artefacts – only beautiful colored spots bathed in light.

Ever held an SD-card into the sunlight? – okay, just kidding. But it leads us back to what we were talking about at the beginning: film photography appeals to more senses than just the eye. It is about smelling and feeling and handling things with all of your senses and not just dropping some kind of plastic into the slot of a computer to see some pictures on a screen just like everything else in modern life.
All these people walking around staring at their smartphones, buying at online-shops, collecting so called friends in Facebook, living their lives only to post it somewhere… how far did we really get? But… this also is another story.

Shooting film made me take less pictures than digital and gave those fewer photographs more value because of the effort I took.
Shooting film made me become more satisfied with what I do because I began to think more about what I do.
Shooting film leads me back to the beginning of taking photographs and gives me the opportunity to use outdated cameras, which where far beyond my reach in my youth.
And finally….. shooting film is a way to slow down and do something in a way which is sane to your soul. Just like walking down a road instead of taking the car.
Thats why I’m shooting film. In other words: I simply love it.
– Gerhard Reininger
This article originally appeared on Gerhard’s S L O W T O G R A P Y blog and was kindly offered by him for inclusion here on EMULSIVE. Please jump on through and have a leaf through the website. You can find musings, photographs, Gerhard’s 52 Rolls 2016 contributions and much more!

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About the author

Avatar - Gerhard Reininger

Gerhard Reininger

I returned to shooting film to slow down after the usual digital detour. Fumbling around with film feels like sidestepping off the highways of life on which we are being pushed along in constant acceleration. And it feels good, on one side. On the other...

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  1. Yes, film is incredibly sensual and leaves behind a physical image that has the unmistakable imprint of silver crystals. A less-appreciated and perhaps more mundane reason to shoot film is that this physical image will endure for decades and centuries with minimal care — whereas the longevity of a digital file depends on regular maintenance, updating of software and hardware, and a good alphanumerical system of labeling and retrieval. Few digital images made today have a decent chance of outliving their photographer. Film photography will quietly survive us all.