For those of you not familiar with him, I’d like to take a moment and introduce you all to Brian Dubois, better known as Twitter’s Film Dad. That’s film photography, not film movies, although thinking about it, the latter might be a nice niche to slide into, Brian.
Over to you!
Hi Brian, what’s this picture, then?
BD: This is the hay out on the family farm of my wife. It was my first film outing for the Super Takumar 85mm f/1.9 on my recently re-skinned Praktiflex FX. The shot was on the roll where I finally perfected my recipe for Fujifilm ETERNA-RDS 4791 at EI 25. This pic is a combination of my love for vintage glass and gear along with my love for B&W film photography.
Ok, so who are you?
BD: I’m Brian DuBois aka Twitter’s Film Dad and I’m based in Buhl, Idaho. I am an amateur photographer, classic camera rescuer and I suppose, a bit of a mentor for the next generation of film photographers.
When did you start shooting film and what drives you to keep shooting today?
BD: I grew up around photography and was probably shooting Polaroids around age six or seven. I moved on to various 35mm cameras, borrowing mom’s Sears KS Super around age nine. All cameras used film back then and I continued to grow through various 35mm cameras until around 2002. I took a brief detour into digital photography but returned to film in the late 2000s.
I was drawn back to film because of the Nikon D40 DSLR. The ability to use old Nikkor lens on it and a bunch of cheap lenses available in the pre-mirrorless camera days meant I could get into a lot of awesome lenses for very little money. Once I had a few, I borrowed dad’s old Nikkomat FTN and found out that Costco would develop rolls for like $1.50. After a bit of research, I found that cameras like the Nikon N2000 and N8008s were incredibly cheap because they were film and didn’t have the following of the F series, so I got both really cheap. From there, I just kept finding cameras, often because it was cheaper to get an entire setup when I wanted to try a lens on my now mirrorless setup.
The main thing that keeps me shooting these days is my Film Family and the #BelieveInFilm crew on Twitter. The Film Family was a group chat for young photographers getting into film that I was invited into. The core group has become very close and gave me the nickname “Twitter’s Film Dad” due to my constant answering of questions. When someone starts asking fundamental stuff about cross-processing or redscale or pushing film, there is only one way to provide a proper answer: get out and actually do it. This kind of experimentation has really helped me enjoy shooting, especially this past year.
Who or what influenced your photography when you first started out and who continues to influence you today?
BD: My dad has always been the motivation behind my photography. I grew up with him going through various cameras and helping him print in the darkroom. Many adventures were had in the name of finding something interesting to photograph (or finding nothing, but having an adventure anyway).
These days, my main inspiration is the photography friends I have made online and just documenting my family. Living in small town Idaho means I am surrounded by beauty, but not really surrounded by many other photographers to shoot with.
Are you a mixed medium photographer? What drives your choice to use film or digital from one day to the next?
BD: I suppose I am a bit of a mixed medium photographer. I still have a few older Nikon DSLRs and a Sony Mirrorless camera. I honestly don’t shoot them much unless it’s some sort of family event where my wife wants photos in color and ready to upload quickly. I still test out any new lenses on the mirrorless if I have an appropriate adapter too, as it’s just easier to find out how they perform in a variety of situations.
At the end of the day, I don’t enjoy editing digital files. I probably spend just as long editing film scans (primarily dust and scratch removal) as I would on digital files, but I just prefer the film experience a lot more. I really enjoy being able to plan and adventure, choose appropriate gear and film for conditions, compose and meter for the chosen film. I especially enjoy the development process, which feels very much like proper mad scientist work.
What’s your next challenge…your next step? How do you see yourself improving your technique? What aspect of your photography would you like to try and master in the next 12 months?
BD: My next goal is actually taking the time to plan out, shoot and compile a photo book or magazine. I struggle with the planning aspect and keeping to a style that would work for a photobook, but when I look at past work, it’s so varied that I think it wouldn’t fit a theme due to different film stocks and cameras being used. I have a few ideas, but they never get past the idea phase.
Do you have a subject matter or style you always find yourself being drawn to? Why?
BD: I personally feel like I don’t have a style. When I look at my work, it feels a bit all over the place. I suppose the pandemic has meant more photowalk style shots which is a mix of classic street shooting and more technical shots to isolate a subject seen on the street. I have always looked up to the photographers covering rock bands in the 60s and 70s: specifically the available light shots backstage or on the road. I would really like to shoot more in that style, but it means being around others, so it only happens occasionally when I meet up with photographers from bigger cities.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an unknown assignment. You can take one camera, one lens, two films and you have no idea what you’ll be shooting. What do you take with you and why?
BD: Here at the Film Dad Museum of Everyday cameras (sounds a lot better than that giant pile of cameras in the basement, doesn’t it?), there is already a camera/lens combination within reach. I honestly like to pair setups with a shooting style or situation as each setup has relative strengths and weaknesses.
Since you said this is an unknown assignment, I will turn to the trusty setup that has never let me down: Nikon N2000 + Nikkor 50mm f/2 AI. The Nikkor 50mm f/2 is a lens that never gets the recognition it should, especially in the closer focusing AI configuration. Film will be a roll of Kodak VISION3 500T with an 85 filter thrown in the kit and a roll of Arista.EDU Ultra 100. I can use the Arista.EDU anywhere from about 25-400 and the 500T works great in any lighting with the 85 filter providing proper daylight balance.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location for the rest of your life. What do you take, where do you go and why?
BD: I’ll take my unlimited supply here at home please. I have everything I need to document within a day’s drive and most importantly my family here with me. Everyone who can, come and visit. I’ll grill you up some burgers and be your personal tour guide. And hey, I have unlimited film so you just bring you gear (or just grab something from my collection and shoot it). Despite what social media wants you to think, it’s not the location that makes for an adventure, it is all about the people: Who you have your adventures with is far more important than where they are. I could spend the rest of my life visiting with the wonderful film photography community and not be worried that I never saw some exotic location.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll of film, where and how will you expose it and why?
BD: Give me a roll of Kodak Tri-X and make it 220 format so I can shoot my wonderful Fujica G690. If I am going to only have one last film, that roll will be photographs of my family, friends, and cats. If I can never shoot any more film, that last roll will be the things most important to me.
Look at the beginnings of photography and what do you always see? The People. Look at a mangled train crash photo and you will see the train is always surrounded by well dressed individuals: that might be the only photography they would ever be preserved in. The other common thread in old photos is cats: presumably because they were the only one interested enough to hang around with the early studio photographer.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about film photography today and how would you set it straight?
BD: My personal pet peeve in modern film photography is the weird habit of putting high importance on the camera body used. It makes sense for fixed lens cameras, but I see a lot of posts stating the hot at the moment fancy camera used, yet the lens used is never mentioned. Certainly, there are certain needs that call for a specific camera body or system, but I feel like new photographers are encouraged to buy expensive cameras rather than just learning film and focusing on the glass which has a much more important role in the final outcome.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
BD: My small Film family has really shown me that film photography has a bright future. There are many people that are re-discovering film and the process (along with its highs and lows). Film isn’t extremely cheap, but there is a wide selection of films on the market at varying price points. I think the future is bright with a fair amount of new films coming out over the next 5 or so years (just my guess: I have no industry connections).
The one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic did for film photography was to force a whole new generation to learn how to develop film. I see that continuing to grow as a hobby and also see printing growing as more small enlargers that take up little space come out.
The biggest problem for the future of film is a lack of new camera equipment and the shrinking number of people with camera repair skills and spare parts. Whoever can come to market with a sub-$600 new camera body that uses an existing lens mount should be able to do good business.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone just getting started, or thinking about jumping into film photography?
BD: You are on Twitter right? Great: Go engage with the #BelieveInFilm community. Go find a film photography group chat, audio chat or just look me up. Ask questions; Ask a lot of questions. Ask the questions that seem stupid and that you think we have probably hear 1000 times. Anyone that won’t help with your questions, probably isn’t worth your time.
I’ll answer the same thing over and over because it’s an easy answer. Some day when I leave this earth, my photos probably won’t be in a museum, but I can guarantee I will live on in the hearts and minds of the future generations
“My personal pet peeve in modern film photography is the weird habit of putting high importance on the camera body used.”
I present a bit of a dichotomy here in that I Love — capital L Love — my Nikkormat FTN but also feel very strongly about my high-end Nikon and other manufacturer camera bodies.
I will argue until the cows come home that a light tight camera body with shutter speeds you can rely on is pretty much all you need in that department but I’ll be damned if I don’t make favourites, lean towards Leicas, Hasselblads and high-end Nikon SLR bodies.
If I was to counterpoint or more importantly, add to Brian’s point above, it’d be to say this:
There is an importance assigned in all photography to the camera body used, and if you’re getting started, the more basic, the better. This isn’t because you’re terrible and deserve less, no. It’s that by using something that might be simpler — NOT SIMPLISTIC — you’ll learn to appreciate the light first. Once you’ve made the connection, you’ll be able to create on whatever happens to be in your hand at the time.
Use the tool as a means to understand the light and when you’re ready, it won’t matter what you use as long as you’re happy with it.
All that remains is for me to say a massive thanks to Brian for getting involved, and to remind him to give me a name or two of other film photographers he’d like to see featured on these pages.
As ever, keep shooting, folks 🙏
The community needs you. If you’d like to take part in this series of film photographer interviews, please drop us a line or get in touch in the comments. We’re featuring to photographers young and old; famous and obscure, so get in touch and let’s talk.