We’re sitting down today with Mike Pouliot, a man whose photography oozes serenity, calm and stillness. Put down the coffee, spit out that mouthful of Red Bull and get settled in. This is your moment of Zen.
Over to you, Mike.
Hi Mike, what’s this picture, then?
This photo was taken on my last trip to Europe, my wife and I try to make it to Europe once a year. This was taken in the historic Czech town of Cesky Krumlov. This has to be one of the most beautiful and well preserved towns I’ve ever seen. Anyway, my wife and I were walking down the main thoroughfare when I spotted this side street that had great light, I just needed a subject.
Thankfully, I continued down the street a bit (leaving my loving and understanding wife to do some shopping), and I spotted this red chair on the side of the road. The color of the chair immediately caught my eye. As I thought about how to best frame the shot, I noticed the red decorations on the houses down the street as well as the red bench across the street. Wanting to create a “trail of red” is what made me end up with the composition that you see here. This is probably my favorite shot from the trip.
Ok, so who are you? (the short version, please)
I’m Mike Pouliot, just an average guy from Massachusetts (just outside of Boston), that has a passion for photography. By day, I’m a Business Systems Analyst. By night, or whenever I have a free moment, I’m trying to soak up as much photographic knowledge as possible.
When did you start shooting film?
Like most of us that grew up in the 1980’s/90’s, film was the only option. I took lots of “snaps” growing up but never really took it seriously. I purchased an old Nikon film body in college and started to get back into film shooting mostly black and white images.
However, digital became mainstream shortly thereafter and I got sucked into the hype. It wasn’t until about a year ago that my interest for film was rekindled after my grandmother found my grandfather’s camera collection and passed it along to me.
What about now? Why do you shoot film and what drives you to keep shooting?
I’m a very procedural and logical person, so I’ll keep it simple and list out the reasons rather than give you a long winded dissertation on why I shoot film.
One: The colors.
I’ve always struggled to get colors that I like when shooting digital. With digital, it takes me hours in post to get something I find acceptable but I never really love the end result. Fuji’s X cameras have been the best that I’ve found when it comes to color but they still can’t match something like Kodak Ektar 100 through a Noritsu or Gold 200 through a Pakon.
Two: The limitations.
I hate making decisions. If I’m at a restaurant with a massive menu, I will be the last to order, guaranteed. Shooting film limits me to X amount of exposures and color or black and white. I have to think about what I want as output ahead of time and work within choices I’ve made. I enjoy the challenge of these limitations and I find they help me to think creatively and put more time/thought/effort into framing each shot rather than just mindlessly taking the shot and deciding the image’s fate once I’ve uploaded it to my computer.
Three: The process.
Choosing the film, setting exposure, developing the film and scanning/printing the image. These are all the physical experiences that come along with shooting film and I enjoy each and every one of them. When I’m done developing film, the joy of holding something that I created simply makes me happy.
This one may seem strange to some, but I really enjoy using mechanical devices. I love mechanical watches, old cars and anything else that can run without a battery or electronics. To think these precision devices were created before computers or even calculators were available is simply amazing. Using a fully mechanical camera like my Leica M2 or Rolleiflex 2.8A just makes me want to get out and shoot, something a digital camera has never done for me.
Any favorite subject matter?
People often ask me this question or something along the lines of “So what do you shoot?” My answer is always the same, “Whatever catches my eye.” I’m not a pro and I don’t shoot what I think others will like or want to buy, I simply shoot what I find interesting and what makes me happy. This can include street photography, landscape, portraits, still life and anything in between.
You can never use film again. What’s your last roll?
I thought this would be a hard question to answer but it really isn’t. Kodak Ektar 100, hands down. This is by far my favorite color film. It looks great shot at box speed or overexposed a bit but it also has a great tone to it when it is underexposed as well.
…and the colors? Outstanding.
You have 2 minutes to prepare for an assignment. One camera, one lens, two films and no idea of the subject matter. What do you take with you and why?
Hmmm. I prefer to shoot medium format when I can but I’m able to work much faster with my Leica M2 than my Rolleiflex or Hasselblad. So let’s go with the M2 and the Voigtlander Nokton 50mm f/1.5 Aspherical; the extra speed of this lens can come in handy.
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For film, I’d have to go with something that is flexible i.e. it can be pushed/pulled or under/overexposed. I think the best options for me would be Kodak Portra 400 and Kodak Tri-X. Both of these are incredibly flexible films and can deal with a wide range of lighting situations.
You have an unlimited supply of film to shoot in one location. Where do you go?
Man, that’s a tough one. Honestly, drop me anywhere in the French or Italian countryside and I’ll happier than a pig in…mud.
What do you think is people’s greatest misconception about film photography and how would you set it straight?
There are so many. How am I supposed to just pick one? Alright, let’s go with cost as this seems to come up quite a bit when I talk to people about shooting film.
Like most artistic outlets or hobbies (depending on what photography is to you), film photography can be surprisingly cheap or incredibly expensive. If you decided you want to shoot 20×24” large format film, it’s going to get incredibly expensive very quickly. But, if you simply want to shoot 35mm or 120, there are thousands of bodies and lenses that will make digital cameras look outrageously expensive.
One can easily get a camera, a few rolls of B&W film, all of the developing equipment needed and a decent scanner for under $400. Don’t want to scan? Then you can get a working camera and film for under $50 all day long on eBay. And to make things even cheaper, you could get a bulk loader and roll your own film. Rolling and developing your own film would get you under $3 a roll, that’s less than a coffee at Starbucks.
I do send my color 120 film off to a pro lab for developing and scans. Having a well trained tech scanning your medium format negatives is well worth the investment. This runs about $20 a roll including the cost of the film. People are often think that this price is too expensive but I disagree. Photography is a hobby for me. Others may play sports, watch birds, race cars, etc. I play golf a few times a month during the summer and while I like it, not a cheap hobby by any means.
A round of golf at a decent course around where I live is going to set you back about $75. Factor in buying golf balls and the required adult beverages at the end of the round, you’re easily in for $100 per round. That one round of golf is enough for me to develop a month’s worth of film. Also, shooting film is much less stressful than chasing a stupid little white ball around a course for 4 hours. What I’m trying to get at here is I treat my film photography like any other hobby. There will be an investment of time and money but as long as I enjoy it and it is within my allotted “hobby budget”, then it’s money well spent.
In your opinion, what’s the future of film photography?
I think there will always be demand for film, at least for the foreseeable future. It may become a smaller niche market and the price of film may become prohibitive for many as a result, but I think there will always be those that will be happy to pay to use a medium they love.
~ Mike Pouliot
Mike’s not the first of our interviewees to talk about comparing the cost of digital and film photography. Certainly, the cost of Large Format photography can get very large, very, very fast but then again, if you’re equally serious about the largest of digital formats, upfront costs can be (and normally are), much higher – Hasselblad digital back, anyone?
As Mike puts so well, “There will be an investment of time and money but as long as I enjoy it and it is within my allotted “hobby budget”, then it’s money well spent.” …which makes a very good point of money well spent in respect to almost anything.
I know people who enjoy cigars, golf, fine brandies and travel. I can’t get behind the often extortionate amounts of money banded about by them but what I can understand is that their definition of “value” isn’t as a black and white as cost-per-portion but largely based on how their hobby makes them feel. I feel the same way about photography and I’m glad that Mike was able to put that into less than 30 words. It’s certainly worth bringing to mind next time you’re considering that large purchase you promised yourself you wouldn’t make…writing down costs over decades often isn’t the way to do it, sometimes you just need to go with your gut.
Please, please, please hunt Mike down on Twitter, seek him out at his 500px page, or gorge yourself over at Flickr.
We’ll be back again very soon but in the meantime, we’ll leave you to check out the links above.
Keep shooting, folks!
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Good interview and very interesting comments from Mike.