On Film

You know whats amazing about the exposed rolls of film in the above photograph? There are no other objects on earth with their potential. They were exposed to selective amounts of light a few months ago while traveling across the US. These are memories engraved in this one singular, tangible place in front of me. The light that existed within the times and places where the film had been exposed was captured and recorded in this amazing one of a kind way. I find that light shapes a large part of the reality we experience in being alive. It gives everything life, and it can turn ordinary moments into times of absolute magic. One of the unfortunate facts about this life giving light is that it occurs only for a finite amount of time, no two moments are truly exactly alike.

Therefore each photograph I manage to capture on film I feel is unique and in a way preserves a basic essence of life. They hold a short story from my viewpoint in the space of a frame on film. It feels like a gift to have this ability and the reason I love capturing photographs with film is because of this. Because of the direct physical connection to what I am shooting. I see the process as a romantic one, not unlike writing a love letter by hand.

I find I don’t feel quite the same connection when shooting with digital cameras. While the light is still captured it feels as though it has simply been copied, just interpreting the moment into ones and zeros which somehow feels less meaningful. I feel the process of using film is a more fulfilling experience, almost timeless in a way. The precious few images I have to expose within each roll feel like they all hold a unique opportunity to share something wonderful and this feeling adds a lot of thought and care to my shooting habits which in turn improved my digital shooting as well.

For me the photos waiting to be seen on these undeveloped rolls of film are not simply more images to share on the internet or on a gallery wall, they are proof that these moments existed within my life. A life I try to live to its fullest in order to seek out the best pieces of it and record them in this way. No digital manipulation to dramatize it, just simply the light etched onto on these precious few negatives.

This all may sound overly dramatic but its true. Today with an abundance of digital cameras giving us this bizarre ability to copy every single random nuance of light we come across, seemingly without question, I think you are able feel so much more connected to the subject and the moment at hand when using film. That little rush you get seconds before you know you are going to press down the shutter release is like magic. The small amount of anxiousness involved also subtly pushes you into refining your shooting habits.

Then (unless your shooting with Polaroid film) there is the idea that you must wait to see your image. The patience involved gives you distance from the moment you were so devoted to capturing. That bit of longing and wonder, did I get the exposure right? Did the framing work? Did I truly express what I was feeling at that moment? That anticipation can be refreshing if you let it. Not everything in your life has to be rushed and instant. I find that having that time to detach myself from what I shoot gives me an opportunity to see the images with a fresh perspective. There is nothing quite like that first time looking over the negatives or prints there in my hands. Good or bad results it’s satisfying either way.

This is not to say digital photography has any less merit than film photography, not at all. As you may have noticed around here or on my flickr stream, I do love both ways of creating images but I just had to share my feelings on using film cameras to encourage others that may not have used one to give them a try.

In the future, as with my previous post on the Holga, I will be exploring a number of great film cameras and share my experiences with them to help out others if perhaps they are interested in learning more about certain cameras or maybe need a suggestion to find one that best fits your needs and desires. Also, to all you digital shooters out there, don’t fret, this is not going to be my only focus around here. Photography is not all chemicals and film and its not all ones and zeros. There are a lot of wonderful things to explore and I am exited to share here with everyone to the best of my ability.

(an additional viewpoint of the photo above is also included in the wallpapers zip and in download number 2 below)


  1. Rick - February 24, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    Another great article! Nice writing style.

    Keep it up!
    Rick @ HolgaDirect – Holga Camera News and Articles

  2. John - February 24, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    Great post, John. I’m really excited to see more of your film work.

    Have you ever tried pinhole photography? I’d love to see what you can come up with.

  3. John carey - March 1, 2011 at 10:34 pm


    I have used a very simple pinhole made of cardboard with mixed results but would love to experiment more with it in the future.

  4. Theodoor Thomas - March 5, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    I can really find myself in these words. The uniqueness of film, the emotion in can convey something, I simply can’t find in the quasi realistic look of digital. Digital is just too clinical for the work I do and in my opinion for portraiture in general. Thanks

  5. Michel - March 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm

    I, for my part, that is the essence of film photography, by other already said it all. (and by digital’m raising money to buy one, although I have not decided on the brand).

  6. Caleb - July 14, 2011 at 1:16 am

    your finest post yet.

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