I recently started to get interested in shooting film, rather than digital, at least for street photography. My lovely friend Col, an incredibly talented film street photographer, and I have had big long chats about shooting film and he totally awakened in me the need to go and do just that! Having never shot film before – well not really, only on cameras I took on holiday with me, before the advent of digital technology, I really had no idea how this was going to play out, what I was going to feel and whether I was going to like it or not – there is strange symmetry in this with the rest of my life currently – doing something just because it is fun and it doesn’t matter necessarily what the result is. Anyway – as usual, I digress!
I decided to dig out my great aunt’s old Agfa Silette 35mm camera and see if it actually worked. At the same time, I came across a bric a brac shop that was selling all types of old cameras, and I just happened to buy 4 of them, for £20! A Minolta, a Beirette, a Ricoh, a vintage kodak and later I bought a Praktica from an antique shop! Well, you know me, can’t do anything by halves!!
The first film I shot was on the AGFA, it was a black and white Ilford 200. It was ok until the wind-on button stopped winding the film on but photos were still being snapped – oh no, that wasn’t the worst bit, it was the fact that I could hear that there was something wrong with the film, as it kept crunching and there was nothing for it but to… open the camera!!! Yes… that is one thing to remember when shooting film… don’t open the camera unless you have either managed to run the film back or you are in a very dark place, like a black binliner! I did have the excuse that I had to open it in order to get a new film in, but on reflection it might have been better if I had simply left it. Obviously, I had to wait until the film was developed to really ascertain the damage… I ended up having to pay £8 for a totally exposed film with no images on it what-so-ever… we live and learn.
The next film I popped in was an AGFA film which I bought 20 of in Poundland. I popped that into the camera and it worked like a dream. I actually had no real idea how to use the camera and was using it before I went on a film workshop, but somehow I managed to get it mostly right. The images were gorgeous… or rather, the colour was gorgeous.
The images were OK… pretty average really… but because of the colour they just look super vintage and beautiful – even more so than any Instagram filter could ever do. I also took some shots of the street dance boys in Taunton and I was utterly amazed at what I came out with. I didn’t think I would have really been able to capture them in mid air as I didn’t know the speed of my fingers or the camera, but it actually worked.
My favourite camera that I took out had to be the Minolta, A zone focus camera, but it kept jamming. Little did I know that it was because the battery wasn’t working. I changed the battery and lo and behold it stopped – or rather, the lovely men in the London Camera Exchange sorted it for me. It still jams every now and then, but not to the same extent. I love the zone focus because it is so easy to use and I think that if I was going to go and do some London street photography, it would be my camera of choice. I haven’t seen the results from the Minolta yet so I suppose I could change my mind! I love the ease of it! Saying that though, the Ricoh 500 is a great little camera too – and although I have a major light leak problem with it, it is just a real beauty. I love the results from the Ricoh! I do need to stop the light from leaking, however awesome it might look! I took it out for the day in Bristol and shot a lot of benches it seems!! There are an awful lot of empty benches in Clevedon. I also used it for a shot I took of my wingmirror. I personally love this shot. It’s not innovative or edgy, but its just a gorgeous colour!
Sadly the Beirette doesn’t work and although the Praktica did work it now seems to have lost all function of its lightmeter – I however just love the fact that I even know what the light meter is on an SLR and that I know what it should be doing! Apparently this could be because of the battery. However, I changed the battery… and still nothing… so it looks like I will have another excuse to visit the LCE again… not that I really ever need an excuse.
All in all, I have shot about 10 films and have still got two that need developing. I was doing a really good job of labelling the films at first, but now it seems I have been a little remiss and I haven’t a clue which is which. Hopefully the images will remind me of which camera I had with me on that day…
As well as shooting film, I also went on an excellent 35mm film workshop run by Justin Orwin in his fabulous studio in Martock. It was myself and my friend Jan, who quite frankly behaved like school girls most of the day! Saying that though, we did learn an awful lot! We were supposed to shoot some film too, but there was so much to take in, so much to learn and rather a lot of laughing and chattering that there was simply not time. I am glad in a way, as it was so good getting down to the nitty gritty technical aspect of film and camera work.I already knew a lot, but this was uber helpful! I learnt more about speed than I had done before -my complete downfall as I never ever shoot in TV and if I shoot in Manual it is always the depth of field I am paying attention to… It was great knowing that I know so much more than I thought, and it was equally as great learning about the film speeds and exposure and which films to use when, about lenses and filters, as well as light temperature and more about white balance. There was such an awful lot to take in that I simply don’t know if it will all stick!
I have to mention that Justin was incredibly patient with us and I mustn’t forget that he also gave me some medium format film for my vintage Kodak, which I have only used a few times. I am so looking forward to taking it out on my next street photography outing or perhaps even to my next portrait shoot in a couple of days!
I have really enjoyed shooting film, I love the fact that I can’t see the result straight away, though that is more of a love/hate relationship. I do love the excitement of going back into the developers and seeing what is on my pictures. I am getting used to the disappointment too, as many of them don’t come out, but the worst thing about film? The expense! It might only be a couple of pounds for the film itself, but the developing is sooo expensive – I guess in a way that THAT is what makes us so much more careful about when we press the button. I noticed on a recent shoot with Justin that I was more careful pressing the button on my digital camera than before, as he was slower, shooting film. I rather like to remember that now when I shoot. We should treat our digital shots in much the same way, with the same care and attention as we give to our film shots. For me, it was a revelation to come away with so many decent shots, just because I slowed down a bit!
Will I ever shoot just film? No. No! I am definitely not brave enough for that, but I will take some film cameras with me to weddings and other shoots and see what comes of them, and I will gladly shoot film for street! It’s been an amazing exercise, and I am so grateful to Col for releasing this love of film in me that I simply didn’t know I had. Long may it last.