The baggage of film

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I didn’t really shoot film. Sure I had a 35mm film camera like everyone else. As a kid I had my negatives developed at the local camera store or sometimes at the supermarket. Never spent any time in a dark room.

For me that’s worked out just fine.

Why? Because I’m a digital photographer. I can’t be bound to 16 or 32 frames (MF 120 or 220, yeah I actually shot a few rolls before purchasing the Hasselblad). Just not my style.

It goes back to my What’s in an Image post. I’m looking for the fleeting editorial moments that aren’t “poses.” I can’t tell you when these moments will happen. It’s much like trying to predict when lighting will strike. But when lightning strikes, the earth shakes, the heavens rumble, and sometimes you can create life (Frankenstein, Short Circuit, creation of life, etc.). In order to catch lightning in a bottle, you have to be prepared for those moments, and you also have to shoot a lot of frames…

But shooting a lot of frames is hard for photographers that lived through the days when film was so expensive. Back in the olden days, photographers had to be precise about their metering, focus, and lighting because not only did they only have a limited number of frames, they had a limited bankroll to spend on film. As a result, film photographers were forced to be very specific about models’ poses.

Those days are gone.

And while most of those same film photographers now own digital Canons and Nikons, few of them have adopted the volume-shooting style that digital technology affords. Instead, these photographers insist that their “take-as-few-frames-as-possible-precision” is the right way of shooting because it’s exact and yields predictable and repeatable results every time. To that extent, they are absolutely correct. But what these photographers will never experience is (as I’ve stated before) “lightning in a bottle,” because they feel wasteful when they shoot lots of frames.

It’s the equivalent of someone insisting on getting their water from the well in the backyard, even though there is running water connected to the house.

Why carry the baggage around from yesteryear? Things change. Embrace change.

But the baggage doesn’t end with just shooting-style. These same photographers used to spend hours in the lab developing their film. Perhaps for this reason they resent Photoshop’s ability to manipulate images with ease. Some of these same photographers say retouching is “cheating” and that you should get the shot “right” in the camera to begin with.

Sound familiar?

This issue is not limited to film photographers. It can be seen across the board in various aspects of life. We all know someone who is “afraid” of the computer and doesn’t have email. Or someone who refuses to carry a cell phone because back in the old days, people didn’t have cell phones. Or even people that still schedule their lives around their favorite TV shows because they don’t own DVRs.

Look, I get it. It’s a reluctance to change. One day, I’ll have my hangups about adopting new technologies. And sure, one can argue that digital photographers aren’t nearly as precise and use “volume-shooting” as a crutch for not having a clear vision. I get that. Or that Photoshop is just a crutch for not capturing things right to begin with. I understand that argument too. But being that this is a fashion-specific blog, I challenge you to open a copy of W, V, Vogue, Numéro and describe the current style of images. Gone are the overly-posed looks. What you see today is fleeting.  It is motion, emotion, attitude, that is unpredictable and certainly not choreographed or staged or posed. It’s real. It’s candid. It’s human. And it’s alive.

Certainly, there are no wrong answers. Posed is not better or worse than natural. But being limited by archaic thinking and outdated practices will only hold you back from current trends and future growth. Use the lessons of film in the past and adapt that knowledge to the technologies available today. You’ll be that much stronger and better than those that haven’t had the experience of true physical photo-manipulation. Don’t let the baggage of film weigh you down on your photoshoots.

You can learn more about shooting with traditional film at one of my group workshops.




Charles Lucima is a photographer/retoucher based in Los Angeles specializing in fashion, editorial, and beauty. His clients include designers, apparel brands, and modeling agencies around the world.

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