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As an adjunct to the Tangents blog, the intention with this forum is to answer any questions, and allow a diverse discussion of topics related photography. With that, see it as an open invitation to just climb in and start threads and to respond to any threads.

A Renewed Appreciation for Photographers who Shot Film

I completed a job the other night, a 50th-wedding anniversary party. My client told me it was going to be like a wedding, just no dancing. It was at an old mansion. I was there for 3+ hours, took about 400 shots on the grounds (beautiful early-evening light), a large back patio covered by a orange-yellow canopy, a dark-wood room containing the bar, and a dining room with light-green walls. After I brought all the shots into LR and did an initial "well ... how are they" check, I started to wonder: how did the professionals do these types of events with film? This is the job where it kind of hit me with that amazement. I can't imagine having the sort of in-camera skills, never mind the manipulation in the darkroom necessary to to it, do it well, and make a living. I( wish I had been doing more of this, wish I had been more into photography, and not just "taking pictures".

Sure, I've got about 5000 negatives in archival sleeves from years gone past. But, these were of the "Kodak moment" variety - you do you best picking the film for what you think you are photographing, shoot a roll or three, and send it away in an envelope and hope for the best.

My appreciation goes out to all who were able to make a living as a photographer before the digital age.



  • TrevTrev Moderator


    Been there and done that, and yes, you had to pick your way through the minefield in the "good old days of film".

    As a former film photographer, thanks for that recognition.
  • MichaelVMichaelV Member
    edited July 2015
    I think there was a lot to it.  Photographers had to know a bit about "developing" and "darkroom" techniques...chemicals which develop the film and the type of film itself.   When you think about it, photography was a really complex enterprise back in the pre-digital days.  

    There was certainly not any great way to practice a technique because you had a limited amount of shots with film canisters and developing was expensive.  You couldnt sit at home or out in the park all day taking thousands of practice shots perfecting your technique.

    So the film pros were certainly a smart knowledgeable breed.  
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Sometimes I would 'push' or 'pull' a roll of negs if I knew I was at the limit when shooting which is like opening/closing images in say Lightroom, but, you had to know when to do that, because once the actual roll of film was developed it was then done, not like a Raw file where you can go back millions of times to get different results.

    Also film had a pretty good latitude, around 2 stops over and 3 stops under, then of course you could always give it more 'exposure' time with the neg in the enlarger onto the paper to get better results, or shorter.

    I had all the gear, darkroom, enlarger, top Schneider Glass, around 10 different types/grades of paper (all BW, Colour chemistry was another whole deal, with colour discs, analysers, etc.) and depending on the type of BW image I wanted depended on the 'Grade' type of paper.

    I had a particular penchant for Ilford BW Grades 3-5, great contrast.
  • I think about this a lot Dave. It is amazing how they did it way back then (ha ha not so long ago). I actually did shoot for newspapers for a few years before anyone used a digital camera. It was all black and white. And then for a couple of years I worked in a darkroom at a newspaper just before the advent of digital. I learn how to develop film the old fashioned way with chemicals and basins. And then how to use an enlarger to make prints, dodge and burn, etc.... It was great and I'm glad to have had that experience. I did fine without a screen to look at at the back of the camera. Can't imagine doing that now. But it was news photography and somewhat catch as catch can. I can't imagine doing portraits and weddings that way. Yikes. But of course they did. Whole different ball game. I hand it to them for sure.
  • I have to agree, film pros deserve serious kudos. The thing I've really found with digital is how much easier it is to learn, because you can see there and then what works and what doesn't. The delays around film processing meant I took far longer to learn anything.
  • dbrunodbruno Member
    Not that I'm a pro photographer by any stretch, but the bad news about digital photography - and, affordable digital photography - is what I perceive and hear that photo jobs are sometimes now going to the family member who is a bit adept at handling his new DSLR. You know, the people who have to cut the budget for a wedding, and the mom says "Oh, ask Uncle Henry, he just got a new camera, and I'm sure he would take pretty good pictures of your wedding". I'm sure I am not stating anything new.
  • TrevTrev Moderator
    Dave: "Oh, ask Uncle Henry, he just got a new camera, and I'm sure he would
    take pretty good pictures of your wedding". I'm sure I am not stating
    anything new.

    Yep, but we call it the "Uncle Bob Syndrome" Dave, and it's bloody disheartening when that happens, and only yesterday someone asked my why can so and so shoot a wedding for $800 but you charge $2500+ basic price, so you have to go through the game of explaining editing, time, lighting, etc. etc. and I now have samples of 'as shot' and 'edited' to show them. They are impressed 100%, but I still have the 'we are on a budget can you do any better'. I do drop price but also drop hours, and a lot will go for that instead.

    One couple a few years back wanted just location shots, very tight budget, cannot afford etc. etc., so I obliged only because they were friends of my daughter, but I still charged them $1400 for 3 hours; the kicker, well when I rocked up to the location, they had hired a f*&^%ing stretch Hummer Limo which was $800 first hour and $400 each there after, so $1600 wasted, IMO.

    Facebook has now become the 'benchmark' for wedding quality, the absolute shit I see on there receiving rave reviews/likes is just plain depressing.

    /rant over/

  • I learned to shoot on a Canon A1 in High School, it really helped teach me how to read light. Loved Tri-X. Never shot film professionally. For those of you who want to try "shooting film". Turn off your digital screen, pick an ASA, I mean ISO, say 400, shoot only 36 images, use the light meter in the camera. Then review your work. 
  • Buffy

    To add to the feel of shooting film turn the auto white balance off and stay with the same white balance for all 36 shots.  After you shoot the 36 photos don't review them for a couple of days, which is the time it would take to have them developed.  Don't look at the metadata to review exposure information; you will have to write it down when you take the photos.

    I don't miss film.
  • I am soo glad to live in the digital age. so much easier to learn both from the cameras direct feedback, ability to take many learning shots, and for the online education like this website and community.
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