Jared Lichtenberger Photography


Evolving Backwards

My journey from digital to film photography.

The Golden Gate Bridge | San Fransisco, CA | Taken with Nikon F3 | Ilford HP5 Plus (Film)

Shooting film in a digital world is a unique experience. Each time I begin to depress the shutter release button on my camera I feel as if I am taking a huge risk. Why? Well, it's because film is permanent. You can't go back and look at an LCD screen and decide, "That wasn't really what I was going for..." DELETE, and try again. Film also isn't free like the space on a memory card. You can choose to take 3,000 photos on a digital camera and not spend a dime. But those same photos on a film camera cost you real dollars and cents. The costs involved with film photography add up. First, you must purchase the film. Then, you must pay for a lab to develop the film (or develop it yourself). And finally, you must either have the images scanned to digital format or printed. With the knowledge of the cost involved to bring an image to life through a film camera, it isn't surprising that anyone shooting film might second guess a photo or take a bit more time to compose an image.

So why shoot film?

That's a big question. To be truthful, I think I am too new to this game to fully explain the experience of film photography. But I do know that it is something special. It feels more like crafting something with raw materials than it does taking a picture. When I receive my photos back from the lab, I feel much more ownership over them than when I pop out the card from my digital camera and upload images to my computer. But this post isn't meant to be an assault on digital photography.

Let's rewind...

Sometime in high school, I got my first DSLR camera. A Nikon D3000. I still have this camera today and shoot with it from time to time. But, believe it or not, this digital camera taught me almost everything I needed to know to be a good film photographer. Cameras, truthfully, aren't that complex when you start to understand them. Each photo has three core variables; ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. If you're interested in better understanding these concepts, check out the blog post titled Photography Basics (Coming Soon!). When I first started taking photos I did not know much about ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. I was under the assumption that the DSLR camera was advanced enough to take whatever I saw and turn it into an awesome photo. I quickly found out that the AUTO setting on my camera was quite awful. It did not take what I saw and transform it into an awesome photo. I read a bit of the DSLR Photography for dummies book, but I'm more of a hands on learner so I ditched the book and took the camera outside. I had read enough to understand the photography basics mentioned above, so I started to experiment with different settings. This time of experimentation is exactly what allowed me to later purchase a film camera and start shooting effortlessly. You see, there is a huge benefit to the aforementioned lack of cost to digital photography. I was able to take pictures on top of pictures and check the LCD screen after each one to view my results. This was quite possibly the greatest way to learn about photography. I could take a photo and receive immediate feedback with the resulting image. I toyed with the settings until I was able to produce the image I desired. I failed time and time again to get what I was hoping for, but in those failures I learned to better understand my camera.

I learned how to photograph street traffic at night, to capture the motion blur of a waterfall, and to seemingly freeze a biker in motion while his background remains a speedy blur.

Pennybacker Bridge | Austin, TX | Taken with Nikon D3000 (Digital)

Now, when I snap a photo on a film camera, I don't need to check an LCD screen to see if I've produced the image I was going for. I am confident that my trial and error with a digital camera has taught me to see in my mind's eye the result before it is developed. And in all of this digital experimentation, I didn't waste a single frame of film.

Today, film photography is not a slow process that is impossible to master without years of study or apprenticeship. Digital photography has taught me to be a film photographer. In a way, this feels like evolving backwards. Film has added so much growth to my skill and enjoyment of photography. I truly feel that I have evolved. But it has also taken me backwards to a time when digital cameras were not around. To a time when photography was impossible to master. James Estrin, of The New York Times, described that time best in Kodak's First Digital Moment.

"Imagine a world where photography is a slow process that is impossible to master without years of study or apprenticeship. A world without iPhones or Instagram, where one company reigned supreme. Such a world existed in 1973, when Steven Sasson, a young engineer, went to work for Eastman Kodak. Two years later he invented digital photography and made the first digital camera."

Thank you digital photography for preparing me to shoot film in a digital world.

If you have any questions, comments or feedback, please post them in the comments section below.