10 Things To Know About Film Photography

Film photography has become quite popular in recent years, so popular than even obsolete products, new 35mm cameras, and even film factories are once again seeing the light. Personally, I have found film photography to be a great school for slowing my pace, and therapeutic. My main genre is street photography, and I have a tendency to not allow my digital camera to shoot anything but social scenes. With film photography, things can get more relaxed, even playful, and I allow myself to shoot whatever pleases me (including street photography). Here are various things I have discovered while shooting with film along with digital.

You have to trust chemistry

The very fact of not being able to know whether the photograph you wanted was actually captured, is boldly terrifying. But that's what happens with film photography, so you need to trust that chemistry will do its job. After shooting a couple of rolls, this fear will slowly fade. Just try to keep yourself disciplined and avoid shooting things twice – once with film and twice with digital.

Chimping is useless

Chimping – that is, checking out every digital picture you take, right after taking it – shouldn't be done at all, but the crispy LCD screens on the rear of our cameras make this habit almost impossible to avoid. With analog cameras, chimping is impossible because there’s no way to preview the photograph you just took. If you want to get rid of your chimping addiction, film photography provides flawless rehab.

Manual focus

When searching for a film camera, try to get the most mechanical option you can find. The main reason for doing this is because knowing how to focus manually will make you an extremely agile photographer in the future. Manual focus was a common back in the day, and being able to precisely estimate distances is a priceless asset for any photographer.

Film is generous when compensating exposure

Digital camera sensors have evolved into powerful pieces of technology, so powerful that they are catching up with the quality of film. Film is so powerful and generous when compensating over- or under-exposure that you need to see it with your own eyes to understand it.

Also, a curious fact about the digital and analog formats: when shooting digital, you will likely overexpose a bit because recovering whites and highlights is easier than recovering shadows and darks. Film works the other way around; you'll want to underexpose a photograph a step or so instead of overexposing it.

Developing film is easy

Ok, I understand your skepticism. Before learning how to do it, I always thought developing film was just for geniuses in chemistry. But it is simple and fun, and a very enjoyable. No screens, just some music and the chems. Watch this video if you want to learn how to develop film. (I haven't tried that specific chemical, but the process is extremely well explained in the video).

You can still find film and analog cameras

Film and cameras can easily be acquired – even in places like my country, where photographic options are typically scarce. And if you don't find anything locally, you can always resort to the splendid wonders of online shopping.

You won't be able to change your ISO

One thing that you have to bear in mind is that once you load a roll of film, you won't be able to change its ISO. ISO values describe the film’s sensitivity to light – and in film, the photograph is ruled by the film itself, not by the aperture or shutter speed. That's why some photographers used to carry 3 or 4 cameras with them; each was loaded with a different type of film.

You'll increase your keepers ratio, eventually

One of the greatest benefits of learning to work with film is that it will have a tremendously positive impact on your digital photography. By having to limit yourself to 12, 24 or 36 shots before loading a new roll of film, you become more conscious about when to press that shutter button. Eventually, that mindset will result in more “keeper” shots. This is the main reason why we spoiled digital photographers should learn to shoot film: to improve the quality of our digital photography.

Grain was desired, unlike noise

The tiny dots in analog photography wasn’t noise, but grain. Grain has a special built-in quality that many photographers desired, even if the grain was extremely small. With digital cameras we have the presence of noise, and due to the crazy tones it produces, it doesn’t add pleasant results to a photograph. Grain was visible because film is coated with light-sensitive silver particles, and when light hits them they turn black and create the image. So it is more a physical and chemical collision, not an odd, cold and static piercing of the image.

Cost isn't high

People usually think that film photography is expensive. But if you manage to get a working camera for something less than $100.00 or even free, you'll only have to add the price of film and development. You'll get a lot of good images before you hit the average $1,000 cost of a new entry-level digital camera. My trusty Pentax K1000 is way older than me; it was inherited, and it works perfectly to this day.

Film photography is just another way to capture images – but it is still photography at the end of the day. It is valuable for young photographers to get to know it to become more thoughtful photographers, not just because of the trend or fashion itself.

If you want to know more about film photography, this may be the book for you.

Originally Published at Light Stalking

A Brief History About Post-mortem Photography

In Latin American culture, the first days of November are when people pay tribute to the memory of loved ones who have passed away. It seems appropriate for me to tell you a bit about a now- eerie topic about deceased loved ones and photography. Of course, I'm talking about post-mortem photography – also known as memento mori – a Victorian photographic genre that was popular back in the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. Basically, photographs were taken of deceased loved ones; post-mortem photography had nothing to do photographing violence, crime, or war. Doing something like this today is almost unimaginable (at least, for the vast majority of cultures) so if you watch this fascinating video, viewer discretion is very much advised. Nowadays, this type of photography is more used for scientific and criminological applications that for family portraiture.

Portraiture through painting was an extreme luxury in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, portraiture was made more accessible, but was still a luxury, and people rarely had photographs of themselves or close relatives. Family portraits were also scarce.

How was the genre born?

During the nineteenth century, death was seen as a part of ordinary life, and it was common for death to occur in homes instead of in hospitals or clinics. Since images of relatives and loved ones were scarce, people tended to think that a photograph of a deceased relative or loved one was preferable to not having a photograph of them at all.

How important was this kind of photography for families?

These photographs were commissioned by mourning relatives and families; in a way, the images helped people process their grief. They were a vivid remembrance of the deceased, and the photos quickly became a precious possessions for every family who could afford to hire a photographer for such a complex task. Thanks to the nature of the photographic reproductions common at the time, small prints of the deceased were often carried in lockets so the owners could keep them close every day.

Who were the "little angels"?

Children were a constant subject in this genre. Sadly, children suffered a high rate of mortality in those years and were portrayed in a very angelic way, often placed or positioned inside little cribs with flowers and toys. These specific subjects were called "Little Angels", especially in Latin America. Since this photographic style was so popular, each photographer developed his own style; some preferred a different approach, like, for example, the mother tenderly holding her deceased baby.

How did they manage to maneuver the stiff body?

This is perhaps one of the most curious things about this practice. Photographers were not just photographers, but manipulators of corpses. When somebody died, it was likely that the family had never photographed the recently deceased person, so they called a photographer (sometimes when the sick relatives were in agony or in their last moments of life) to take the only photograph that would ever be taken of the soon-to-be deceased. Transportation wasn't as fast as is today, of course, so photographers sometimes had to travel for days to reach their destinations. Meanwhile, rigor mortis took place. Photographers had to deal with rigid bodies using highly archaic methods like belts, pulleys and levers.

You can see in many of these photographs how these methods were used; some photographers managed through clothes and furniture to make them less evident, almost invisible. Some families preferred to have their deceased loved ones photographed as if they were asleep; others wanted a more “alive” feel. Photographers achieved this feeling by using glass eyes and other tricks.

So, this was a business thing?

Yup, this was an income source. Professional photographers of the time spent a lot of time travelling to photograph the dead body. These early photographers didn't just have to be good at capturing and developing images, but also at handling the stiff bodies of their ... subjects.

About the style

Some images were very traditional, with an obvious Victorian and ethereal look, and today some of them may appear creepy. Some of them are great works of art indeed. Before writing this piece, I skimmed this collection of images (again, discretion is very much advised) and I went nuts looking at them. I'm not a fan of Victorian photographs, but the post-mortem images have a different aura; some of them were done with extreme such care that I couldn't tell which of the subjects was dead – except for the one of Lewis Carroll, which I guess was taken while he was still alive, and I think Lewis himself may have taken the image; but if not, it’s still an amazing post-mortem photograph).

Why did the practice disappear?

Death within domestic spaces was common, but with the evolution of medicine, we as humans built a great distance between life and death and post-mortem photography became rare and unpopular. This practice seems totally distant and odd now that we constantly take pictures of almost everything.

This article wasn't meant to be weird, but rather to offer a reason to meditate about the state of photography today. Some of these images were the only vivid picture families had of their loved ones. Memories fade with time, and for 200 years photography has been the most effective way to keep memories alive.

Originally Published at Light Stalking