I took a roll in October 2015. And then Piper was born in early November. I took some photos of the girls and then my camera got dropped and my favorite lens broke.
Somehow, November 2015 turned into August 2016 (!) and I decided it was time to get back into it. I took 36 photos in three days and this weekend finally got all three rolls developed.
I opened up those envelopes and ahhhhhh, I'd forgotten. I'd forgotten the magic of film.
I shared a few of these photos on Instagram but I wanted to share more here as well as answer some of the common questions I get whenever I talk about film. This might be a long post. Grab some coffee or your favorite Netflix series.
FIRST, OH MY GOSH TODDLER ELLERIE! BUT SECOND, WHY FILM?
I think I like film because it's the exact opposite of digital. Digital = endless options, capabilities and so much data. Film = you get what you get, it is what it is and no room for overwhelm. I take probably 50-100 photos a day on my iPhone (most are very similar) and that's insane. But I do very little with all of those photos. About 3% I post to Instagram. Maybe 1 or 2 will make it into a digital photo book at some point. With film, if I commit to a roll a month I'm averaging about a photo a day. Of that roll probably 25 are worth saving. And those go into an album. There is no overwhelm (for me) with film.
Plus: the light and grain of film just cannot be replicated. I try, for sure. Every time I hit a digital photo with a filter or action I'm trying to get a piece of a magic that is already baked into film prints. It's crazy! Sure, I could update my digital camera and learn how to use Photoshop better and probably have some good results. But then I'd be spending my time dealing with endless .jpg data instead of just snapping and calling it good.
WHAT ARE YOU LOOKING FOR COMPOSITION WISE?
The best part about film is that I know if I have my camera settings where I want them (more on this below) I should get a "technically" decent photo (meaning the light and focus will be okay). So I get to then play with composition. And basically, I'm just looking for the same stuff I'm always looking for...personality and details. These film photos are so different than the photos that I usually take during the day and it took me awhile to figure out why...
I take these photos during the "off-moments." It's not like the girls are doing something hilarious and so I think, "oh! Better get my film camera!" Usually in those cases I pull out the iPhone. And it's not like I think I'll be sharing these images on social media so I'm less interested in the backdrop or straight lines or if this image is too similar to the last one I just posted.
So often, for these photos, the activity IS the photo. I usually take them right after Ellerie (and now Piper) just got up from a nap. The mid-afternoon light is good, the mood is good. We're re-grouping for the day and the camera is out and it's nice and calm. When things are hectic, I'm not like "I think the film camera will really help me get a handle on this situation."
I guess what I am saying is I get my camera out and then for five minutes or so, I'm looking for the magic. I spend a lot of time looking through the lens before I grab the shot. I never take more than 4-6 photos in a sitting and usually it's closer to 1 or 2.
WHAT SETTINGS DO YOU USE?
I have a fairly standard SLR camera that I bought in the early 2000s when I was in high school. It's a Canon, like my DSLR, so I am able to share lenses between the two, which is great. It has automatic focus and winds the film for me and it let's me mess around with the shutter speed and aperture.
After some trial and error, I have learned what I prefer for my (indoor) photos. I shoot almost 100% in AV mode with the aperture set to 1.8. If I am using a different lens, I'll just open it as wide as it can go. Opening the lens up all the way lets the most possible light into the camera with the fastest shutter speed. The fast shutter speed is key... my photographs are usually indoor of active kiddos and I don't want them blurry. It also creates a really short depth of field which means only one part of the image is in focus at a time. Personally, I love this look. I like to see a really soft background and a really clear focus on the subject. (It's not for everyone though.)
Sometimes it works perfectly. The bottom two photos of the four above I love: the focus is on baby Piper's 2-day-old face. The second from the top though is a little blurry. The light was a little low and the shutter didn't snap quite fast enough. It's still an image I cherish, but it's not perfectly crisp. In general, I want to keep the shutter speed above or at 1/90 on my indoor shots to reduce blur. (It's REALLY hard to keep your hands steady if the shutter speed isn't fast enough.)
WHAT KIND OF FILM DO YOU USE?
Right now, in my camera, and for every photo shown in this post, I'm using Kodak Portra 160. It was recommended to me by the folks at my camera store. I told them that 99% of my photos would be of my kids and they said you want this film for skin tones. Indeed. My number one issue with my digital photos and trying to process them a bit with filters or Photoshop is that the skin color goes super wonky. Usually it gets red looking, especially if I try to boost other colors in the image. For sure this problem is user-error and I could learn to do better, but with film I don't have to! Perfect (accurate!) color right out of the camera. I can't complain.
WHERE DO YOU BUY YOUR FILM?
My local camera store or amazon. Amazon usually has what I need, but I want to support my local mom and pop shop as much as possible.
WHERE DO YOU DEVELOP YOUR PHOTOS?
Remember the good old days where you could drop-off your film at any drugstore and walk out an hour later with a package of perfect prints? I am so sad that those days are gone forever. Many places have gotten rid of their machines OR they have stopped properly training folks how to use them and so that is very far from the case. It's tougher to find places that will develop and print film and even if you find somewhere, there is no guarantee that whoever is working the machine that day knows what they are doing.
I develop my film and print 4x6 photos through a local shop called Nelson's Photo Supplies. This shop also puts all the scans on a CD for me (which is how you are seeing the digital images in this post.) They were in Little Italy for years but just moved to the Point Loma area. They know what they are doing and I never have to worry about botched negatives or prints. That said...I am certain we will move someday and when that happens I'll google "film developing INSERT OUR NEW CITY HERE" or "camera store INSERT OUR NEW CITY HERE." I'll also check yelp for our area to see if there is a local camera shop that does the job. If I find one, I'll give them a test roll first (a.k.a, not Ellerie's wedding photos) and see how things turn out. If I can't find a local shop then I will send the film to be developed somewhere else. I personally haven't used them, but I've heard great things about Goodman Photo Lab.
All of this to say...don't let how to develop be the reason you are not taking film. There are many reasons to not shoot film. Not knowing where to process isn't one of them. ;)
WHAT KIND OF CAMERA DO YOU USE?
I have this camera. But I bought it in 2000 when film cameras were not "rare" and it wasn't that expensive. You can most likely get a decent film camera body used (here are some) for a much better price. You can also play with a point and shoot film camera! Or borrow one from someone you know! I do not use the lens that came with my camera originally and instead shoot mostly with this 50mm or sometimes with this 35mm.
HOW DO YOU GET GOOD LIGHT?
We are beyond lucky that our house is well lit for a decent part of the day. Paul and I lived in a dark apartment our first couple years together and I remember saying that decent light was going to be deal-breaker for future homes. ;) I never take for granted the light that we do have but I also know how to chase the good light. Maybe there is one window in your home that lets in good light from 5-6pm or 7-8am. Experiment! Find the good spot and go there often. You'll notice so many of these photos (especially if you look back) are in the girls' room in the afternoon. That's not chance, that's light. Use your digital camera to figure out where the light is good. It's the same concept, just less expensive to practice.
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THE PHOTOS?
Once the photos are developed I tear open the package in the car and hold my breath. Usually the first pass through only one will jump out at me as "good" and I hate the rest. It's an odd habit I have. But after I look through them again and again and then watch Paul look through them, I'm enamored. I recycle all the ones that just didn't turn out (it happens! No big deal!) and the remaining 25 or so go into an album. I use and love these Hudson 2-ups by Kolo. Ellerie's years on film filled two of them. I just got two more in the yellow that will hold Ellerie and Piper. I also have a photo framing project planned that will hopefully turn out so I can have more on display. (I store all the negatives and CDs with the images in a box. If the house is ever on fire, I hope I remember to grab the box.)
YEAH, BUT WHY FILM?
I've been working on this blog post on and off all day long. And I keep coming back to this question that no one actually asked but I do wonder. Why do I love this project? Why am I so excited to get back into it this fall? And the answer is that it's truly a project just for me. It's a hobby that will always be a hobby. I'm not trying to "get better" at this or make a business from this. I just want to do it. The girls are changing! So much every day! This is a fun way for me to capture their growth without the overwhelm that comes with many options. Instead of scrolling through thousands of photos from a month to pick a few upload to a book, I flip through 36 and stick my favorites in an album. This project will never replace or even slow-down how many photos I take with my phone but it's different enough to be enjoyable. It's also the exact opposite of the "instant-ness" that comes with social media sharing which is nice. I'm not worried that I "skipped" 10 months of this project. I'm just grateful that the enthusiasm to pick it back up has arrived.
WANT MORE FILM PHOTOS?
Tara Whitney's photos are my favorite. Makes me want to road-trip right this very second.