Sunday, June 17, 2012

Never say "expired;" film never dies

I've lately been shooting with some 35mm film cameras. Partly to determine whether they're worth keeping or selling, and partly because I have rolls of film in my basement that date back to as late as 2006. Kept cool, film can last well beyond the date stamped on the box. But you wouldn't want to risk your pictures from a major event -- wedding, graduation, or vacation -- to film that's out of date.

Parkleigh Crystals, Film from 2008
One example: the photo at left: photographed with 200-speed color negative film short-dated from 2008. The camera: Olympus Stylus Epic, perhaps the best fixed-lens compact 35mm point-and-shoot camera ever sold.

What does a film camera give you that an equivalent digital camera can't? In a word: soft backgrounds. While most of the colored crystals in this image are sharply focused, the less-important elements are soft and de-focused. This adds emphasis to your main subject, and can help create a mood.

You can also get this effect with a digital SLR camera, or image-editing software like Picasa, which allows you to add some blur around the central subject of your photos.

There's something else a film camera provides that most digital cameras or cell-phone cameras cannot. A film camera slows you down. It makes you think about composition, and how light falls across your subjects. Experienced photographers understand that photography isn't always about snapping random images: it's about managing light and time, and taking time to consider what's in your viewfinder.

The photos below were captured with Kodak Ektar 100 or Gold 200 film, last considered "fresh" in 2009. They may not be the most enticing images ever captured, but they remind me and you that film never dies.