I have always had confidence issues when it comes to my photography; I think it is an issue that many of us creatives have. We always see these amazing images posted by our idols, and it’s easy to think that our own images don’t stand on level ground.
This week, I made an interesting break-through in that regard and was actually made by stepping back in time a bit, and shooting with some film.
Before I talk about why shooting with film was a breakthrough for me, let’s talk about why it is so easy to not be confident in your work in this digital world. In my opinion, for as much of an advantage as instant feedback on an image is, it is also a disadvantage. For example, with today’s DSLR or Mirrorless cameras, you can see your exposure, change it as you see what your images are looking like. This means you aren’t having to think as much about the settings you are changing, you can move the settings a bit, and if you think it looks good, then go with it. You never have to rely on what you know, you can always ‘defer to the LCD’ to see if you did it right.
[REWIND: Selling Your Used Gear]
Shooting with film, you (obviously) can’t do that. You have to visualize what you want in your head, and use a light meter to get the ‘correct exposure’, then tweak the settings knowing how to get the effect you want. But it is always a mind game, a test of sorts.
Now back to how this led to a breakthrough for me in my own work.
I Actually Do Know What I Am Doing
That heading title says it all. It is a simple realization, but an important one for photographers to have every once in a while. Going back to those confidence issues that many of us, myself included, struggle with; a realization as simple as this works wonders for stopping the worrying and getting back to the art.
I took out a Bronica SQ-B that I borrowed from my buddy. The SQ-B is a 6×6 medium format film camera that shoots on 120 film and has no built-in meter. This is getting pretty basic. I took the Bronica out with me on several outings, using two rolls of film; a Kodak Portia 400 and Fuji NPS 160.
The images were just meant to be playing around, getting used to shooting without being able to see my results. These weren’t client shoots, or model shoots. One trip was a ride along the Oregon Coast on a stormy day, and the other was a trip to the local wildlife refuge with my father.
I took my film to PhotoVision in Salem, the closest film lab to me that still develops 120 film. Lucky for me, they are also one of the top film labs left in my region, so I knew my film was in good hands. I had no use for any prints, and I did not want the negatives, so I had them scan and deliver to me via Dropbox.
I got the scans yesterday.
Yep. I Actually DO Know What I Am Doing
It is amazing, that feeling you get, when you see what you shot on film. Even in a case like mine, when the images were just a bunch of snapshots without much thought for composition or anything beyond exposure, the feeling was great.
Probably my biggest confidence issue has always been with exposure. Did I shoot it too bright? Was it too dark? I know a lot of that is personal taste, but it is still something that I have struggled with in finding in my own style. This little film experiment has sort of cured me of that, at least for now. I shot 24 images without being able to see a single exposure to know if I was ‘getting it right’, and I nailed them all. That is all the proof I needed to stop worrying about it.
This may seem silly. I fully admit to feeling a bit silly over how proud of myself I am over it. But confidence is a major part of our work. Knowing that you can get your settings right, and get the results you are after is empowering. Thanks to this little film project, I have regained my confidence as a photographer. If you struggle at all with similar confidence issues, I highly recommend give film a try.
Dig that old film camera out of the attic, dust it off, and go shoot a roll of film. I am going to do this more often going forward. I enjoy the experience and the reassurance that I know what I am doing. I am sure that many of you may find it just as therapeutic as I did.
Have any of you had a similar experience? Not necessarily with film, but something that really helped your confidence in your photography in one way or another? Leave a comment below. I want to hear about it!