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Interviews

Why Film? An Interview with Film Photographer Sara Story

By Tanya Goodall Smith on September 9th 2013

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Spokane Film Photographer Sara Story’s portraiture caught my eye some months ago when I began seeing her work in a local Facebook group. She’s an adamant advocate for shooting on film. As a photographer who first learned to shoot on film and never once looked back after I got my hands on a DSLR, I was curious to know why she preferred film over digital.

Sara’s work is characterized by buttery smooth skin tones and bright, accurate color, which she largely attributes to the use of professional film. She has been a featured photographer and contributing writer about her film work in publications like Lemonade and Lenses and was recently commissioned to shoot for an article in Spokane/CDA Living, a local magazine.

I asked if Sara would be willing to share some of her film shooting tips with me and all of you here at SLR Lounge. Here’s what she had to say…

How long have you been a photographer? What got you started?

Sara_Story-film-photographerI have been shooting avidly since 2004, my senior year of high school. I’d always had a fascination with freezing time in a photograph. I was never very good at taking pictures as a child though. I didn’t understand good subject matter, composition or lighting, I just liked playing around with cameras and hoped to take an image worth keeping. It wasn’t until around 2006, that my creativity really began to come through in the images I was taking.

What equipment do you use?

Firstly, natural light and shadow, there would be no photographs without those two components. I’m pretty much a Canon shooter. I have a Canon EOS-3, the last 35mm Canon made, and an Elan A2, also a Canon 35mm. I shot for many years with a basic 50mm 1.8 lens, but have recently upgraded to the new Sigma 35 1.4. I absolutely love that lens, it has remarkable sharpness and bokeh and is well worth the price.

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Why do you prefer to shoot on film? Convince me to try it!

I prefer the overall simplicity of film. I spend far less time on post processing my images than I do when shooting digital. When exposed properly, film has the most amazing, smooth skin tones, and can significantly reduce fine lines and blemishes. The colors are also so vibrant and thick that I really don’t need to adjust them at all when scanned correctly. Film will also force one to slow down, take in all of your surroundings and really focus on the subject matter—without fear of using the wrong white balance, or over exposing.

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Do clients hire you specifically because you shoot on film? Do they have a preference or are they surprised to learn you shoot on film?

I have had clients come to me because they love the look of film, but generally, they don’t know. I’ll explain to each client that I do shoot film, and generally they dig it. They’re also happy with how much time and attention to detail I put into the session, because I’m not just “spraying and praying,” so-to-speak.

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What are your top tips for those who would like to try shooting on film?

If you are shooting film or digital, be aware of the light, and how it falls onto your subject. Is the light flattering? Is it hard? How do you want the light and shadow in your image to shape your subject? Photography is the art of drawing with light, you can create so many different feelings in an image by just understanding shadow and light. Film is built for shadow and light, it makes re-creating what you see and want to convey, so much easier, in camera.

Film is a beautiful medium, various films have their strengths and weaknesses, whether you love landscapes or portraits, there is a film that will accentuate the final image. Some films are warm in tonality and some are cooler, those variables will affect the feel of your image. Having your images properly scanned is also of big importance if you plan on sharing them online.

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Where do you buy your film?

I try to buy locally, but it can be difficult. Many drugstores no longer even carry generic films, sadly. Otherwise, I use B&H and Adorama. Both are a wonderful source for all manner of color and black and white negative film.

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Where do you get your film developed?

The local lab is also a dying breed, so when possible, I suggest a local lab you are confident with. Camera Corral, in Coeur D’alene, Idaho is one lab I use locally. If you have to ship out, TheDarkroom.com is a great place for beginners and professionals. Film developing and scans begin at $10 a roll, which is comparable to 1 hour photo labs. They do great work with exceptionally fast turn around.

Do you have the images scanned directly to digital?

Every time.

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Do you do any digital post processing/touching up? What software do you use?

Very little, if any at all. I do minor skin touching up and minor adjustments to curves in Photoshop, but all in under 15 seconds, or less, per image.

Favorite subject to photograph?

Portraits, they are my absolute favorite. I rarely feel compelled to take an image unless there is a human or animal in it.

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Anything else you would like to share?

I would love to encourage anyone interested in photography to try their hand at film. It is truly a simple art form, and far less intimidating than one might think. It can really help you hone your eye for creating an image before taking it. Start from the basics, you don’t need a fancy medium format like so many believe. Film is film, unlike with digital censors. You can take gorgeous photos with your Dad’s old AE-1 program that are comparable to a fancy Contax 645.

So, what do you think? Will you be giving film a try? I think Sara’s convinced me to at least dust off my old 35mm SLR and shoot a roll for old time’s sake. I’m curious to see if her theory about cutting down on editing time is worth the extra effort and money required for film processing.

To see more of Sara’s work, please follow her on Facebook.

CREDITS: Photographs by Sara Story have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Great article

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  2. eva

    Great article. I love film, the whole process and like Sara I really dislike spending lots of time tweaking raws on a computer. I only have manual focus cameras, my next purchase will be a auto focus one. :)

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  3. Magic

    TANYA SMITH, you have great photos.
    im using an old Nikon FM3A film camera and canon dslr 5D M2, but the 5d always stay home :)
    totaly in love with film

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  4. Scott W

    Hi Sara. You mentioned the portra films are balanced for mix light. I would have thought they were daylight balanced. Sounds like I need to read the portra data sheets. When you are shooting in open shade, which it seems you do, are you using any filtration over the lens to warm up the image to get it closer to daylight color balance? Based on your comment about portra being balanced for mix light, I’m guessing you don’t. I remember “back in the day” using a Minolta color meter to dial in my color correction for correction via wratten color fillters over the lens. Maybe its being compensated for in the scan process, which wouldn’t be possible in a purely optical wet process? Do you ever make prints via a pure optical/wet process?

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  5. slvrscoobie

    a: “without fear of using the wrong white balance, or over exposing.” Really? I’d be much more worried about both of those with film than a CR2 file.
    b: They are Sensors. Not Censors. Spellcheck fail.

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    • Sara

      Hi there, this is Sara Story.
      You mentioned that you’d be more concerned about over exposure and bad white balance on film then on digital. I’d like to elaborate on my original comment about not being worried about over exposure and white balance on film. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with shooting film, so forgive me if this information is un helpful. The new Portra films, by Kodak, are balanced for mixed lighting. They do incredibly well under extreme lighting situations, unlike with digital. I understand we can adjust things and fix them in post with a RAW file, I personally, enjoy the simplicity, of not having to do that. More power to those who enjoy tinkering with their images in post. Professional films are also designed with over exposure in mind, in fact, most pro films do better when over exposed by 1 + stop or more. The latitude in film makes it hard to loose details in the highlights when exposed properly. Woops, in regards to my typo, we are all human. ;)

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    • Tanya Smith

      Sorry about the typo. My bad.

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  6. beeveedee

    I agree with what she said about film’s color and contrast, and less processing. I think I have yet to see a digital image that has the bright color and contrast of a rich, well-exposed Fujichrome transparency. What I don’t understand is why the digital cameras can’t seem to achieve the same thing, why it seems every digital shot needs some post-processing to give it some oomph.

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    • Tanya Smith

      I wonder the same thing. Hopefully the technology will improve with time.

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  7. Mike

    I recently received a Contax G2 after shooting some senior portraits. I ran some Kodak Gold 400 from the local Walgreens through it and I was very impressed with how much sharper the images looked; not to mention no need to correct white balance in Photoshop. I have a roll of Fuji Superia 400 (yes, another cheap non-pro film) in there now and I can’t wait to see them developed!

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  8. Jon

    Great article! I love shooting film. I think everyone should try it. I’ve found that it helps me remember what it was like when photography was a hobby, before I had to shoot digital every day for clients. It’s not better or worse, just different, and that’s exactly what I need these days.
    A small correction, Canon made the 7NE in 2004, SIX years after releasing the EOS-3 in 1998. The EOS 1v was released in 2000 and still made as recently as 2012. The 3 is a great camera but hardly the last one made.

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  9. Michael G.

    I’ve been shooting film going back to the 1980’s. During my years at Academy of Art University, film was still mandatory. That was around 2003. But that changed quick. I primarily shoot digital, but I still have my film cameras. What keeps me from shooting film more than digital is the cost factor. Since it’s no longer mainstream. it’s expensive getting it process. I use to do the darkroom thing, but those days are past for me. But I do miss it and the look of fiber prints. So much dynamic range.

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  10. Michael G.

    I’ve been shooting film going back to the 1980’s. During my years at Academy of Art University, film was still mandatory. That was around 2003. But that changed quick. I primarily shoot digital, but I still have my film cameras. What keeps me from shooting film more than digital is the cost factor. Since it’s no longer mainstream. it’s costly getting it process. I use to do the darkroom thing, but those days are past for me. But I do miss the fiber prints. So much dynamic range.

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    • Tanya Smith

      I don’t miss the darkroom either. I never did like the smell of the chemicals…

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  11. kokopapaya

    Great article! :)

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  12. Kris Hartley

    Yes, I will definitely shoot more film, especially now that I know where to send it to be processed! I shot film up until 2005, and I still would if I could afford to get it processed more.

    Thanks for a great article!
    Kris

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    • Tanya Smith

      So glad this article could be of help to you. Where to get film processed these days was one of my first questions, too!

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  13. Connor MacKinney

    I purchased a Nikon FM10 off of Ebay for 70 dollars this summer. Since you can find film SLR’s for so cheap now a days I highly recommend giving film a try. I can’t say I would use film for everything but I do love the results. I sent my film to Photoworks in San Francisco and they did a wonderful job processing and scanning my film.

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    • Tanya Smith

      Thanks for sharing. I think shooting on film every once in awhile is such a good exercise. I agree, I probably wouldn’t use it for everything, but it’s fun to use every once in awhile.

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  14. Larry Sanders

    Just picked up a old Nikon FG tonight and I’m going to give it a run through this weekend on my model shoots. I can’t wait!!

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