Does shooting with film really slow you down?

One of the most common phrases I heard from people using film is that it slows you down when photographing on the street. But is it true? In this digital era, technologies have changed the way we capture images with our camera. Gone were the days when the photographer could just grab the camera and a few rolls of films, and just head out to shoot. Preparation right now starts from the night before you go to bed, by charging your camera batteries and formatting your memory cards. If we look at readiness, film photography is faster than digital.

I used to photograph 300-500 images with my Sony A7s on a weekend photo walk. Right now, the range is between 10-24 images with my film camera. That doesn’t mean I’m slow while photographing; I’m just more precise with what I want to capture that’s all. In fact, I realised I’m shooting faster on the street with my film camera. My observation and reaction time improved because I knew that I only had one chance to get the shot. When shooting with the digital camera, I tend to “shoot first, decide later.” With film, I have to make that decision as fast as possible, to adjust the exposure and click the shutter or move on to the next scene; a split second will determine if you get the photograph. 

The cost of the film itself, processing and scanning are probably a burden to some photographers, a possible reason why it is slowing them down. I used to have friends who took one month to finish one roll of film. During a photo walk, they would bring along two cameras, digital and film, and they would take the same shot with both cameras. I don’t quite understand the philosophy behind it, but I reckon if the negative turns out wrong, at least he still has a backup image with his digital camera. So if costing is a factor why you are not pressing that shutter, or in some way slowing you down, you probably don’t know why you are using one in the first place. The fastest option will be to stick with your digital camera, and VSCO presets.

When photographing on the street with my Sony A7s, I realised that auto-focus and back-button focus aren’t fast enough for me, so I switched to manual focus at a later stage of using it. I had better hit-rate when I made that switch. So when I was using the film camera, I have no issue focusing fast with the manual lens. Whether it’s zone-focusing or using hyperfocus distance, it didn’t slow me down in making sure my subject was in focus. So if you are planning to move into film photography, I suggest you start practising manual focus now with your digital camera. Don’t blame it on the medium just because you are not as good as you think.

If you browse through YouTube for documentary video of street photographers in the past, it’s not difficult to find some video of the photographer at work shooting on the street. Whether it’s Joel Meyerowitz or Garry Winogrand, slowing down isn’t an option. In fact, they were probably shooting faster than any photographers nowadays using the digital camera. You got to understand the exposure and your gear inside out, with lots of practice, you should be able to react faster to any situation. Since you also can’t preview your shot from a film camera, you won’t be wasting time chimping on the street.

I can think of more reasons why shooting film on the street shouldn’t slow you down. Just remember that before this digital era, photographers were shooting film for a living. In wedding photography, reportage, documentary photography and much more, no one complains it slow them down. My conclusion, slowing down means you are indecisive with your observation and reaction, which isn’t a good habit in street photography, you just need more practice.

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