my start, lessons in film

I am the least qualified person to write this post, but I've been getting some questions about the nuts and bolts of this film process, so I thought I'd give a little bit of my back story in switching to film and try to answer the few questions that I could. They were the same questions I had just a few short months ago.

I know I've told you guys about what a hard summer I had. Violet died. Physically I wasn't doing well. Lots of migraines and a host of other problems. Added to that, I'd been in a photographic slump for months. Feeling lost and like I'd lost my creative spark. I attended a workshop at a beautiful farm in West Virginia in August still feeling stuck. The workshop didn't help much, but at a dinner the first night, I met wedding photographer Elisa Bricker and her husband. They were drawn to my little Fuji (no one else was!), and as we talked, I learned that they shoot all their weddings entirely in film.

Even though I have friends who are compelled by film, no one I knew was shooting much, and it was fascinating to hear from people who are doing it on the regular. I came home, still stuck, still in a funk, but starting to think about a project that had been languishing. What could I do that would make it feel different? What if I shot it on film?

You know then how Christine stepped in but my friend's Kim and Jackie stepped in with all sorts of advice too. I read and read and read and joined forums and stalked Flickr and Instagram, and it's all trial and error from there. Here are some of the nuts and bolts questions I've had and you've had that I feel qualified to answer.

They still make film? Where do you get it? Yes! They still make film. Sadly, many film stocks are disappearing, but many still exist. My first pack of film came from Rite Aid, and my local Walgreens carries it too. These consumer grade films, like Kodak Ultramax or Fuji Superia, I actually quite like, and all of the above photos are taken with one or the other of them. If you want to step up into pro-grade films, such as Kodak Portra or Fuji 400H, you can turn to B&H Photo or even Amazon. I'm starting to use more pro-grade films as I gain confidence, but honestly? It's pretty freeing to stick with the cheaper, consumer stock.

Where do you get your film developed? This is interesting. Believe it or not, a lot of Walgreen's will still develop your 35mm film. It can be kind of dicey though to entrust your precious film to a Walgreen's tech for development. Oftentimes their chemicals are old and their skills aren't advanced. Not always. I've actually always had great luck when I've been able to get my film developed at Walgreen's. If the machine's working that is.

There are also lots of independent labs dedicated to film development cropping up across the country. Lately, I've been sending my film to the FINDlab, in Utah. You can pay a bit extra for feedback, which, at this point in my journey, can be incredibly helpful. There are numerous other labs, including Richard Photo Lab and Indie Film Lab. Too many to name here. The key, I'm coming to understand, is to develop a relationship. I'm working on that with FINDlab, and then I'll test the water with other labs. Maybe. I'm pretty loyal.

How do you edit film pictures? When my film rolls are returned to me, whether it's from FIND or from Walgreen's, they come either on a disk (Walgreen's) or in a link to a downloadable file (FIND) where the scans are waiting as JPEGS. In both cases, I have the option for prints, but right now I prefer to choose which photos to print. Once I have the JPEGS in hand, I can do whatever I want with them. I can edit for exposure or composition if I need. Truth is, I do much less editing with my film images. I take fewer shots to begin with, and I need to do less with them. There's a lot of straightening because I think I'm crooked, but in general, my editing time has decreased considerably. I'm learning how different film stocks behave (some turn yellow when underexposed, for example), but the goal is to correct those issues in camera, not at the computer. The goal for all of this is at the camera, not the computer. And I still have a ton to learn.

How can you not look at the back of the camera? Well, to be honest, in the beginning I did once or twice. ;) But I've gotten used to not knowing and having to trust myself in the process. I think if I did a percentage to percentage comparison, I keep as many film photos, if not more than I did digital.

How long does it take to get your photos, and how can you stand not seeing them right away? I actually have mixed feelings on this one. I've found that I'm quite good at deferred gratification. Better than I thought, really. If I drop a roll at Walgreen's (and to be honest, I'm only doing that in a pinch anymore), I'll have the photos by the next day. When I send photos to the FINDlab, it's generally a 10-day turn around. I'll get an email once they receive my package and then the waiting begins! We talk about it feeling like Christmas once you get the email saying your scans are ready and it really does. For me, it's still a mix of anticipation and terror. But the wait is good. If you've sent a lot of rolls you only half remember what's on them, making the opening of the scans full of unexpected delight.

The whole process has been full of unexpected delight, really.

If I've left something off, please let me know. Like I said, I'm not really qualified, but I'm starting a class next week and once it's over I can teach you anything! Har har! Oh, and that project that got this all started? It still languishes. I'm on to other things.