Monday, June 17, 2013

How to Find Your 'Voice' as a Film Photographer

If you’re still shooting film, don’t worry: you’re not the only one. You may just be getting started, transferring over from your digital camera, or you may be a wizened advocate of film. Whichever is the case, film photography is catching a huge second wind as photographers - both novice and professional - have begun to realize the diverse images they can capture on film. Unlike digital image capture, which allows photographers to take multiple shots at little to no expense, film requires mastery over the moment.

Today, we’re taking a look at how to achieve just that.

Bringing Voice to Film Photography

If someone were to describe your work, what would they say? Would there be a consistency in the description, or would it vary from piece to piece? Finding your voice as a film photographer doesn’t mean pigeonholing yourself to a topic or genre, but rather allows you to develop a consistency in style that acts as your “signature,” as unique as the John Hancock you use every time you sign a receipt.

With digital, it’s very easy to point and click, and retrospectively pick images that represent your unique creative intention. With film, you need to be much more clear on that intention as you plan your project and enter a shoot; rolls of film are as finite as opportunities for a good shot.

Film Photography Projects: Immersion or Voice?

As immersed as you may be in a project, that doesn’t necessarily mean the end product will be in line with your signature style, especially if you don’t yet have one. However, commingling involvement and voice is a mistake many photographers make. Just because your heart and soul is in a project doesn’t mean that it properly represents your heart and soul.

Making a project the essence of “you” requires less intentionality than instinct, according to award-winning photographer Michael Crouser. His pictures are a reflection of himself because he intends them to be. Perfecting that voice is a journey that comes with much trial and error.

So to start your journey to finding your voice through film photography, learn the basics. Formal training at photography school can really accelerate this process, but it’s not impossible by any means to teach yourself the fundamentals. Shoot color negative film, as it can be developed inexpensively almost anywhere, and stick to 35mm film. Use film for landscapes, stills, plants and statues, the stuff it captures best. Once you get the technique down, start experimenting. You’ll more than likely find that unique signature style without trying through your experiments.

Inside the Darkroom

A big part of film photography is what happens when you develop your images. While digital photography relies on Photoshop and other photo editing software, film requires the mastery of various techniques such as toning, dodging and burning. Sometimes what happens in the darkroom is as much a part of your film voice as is the moment of image capture itself.

Much like experimenting with a camera and image capture, you should experiment within the darkroom. However, learning the basics and techniques behind darkroom development is key. There are several quality online resources that walk film photographers through the steps of developing 35mm film, and even a few that give information on how to set up a darkroom. Before trying lofty experiments, master the basics and iterate from there.

Film to Digital Photography

In this day and age, many photographers have to convert their images to digital if they want to share or sell. The digital conversion process can be fairly simple; simply purchase, lease or pay for photo scanner use. Many photo scanners translate film to high quality digital images and do not require the use of photo editing software. Once they’re uploaded, you can showcase your work online as part of a digitized portfolio, or to sell.

Checklist to Finding Your Film Photography Voice:
  1. Master basic film photography techniques through practice, practice, practice
  2. Don’t spend tons of money on expensive film or equipment- stick to a 35mm and shoot color negative film so it can be easily and inexpensively developed
  3. Learn how to use a darkroom and different development techniques to add more depth and personality to your work
  4. Experiment- trial and error is key to developing and finding your voice
The goal of finding your voice is to make your work consistent, but more importantly, to make it stand out of the crowd.
Have you found your voice? If so, how did you do it? Let us know in the comments below!

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