In the age of digital photography, where we can shoot thousands of images without worrying about the cost of film or processing, it’s easy to forget the joys and challenges of shooting with 35mm film. Yet, for many photographers, shooting film is not just a nostalgic indulgence, but a creative and technical choice that offers a unique set of benefits.

The Aesthetic Qualities of Film

One of the most obvious and enduring benefits of shooting with 35mm film is the aesthetic qualities it imparts to the images. From the soft and velvety tones of black-and-white film to the rich and vibrant colors of slide film, film has a unique and varied range of looks that digital cannot replicate. Here are some of the key aesthetic qualities of film that make it a desirable medium for many photographers:

Film Grain

Unlike the smooth and pixelated look of digital images, film has a natural and organic grain that adds texture and depth to the images. Depending on the type and speed of the film, the grain can be fine and subtle or coarse and gritty, and can be manipulated during development and printing to achieve different effects.

Dynamic Range

Film has a wider dynamic range than digital, which means it can capture a greater range of tones and contrast without losing detail in the highlights or shadows. This makes film especially suited for high-contrast scenes, such as landscapes, architecture, and portraits.

Color Saturation

Film has a unique and subjective color palette that can vary depending on the brand, type, and age of the film, as well as the lighting conditions and development process. Some films are known for their warm and earthy tones, while others for their cool and pastel hues. Whatever the color, film has a richness and depth that can be hard to replicate in digital.

Sharpness and Detail

While film may not have the same level of resolution as digital, it has a natural and organic sharpness and detail that can be enhanced by the quality of the lens, the exposure, and the development process. Film can also handle subtle nuances of texture, pattern, and contrast that can be lost in digital.


The Technical Aspects of Film Photography

Beyond the aesthetic qualities of film, shooting with 35mm film requires a different set of technical skills compared to digital photography. From exposure to development to printing, film photography involves a more deliberate and hands-on approach that can be both challenging and rewarding. Here are some of the key technical aspects of film photography:


One of the most critical aspects of film photography is exposure, or the amount of light that reaches the film. Unlike digital, which can handle a range of ISO settings without much noise, film has a fixed sensitivity that requires careful consideration of the lighting conditions, the aperture, and the shutter speed. Overexposed or underexposed film can result in flat or muddy images that lack detail and contrast.


After the film is exposed, it needs to be developed in a chemical bath that turns the latent image into a visible one. The development process can greatly affect the final look of the images, from the contrast and tonality to the grain and sharpness. Developing film also requires a certain level of skill and knowledge, as different films and developers may require different times, temperatures, and agitation techniques.


Once the film is developed, it needs to be printed onto paper or scanned into digital format. Printing film requires a darkroom or a specialized lab that can handle the enlarger, the paper, and the chemicals needed to produce a final print. Printing can also allow for further manipulation of the image, such as dodging and burning, cropping, and toning.

The Psychological and Emotional Aspects of Film Photography

While the technical and aesthetic aspects of film photography are important, what often draws photographers to film is the psychological and emotional experience it offers. Shooting with film requires a slower and more deliberate pace, a deeper connection to the subject and the environment, and a greater sense of anticipation and uncertainty.


Shooting with film requires a certain level of mindfulness, or the ability to be fully present and aware of the moment. Unlike digital, where we can shoot without much thought and review the images instantly, film requires us to slow down, compose the image, and wait for the right moment to press the shutter. This mindfulness can not only improve the technical aspects of our photography, but also our mental and emotional well-being, as it allows us to be more attentive and receptive to our surroundings and our own feelings.


Film photography also offers a deeper connection to the subject and the environment. Because we have a limited number of shots on a roll of film, we need to be more selective and intentional about what we photograph. This can lead to a more meaningful and intimate relationship with our subjects, as we take the time to observe and connect with them on a deeper level.


Another benefit of shooting with film is the sense of anticipation and uncertainty it creates. Because we can’t review the images instantly, we need to wait until the film is developed to see the results. This can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, as we wonder if we got the exposure, the focus, and the composition right. But it can also be a source of inspiration and creativity, as we learn to trust our instincts and embrace the unexpected.


Finally, shooting with film can evoke a sense of nostalgia and romanticism that can be hard to replicate in digital. The texture, the color, and the imperfections of film can transport us to a different time and place, and create a sense of nostalgia and longing for a simpler and more authentic era. This nostalgia can also inspire us to experiment with different styles and techniques, and to create images that reflect our own unique vision and personality.


Final Thoughts

Shooting with 35mm film offers a wide range of benefits, from the aesthetic qualities of film to the technical aspects of exposure, development, and printing, to the psychological and emotional aspects of mindfulness, connection, anticipation, and nostalgia. Whether you are a seasoned professional or a curious beginner, shooting with film can challenge and enrich your photography, and help you discover new forms of creativity and expression. So, why not give it a try and see what film can do for you?

By Iye