Why do documentary photography on film?


Shooting a long-term project, whether personal or professional, is a wonderful way to explore areas of photography that you might not have considered before. I know photographers who have experimented with different types of filters, post-processing techniques, actual shooting methods (long exposure, panning, unknown/conventional focal lengths), etc., as their projects evolve.

The time that can be spent on a long-term project is definitely worth it, using early experimentation to establish a cohesive aesthetic that can dominate the rest of the project.

In my job, I’ve found shooting my long-term projects on film to be incredibly rewarding and a truly different experience than shooting my more immediate assignments digitally. It was kind of a revelation to me that not all reporting work has to be instantaneous. My early work and the majority of my client-based work requires a very short turnaround – fashion, news reporting, weddings – all benefit from being shot digitally and delivered for publication within days.

However, a lot of my work revolves around situations that can be handled with a little more calm and consideration. My long term BTS projects in production and fashion, my exploration of UK festival culture and my street photography in particular are now mostly shot on film. Other projects like my work at conventions I will have both a digital camera and a film camera as some images require faster posting while others can be set aside and reviewed at the time. to come up.

For deep dives like these into specific topics and projects, I think the film is a wonderful decision, both for the final aesthetic and the workflow during filming.

The nature of the movie keeps me focused on what’s happening now and what might happen next. I can’t worry about the picture I just took, I have to constantly focus on the picture I’m about to take. I can’t review them at the moment, and ultimately I’m not overwhelmed with post-processing, so I can focus on other areas of the project as well as my other work.

When it comes to scanning and editing, I can dedicate an entire day to the process, really giving the images the time they deserve, rather than relegating editing to an all-night activity as is usually the case with my digital files.

For projects involving travel, I find my film setup to be far less burdensome than my digital cameras, which require me to be connected to electricity to charge batteries and hard drives to back up, which I don’t have may not always be accessible in remote areas. .

Without the requirement for a quick turnaround, the benefits of film really offer a lot to a long-term project. If it’s a personal endeavor, filming can help your mindset to take things more seriously and develop a better understanding of the process in addition to the story you’re telling in the footage.

The “process” also becomes more linear, which promotes a better sequence of work: research, film, develop, organize, publish. When I work with digital, I feel like my process is more like – research, shoot, edit, research some more, shoot more, edit, etc. It’s more disparate and messy; less focused and with more room for distraction.

Film has a more archival-friendly workflow, and the process of reviewing negatives through contact sheets and scans can help develop a project’s direction. The physicality of the medium is a great asset when it comes to final stages such as printing and assembly.

The film offers consistency in results, which in a long-term project can be essential for bringing together potentially disconnected footage. Selecting a singular film/look to shoot a project is worth, and it may mean experimenting to begin with before finding something that fits the subject matter.

There are plenty of options in the movie to cover an ISO range while maintaining the same aesthetic. For example, Portrait can currently be used in 160, 400 and 800, and the push/pull capability means you can cover virtually any color scenario with it. Tri-X is known to be incredibly versatile and can be pushed and pulled to meet almost any need. Personally if I’m looking to cover a range of black and white options I enjoy Delta 100/400/3200 at the moment and find my results to be consistent across these different emulsions as long as my exposure methods are equally coherent.

I think these reasons are one of the best arguments for using film for street photography, which is arguably one of the longest projects most photographers will undertake. Rarely is there a rush in street photography in both creating and publishing content. Without this urgency, you have the freedom to focus on what matters in terms of the job, the scene, and understanding the experience you are participating in.

As with any methodology in photography, this is a subjective matter, and while I hope I can encourage a few of you to try film for the first time or incorporate it in a way that which you hadn’t thought of before, I know the movie approach won’t work for everyone. Although I try to encourage people to try a bit of everything, as you never know what you may discover, no one knows your photography better than you.

So when it comes to making a decision as important as this, you almost always have to rely on your own experience and do what is right for what you have known and understood best, and perhaps more importantly, what you like.


About the Author: Simon King is a London-based photographer and photojournalist, currently working on a number of long-term documentary and street photography projects. The opinions expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author. You can follow his work on Instagram and you can read more of his thoughts on day-to-day photography at his personal blog. Simon also teaches a short course in street photography at UAL, which can be read at here.

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