What can we learn from shooting film?

· 3.March.2018

What if you could shoot less and get better images at the same time? Maybe slowing down, shooting less and thinking more is the smart move. For those of us who use film and digital, you will know how much using different cameras can change the way we shoot. This leads me an idea – what can we learn from shooting film?

This blog post is not about how film is great or how digital photography is killing the art form or any discussion on which is better, rather it opens up a discussion about how different cameras can change the way we shoot.

We can shoot fast on digital cameras but we don’t have to. We have instant feedback but we don’t have to be controlled by it. We have so many tools to ‘help’ us when sometimes we just need a bit of time to get on with the actual photography and leave the tech behind. Sometimes we can trust our instincts and trust our own creative process.

The image below is one of my favorite images from the day I spent with Sam and, in fact, is now one of the few images I have, due to a battery failure on the day, so we just finished up shooting film. We both had so much fun and it did change the way we worked together.  Using the film camera felt like we had more of a physical process than normal.

Somehow it felt like more soul, more story and more everything compared to the digital camera I was using a few moments before.  It might sound odd, but I liked the restrictions and the way using film made me think.  It was then that I had a ‘lightbulb moment’ and the reason for this post. When I shoot film, I slow everything down. I think more, I plan more and I work harder.

If I like the way film forces my workflow, why don’t I shoot like this digitally?

Shooting film is not an option for many reasons. As a hobby it can be very fun but for work, it’s not going to be viable unless financially you are being compensated for the extra time and effort.  My thought process is to just try and shoot with the same mindset, that leads me to my little mental checklist that hopefully will mean I capture fewer frames with a higher hit rate per shoot.


Proper planning will enable me to be more confident knowing I have covered all the bases. For example, if I am working in a particular location, I need to check the weather, the sunset and sunrise times, and how busy a location is going to be for my shoot.  What are the elements that can affect my shoot and how can I solve them before my shoot even starts?

Work with good people:

Working with good models, makeup and styling is going to be one of the best ways I can ensure a better hit rate. Being the least qualified member of a team will let you see how other people work and hopefully help raise your game to a higher standard.

Look, look again, final look & shoot.

Many of us have heard the saying – You can look without seeing.  This tip is about looking with a different intention before you press the shutter button. Try running your eye around the edge of the frame, run your eyes along the lines of the horizon lines and the verticals. Look at your leading lines, look at the colors, look for things you would remove in post-production. Look again at the clouds, the wind and think of the comments your mentors would be saying about the images you are about to capture.

Don’t rush, photography is not a race.

Is this the right moment?  If yes, take the photo, review and repeat. Just because your camera can shoot at 11 frames per second does not mean you have to. Slowing down gives you time to plan ahead – you need to focus and take hold of the environment.  This is especially key for landscape photographers, but the same can be said for portrait photographers and street photographers alike. Never rush a shoot, never rush an image and never rush away from a location when you don’t have too. Take some time and some thought – as the image below shows – being at the right place, at the right time with the right lens can make your job much easier.

The other side of the coin is learning to be happy with the images we create. Shooting fewer images can be daunting at first until we become far more confident that we have got the best images we could before finishing up or leaving a location. In reality, the only thing that will help here is an experience in your subject. Knowing you have ‘the shot’ is something that you will feel out with time.

Sometimes, you may only have 30 seconds to capture an image with a subject but this does not mean your prep has to take 30 seconds too.

In my area of specialty (portraits), most of the time during a shoot I can be talking to the client or subject. It can be very common that an hour passed and a few cups of tea are drunk before the camera even comes out of the bag. When it feels like the time is right and the nerves are settled, we grab one or two images. We get the shot and the camera goes away again as the nerves start to set in once more. There is no point in shooting images we are not going to use. I must say, this was not the case with Olivia on her first ever time in front of the camera.

Sometimes it can take a while to get your lighting right.

I have never used gel lighting in a serious way, so I knew that it would take me a while to capture something that I liked. It can take a few hours to get into a flow and work out how everything looks.  For this shoot with Sarah, it took about two hours to work on the first lighting setup. After the initial setup we just changed the color of the lights to finish up the set.

Don’t rush a shoot and don’t rush your prep.

As a summary – the challenge is this…

Spending more time on your prep can really boost your images. More time with your camera in your hand does not always result in better images. Here are my five top tips on getting a better hit rate:

  1.  Planning: Talk to people, ask questions, do some research.
  2. Work with a team: Be the least qualified person on your team.
  3. Take advice: Speak to your peers and try and work on their advice.
  4. Shoot less : Don’t take unnecessary shots; if you have the image, move on.
  5. Be confident: Photography can be stressful. Rise above it and be proud of your work.


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