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What Is Film

Lesson 1 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

1. What Is Film

Next Lesson: Types Of Film

Lesson Info

What Is Film

I am so excited to be here, I love anything that captures light. So in the world of photography, I'm not one of those people who was like, "Oh I was a film person and I've stayed a film person," or, "I was a digital person and I've gone back to film." If it captures light I absolutely love it. I also just love the medium of photography and the study of photography as a passion. So whether we go back and look at the earliest days of Talbot, we come through modern photographers and the power of Instagram, there's such an amazing power in the photograph and that's really what kind of started my interest really in being a photographer. Going back to when I was a kid, I, every Christmas, because I was the kid who lost everything you got the year before, so I always had a new camera every Christmas, starting with my little Kodak 110 and working through. Really just kind of always have been interested in the capture of life and the capture through the camera. But my interest in film was becau...

se when I started there was no digital, I mean, there was digital, but it was like $85, and I didn't have $85,000 as a 13 year old, and so, the film was really kind of the entrance for that. And then, I spent 20 years in the high-tech industry. One of my first jobs was actually tech support for Adobe Photoshop, and, so I was enamored in the digital space and the last thing I wanted to do was come home and sit in front of a computer. Because I had already done that for eight, ten hours a day. So film was kind of my escape and that film photography was my escape, and I really just loved the experience of being in the dark room, I loved the experience and the tactile nature of being able to touch the things I was working on, and I think that was born in part because of the computer industry. Everything I did was somewhere virtual, it was somewhere and I didn't have that response, so that's really where my passion for film started. Since that time I've gone on and immersed digitally. I love digital photography; I love the ease, I love the power, I love the tools and technology that surround that. But over that course as that transition started for me I also fell in love with the true history of photography from a processing stand point, and so the wet plates and the daguerreotypes, and collotypes and all the different things we had in the 1800's and early 1900's just fascinated me as a photographer. And so it was a chance for me to take my film work and apply it in a way I hadn't before, and so I was able to come back and find these historical processes, and so that's really where my heart and passion lied. Being able to blend that digitally was great, but I also wanted to continue to use my film, so that's really kind of where the piece pulled. In my teaching, because of my love for film at the photographic center, I teach from the very beginning introductions through some of the most advanced black and white. And so for today, I've decided we're gonna slice a little bit out of all of those, so we're gonna talk about some very basic pieces and we're gonna go through some pretty advance pieces, and then we're actually gonna take a look at some historical printing processes towards the end of the day, which I'm really excited about. So, when we talk about film, [Giggling] most of the people when they think about film they think about, "Oh it's that thing when you go into a room and it smells funny." Film actually doesn't smell funny. The chemistry we use, some of it does smell, and we'll talk about that in the next segment, but film has a really rich history. When we started working in photography we had glass plates and metal plates, and we basically had to coat them and they were exposed to a silver nitrate and that created the latent image. Over time, it got easier; we didn't have to carry around hundreds of pounds of plates, hundreds of pieces of glass. We imaged with a collotype, which is a "C," which is different than a kallitype, there was a collotype, which is a paper-based piece. And then in 1908, Eastman Kodak released the Brownie Camera which had roll film in it. And it was really kind of cool processing because Kodak sent you a Brownie Camera and then you returned the camera to Kodak and they took the film out, processed the film, put in the next roll, and sent it back to you so you then had your pictures and then the camera with the film loaded. That film was actually known as "safety film" because the film that was actually on the celluloid at the time was nitrate-based and it was actually flammable and it would catch on fire, and it was what they used in motion pictures at the time, so this "safety film" was a way for us not to have super flammable film. So there was this whole piece going on in the evolution of the actual transition from the different materials we actually created film on. Around the 1910's, 1920's film actually stayed pretty stable so there were some small evolutions to film, like color, that came later, but in the black and white world we were pretty much had the same kind of film for decades and decades. What shifted in there were little elements within that emulsion that gave each film its own unique characteristic, its own unique property. And what's really cool about that is, as artist, we can take the power of the possibilities of those films and really shape our own vision of what we want to create. And so, when we choose different color films because they have a certain color cast, a certain color aesthetic, we do the same things with black and white film. And so when you talk to people when they first get started in film, they just pick the film either that was cheapest, which is fine, or their friend said, "Here's the film you should use, this is the best," and it's really not about the best. We're gonna talk about the characteristics of film that let us pick and choose a film that actually matches our aesthetic. Because that's really, at the end of the day, what we want is we want a film that allows our vision of what we think the photograph to be, to hold.

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Ratings and Reviews


I am really fond of Daniel Gregory as a teacher. He does a great job. To me, his enthousiasm, his passion for and his dedication to film photography are infectuous. It's great that CreativeLive makes place for film photography and for such a pro teaching it. It can never do so enough for me. Thanks. I am a fan.

Texas Beauty Photography

Great class!! It's jam packed with usable information for anyone wanting to shoot, process, and print black and white images. There is so much detail presented in this class, I can practically guarantee you'll come back to it again and again. I successfully used this class to capture b/w photographs, process the negatives, capture them digitally, and finally, produce beautiful prints that I'm proud to show my friends and clients. This may well be one of the best classes on all of CreativeLive. Highly recommended!


This is an excellent course and Daniel is a great teacher! I'm coming back to shooting film and darkroom work after 20 years away. I have some wonderful film cameras sitting in my cabinet and I decided I wanted to use them--so I have decided to shoot BW with film, and shoot color with my digital cameras. I will develop the BW film myself and scan and print digitally. This class is perfect for me!

Student Work