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Why Film

Lesson 2 from: Introduction to Film Photography

Sandra Coan

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Lesson Info

2. Why Film

Lesson Info

Why Film

I get asked it by my clients, I even got asked it here, when I came here and we first started talking about doing these classes. It's an important question, and honestly, it's a fair question, because on paper film has a lot of drawbacks, it does. A lot of limitations. It's slow, it's expensive, you're at a fixed ISO, there's no like lookin' at the back of your camera, make sure everything's goin' okay. You have to wait a long time, sometimes weeks before you get any kind of feedback or you can see what you're doing right? So that can be hard. So I get it, I understand why people ask this question. So I just wanna take a few minutes to address these limitations. I feel like, for me anyway, working within this the limitations here have made me a better photographer and I know I hear that from film photographers all the time. I wanna share that with you really quick, and then I just wanna tell you a few more things that I love about shooting film okay? Slowness and expense. Film is slow ...

and it is expensive, I'm not gonna lie to you. (laughs) It's true. Especially if you shoot it like I do, for your job. So I work primarily with little kids, and families, and when I used to work, my old system was people would come into the studio, and I would start shooting from the moment they walked through the door and it would be nonstop for 45 minutes, you know. And I felt like I had to capture everything, every little thing. You know if you're working with a kid, every little action, every little nuance, every little face, all this, and it was like, it almost felt frantic. Like I'd be done at the end of a session and I would just be exhausted, because it's just constant. Now, because of the slowness of film, it doesn't go that way anymore. I shoot medium format, so depending on the camera I'm working with, I have between 10 and 16 frames on a roll, which means I'm having to stop, change out my roll and all of that. So just with that, it has built in these breaks in my sessions so that people come in now, we get to work, I take 16 frames, we take a break. I change my film, toddler eats some goldfish crackers or whatever toddlers do, but you know there's a built in break, and it's nice. Actually it's changed the energy of my sessions. So instead of feeling like I just have to capture everything and then hope I get something good and go back after the fact and look and see what I've got, I'm slowing down and I'm intentionally making an image. Instead of just like oh god, I hope I got somethin' good. It's intentional, which is awesome. Expensive, yes. (laughs) Film is expensive. I actually ran my numbers a while ago, when I was workin' on my business stuff, and I figured out, okay with the film I buy, with the lab I use, with the products I give my clients, how many clients I take a month, I worked out all of that, all of that kind of stuff, figured out that it costs me $1.81 every time I hit the shutter. That's like a cup of coffee right? Like my brain works in units of coffee, but right, that's expensive. And again, that's something that I take into account when I'm working. I'm not going in and taking 20 photos of the same thing, because it's costing me $1.81 every time I hit that shutter, and honestly there's no need. That is a bad habit that I know I personally got into when I was shooting digital that I don't do anymore. I'll take one frame, maybe two frames of something, if I'm shooting a family, in case somebody blinks, and I'm done. So this is what I mean. I love this image, this little person I've been photographing since she was born, but this was one of the first sessions that I had in my studio where I was incorporating film into it. This was the shoot that changed it for me, because normally I would have a one year old, she was one at this time, come in and like I said, I'd be shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting, shooting. I would've taken 20 frames leading up to this moment, and then 20 frames after, you know what I mean? You just go and you get every little thing and then you cull it down, but instead I was shooting this with my Contax, manual focus, and it's like being a wildlife photographer, right? Like you hunker down, and you wait for it, and I knew that this was coming. It's like, you sometimes kind of feel things. She was playing, we were having this fun time, and instead of taking a gazillion frames, I took one, and we got this, which the parents love, I love, and I got it back and it was like, okay well that's it, this is what I need to do. It felt so different, I feel like it's helped me, this might sound silly, but almost with my instincts. About being able to feel moments just before they're happening, like I'm more connected to my clients, does that make sense? Fixed ISO. Yes. (laughs) This is a limitation of film for sure. So depending on the stock you're using, you're stuck. I usually shoot 400 speed film, and you're stuck there. There's no bumping your ISO up to whatever, 6400 or whatever mid shoot because you loose your light. You gotta make it work, and this limitation of film really has changed my work for the better, more than anything else, because what it did is it forced me to learn how to see and use light in a way that I would not have done if I were still shooting with my digital camera. It's made me a better photographer. Things I love about film. I could do this all day, but I won't. I actually just love the film, the actual film stocks. So like I said in the intro, there is no universal standard for film, there's not. Each little, each film stock has its own little way of seeing. Its own color profile, its own interpretation of reds or greens or whatever, grain detail, it's all very nuanced, and I think that that's fun. I think it's like you get to make an informed decision as an artist on what you know about the film and how you're gonna use that in your work to create the image that you wanna create. I know it's really popular nowadays to buy Photoshop presets or Lightroom presets, I always tell people, a preset's just a roll of film. That's what it is, it comes with its own little characteristics, its own way of doing things, and so when you learn those, you can use that in your work, which I think is really fun. I always think of it sort of like the way, I'm not a painter, but like the way a painter must decide to choose oils or watercolors right? They're both paint, but they're both gonna give you a different look, it's the same kind of thing. It's the art of it. The cameras, the cameras are really fun. (laughs) They're just pretty. Like we have the beautiful Rolleiflex up here for film week, that's my camera, and they're fun, they're gorgeous, they look different. When you are, it's gonna set your work apart, especially if you're doing this for your job, because your work looks different, because your cameras are different. Like let's say for example, you are a newborn photographer in Seattle, and there's like a million other newborn photographers in Seattle, and when everybody's using the same kind of cameras, everybody's work kind of looks the same. I am fairly confident that I am one of the only, if not the only, newborn photographer in Seattle, who shoots newborns with a Rolleiflex right? My work looks different. It stands out, and that helps me stand out, helps my business stand out, plus it's super fun, like Rolleiflex. I know I already talked about this, but you guys, this is huge. It has freed me from my computer. Now for real, so even though back in the early days of me switching to digital, I knew right away that I needed to hire somebody to come and do my post production, my editing. I still had to cull all of that, so I'd go into a family session and I'd take 500 photos or whatever, because I don't know why, and then I'd have to get that down to 30, that took a long time. There was a lot of time on my computer, and I don't have to mess with any of that now. It's kind of amazing, and what that means is that I can take more clients because I have more time. I'm not spending all my time on my computer, which is good for my business, and it's good for me. I have more free time. I can actually see my family who I like, you know, most of the time, no they're awesome. (laughs) You guys, I've even come to love the wait. So one of the most excruciating things about being a film photographer, especially when you are learning film in the beginning is this wait, when you ship your film off to the lab and then you're waiting for it to get back. It is real. It's hard. I've even, there was this one time where I was with the family in the car, we are driving to go on vacation, and I foolishly checked my email and got the your work order's in. Made my husband turn the car around, so we could go back to the house. It's hard, 'cause I have like I can't go on vacation for two weeks and not look at these images, it's gonna kill me. So I get it, but now I've really come to appreciate the wait because what it means for me, especially in my business, is that I can go into work, I can work, can do my shoots, pack 'em up, send in the film, and to send them to the lab, and then I'm done right? I'm not thinkin' about those images, I'm not looking about those images, they're off, the lab's doin' their thing. I use Richard Photo Lab, and they're amazing and I trust them 100%, so I'm not gonna worry about it, and then those images come back, and they're pretty and I'm excited to look at 'em and I upload 'em to my clients. But there's none of this, I don't know, it's like, I feel like it's helped me with my work life balance, which is always the struggle when you run your own business, and it's really helped me with that. So listen, I know that there are a lot of limitations with film, it's true, there are, and I know that when you first get started, that can feel scary, but just trust the process. Okay? Because I'm gonna teach you everything you need to know so that by the end of this class, you can go out and shoot your film with confidence and get beautiful results back.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Discount Codes from Richard Photo Lab
Studio Gear List
Great Photo Labs
Black & White Film Stock Exposure Tests
Color Film Stock Exposure Tests
Noritsu Frontier Comparison

Ratings and Reviews

a Creativelive Student

Sandra is a gifted teacher!!! I've been following her work for years and know what an incredible photographer she is - but to be able to teach the way she does is truly a rare gift! I've been shooting film on and off for years and was amazed at how much I could still learn from Sandra's class. She presented the information in a way that was so easy to follow that you couldn't wait to get started. It's wonderful to learn from someone who is clearly passionate about their craft - but who is also excited for others to succeed at what they're teaching.


Amy could not have said it better in her review of this class! I am also a film shooter (have been shooting film personally for 8 years and professionally for 4) and even as someone who understands a lot of what Sandra was talking about, I STILL found this class to be incredibly helpful and learned a lot. Sandra is such a great teacher and an inspiration to so many film photographers. Great class! Thanks Sandra and Creative Live for putting this together for us.


Sandra is not only an insanely talented photographer but she's a gifted teacher. I've been shooting film for weddings and portraits for 5 years and even studied it in photography school so I'm not new to film by any means. But I've allowed myself to be so intimated to create portraits with film using strobes for far too long. But not anymore. I'll be 100% honest when I say that the information she teaches in this course, to a seasoned COMMERCIAL photographer mind you, may be insanely simple. But that's the beauty of it!!! There is no reason to over complicate shooting film with strobes. It's the simplicity and straight forward, clear as day information that Sandra teaches that's essential to rejuvenate today's overly 'tech obsessed' world. Film is alive and well! Sandra's course is gold when it comes to getting that appreciation for our craft back! I'm jazzed and ready to slow my roll down! Thank you, Sandra and CL! The value of this class is far more than that of the strobe kit I finally invested in (HOURS after the class!). : )

Student Work