Film Photography: My Story So Far

When I started photography digital photography was not wide-spread. My first proper camera was a Canon EOS 300. (No, not a 300D, just a 300). Apart from my house, my car and my wedding dress, it was the most expensive thing I’d ever bought. It wasn’t really very good; I think you can pick them up on eBay now for less than £10.

The British Museum, December 2001 (Ilford Delta Pro 3200)
Lion and Snake, Kingston Lacy Estate NT, October 2018

As well as shooting film I used to develop it. Not colour; I’d leave that for others with machines to deal with, but black and white I could develop and print at home. I had a second-hand enlarger and black out material that I could fix to my kitchen windows. I was sorted.

Bamboo in the rain, Kingston Lacy NT, October 2018

Fast forward a few years and digital was becoming the norm. All the photography magazines were full of it, all the pros were using digital, and the feeling was that unless you could afford an expensive digital camera you might as well stop taking photos altogether. When my youngest son was born I decided to get a digital camera and got a Canon EOS 300D. My EOS 300 was put away, I gave other film cameras I had collected to a student friend, and my darkroom equipment went to the dump; I couldn’t even give it away.

Cornwall, Summer 2018

Just before I began studying for my photography degree I was talking to a friend of a friend, John, about his photography. John is retired and took up photography a few years ago and so he spends his time travelling the country taking the most beautiful landscape photographs and entering them in competitions at his local camera club. Despite being at least 25 years older than me, he’s never used a film camera. Ever. When he told me that I felt very sad. It doesn’t bother him at all, he has no desire to try film and he makes great images with his digital camera. I realised that I felt he was missing out on something fundamental to photography but I couldn’t put into words exactly what that was, but I realised that I was missing out on it too.

View to St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Blandford Forum, October 2018

I certainly appreciate the flexibility and convenience of digital. When you have the equipment it becomes cheap as there is no film to buy or get processed, there is no fixed ISO setting, more than 36 shots, and the ability to share images instantly. But we don’t live for convenience and since my conversations with John I had been trying to put into words exactly what it was I was missing out on, exactly what it is that has been lost to the photographer who only uses digital.

Longleat, Wiltshire, Summer 2018

Last summer I had found an old Brownie in a local bookshop and, recognising the style as one my mum used to have, I bought it for £5 and got some black and white medium format film from Amazon.  I’d also rescued the EOS 300 from the depths of my ‘camera stuff basket’, cleaned it up and put some film in it. But being more aware of the cost and probable outcome, I was taking a couple of frames at a time and I didn’t get the films developed.

When I did photography at Arts University Bournemouth I was surprised that most of the students there had tried film; apparently a few years ago when the lecturers had asked ‘Who’s used film?’ the number of students who had was zero.

The British Museum, December 2001 (Ilford Delta Pro 3200)

I really enjoyed developing film again and so I dug out some films from a tin full of used and unused films I had rescued from the shed a few years ago. I posted the used colour films to Photo Express in Hull and developed the monochrome myself. I haven’t scanned that monochrome film yet, but they are negatives of my youngest son at about two years old. There’s something really special about discovering these images of him. I don’t imagine I would have the same emotion if I were to discover a set of lost images on an SD card; these are more important, more authentic. I’m not sure why?

The Brewery, Blandford Forum, October 2018

Over the summer a friend of mine moved house. She found a suitcase in her loft (attic) full of ‘photography bits’ and asked me if I’d like it. I said yes and when I got it home and opened it up I found an enlarger. It’s a Durst F30. I have cleaned it up and it’s working although it could do with a new lens!

What you’re seeing here though are scans of film from a cheap film scanner.

Old Railway Bridge, Blandford Forum, October 2018

Now, the problem with using film is that there is no metadata. There’s no date on this to help me keep track of it. I developed the films dated 2018 here at the end of October 2018; the images have been taken as practice shots without any particular course in mind. But strangely I find that my filing with my films in the past has been very precise. I have a record of exactly when each film was shot and processed. The British Museum shots from 2001 were taken on 17th December.

Pink Roses, Kingston Lacy Estate NT, October 2018

So that’s a very brief history of my use of film. I put it here because it’s important to me to work out why I wish to use more film now and what I had been missing by not shooting film for so long. Having used it in the past is, perhaps, part of the reason, but I think it’s more than that. I want to think about the materiality of images and how the way they are produced has an effect on their meaning.

There is, for me, a feeling of a very different processes happening when I use a film camera as opposed to a digital one. The difference I experience in the use of my iPhone compared to my digital camera hints at it, but isn’t the whole story.

(The 2018 shots are on Ilford HP5)

UPDATE: When I saw John over Christmas he told me his goal for this year is to shoot some film. I was delighted.

3 thoughts on “Film Photography: My Story So Far

  1. Hi, your title drew me in! My introduction to photography was a recreational course in college. The memory of my first black and white image magically appearing in a dish of developer has never left me. I then went on to study the subject further. I was a long time coming to digital, and I love all its benefits. Haven’t used film for donkeys years, but I get very nostalgic when I see a photo that has been taken with film. Maybe it’s the chemical reactions that take place, or it’s more of a hands on process. There is something quite ethereal about film. I’ve rambled on. Looking forward to reading and viewing more! 🙂


    1. Thank you. I’ve taken a look at your blog and I really like the images you have on Darkroom Days. It’s always reassuring to find that other people understand what I’m trying to say about film, even if I’m not always great at articulating it. Do you have any plans to start using film again?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thankyou for the visit 😉 Like you, I gave my darkroom equipment away. Only last year in fact, due to a house move, although I’d not used any of it for decades. As much as I love the aesthetic of film, I know I’m too lazy to go back to it as I’d want to process it myself and I just don’t have the right energy to do that. I also don’t know what I’d then do with it. Digital allows me to easily share photos. Though I don’t make enough effort with that! If you happened to read the blurb with Darkroom Days, Bournemouth was where I nearly did the degree. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

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