Analog Photography: For the Love of Film

Analog Photography: For the Love of Film

Last Updated on November 27, 2023

Why I continue to work with Analog Photography

Photos were made to be precious. So why should we attempt to immortalize our most special moments in life with a fleeting medium?

Analog photography refers to the traditional method of capturing images using light-sensitive film that requires chemical processing to produce physical prints, whereas digital photography uses electronic sensors to capture images instantly, which can be viewed and edited digitally.
As a result, many lovers of light have drifted from analog to digital photography primarily due to the convenience, immediacy, and lower long-term costs offered by digital cameras

However, analog photography has seen a resurgence in popularity in recent years as photographers seek to reconnect with these traditional techniques and the unique qualities of film-based images. Below are 5 Reasons why I learned to stop worrying and love my old analog photography cameras.

1. Shooting with Analog Photography Sharpens your Eye

A traditional roll of 35mm analog film typically offers either 24 or 36 exposures, with some variance. When you venture into medium format photography, the number of exposures per roll decreases significantly, contingent on the specific medium format frame size you’re using, such as 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×7, or 6×9. In these cases, shooting in medium format can sometimes leave you with as few as 8 exposures per roll.

So why on earth limit yourself to so few chances at getting the image you want?

When you know your shots are limited, you are MUCH more judicial with your shots. You are more likely to prepare your set-up in advance. You are also more likely to patiently wait for the right moment to come.

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When you are studying your subject, right before you take your picture, your eye is more likely to keep its finger off the trigger until your internal vision of your shot and what you actually see in the viewfinder line up. At that moment your eye, camera, and finger sync together in perfect form.

Now, because you only have a few chances to get it right, and because you actually have to pay money to get that film, that negative reinforcement acts as a powerful teacher in sharpening your eye and recognizing those golden moments when they happen!

2. Those who Wait, Gain

In this world of instant everything, analog photography is a gentle reminder of the beauty of slowness, of the artistry that lies in waiting, and the sheer joy of being pleasantly surprised by your own forgotten adventures.

Nowadays, we have become conditioned to instant gratification, but the immediacy of digital images often leads us to take both the images and the captured moments for granted. However, over time, this constant accessibility can dull our appreciation for the smaller joys in life. Analog photography, in contrast, will teach you to wait and will hopefully reward you for your patience.

There’s a sublime pleasure in the fulfillment of delayed gratification that is difficult to convey. It is the pleasure of the thing itself, multiplied with the anticipation that comes with the self-satisfaction of self-control, and raised exponentially to the degree of unanticipated surprise in your outcome – like the emergence of those x-factors such as unexpectedly discovering pictures you forgot you had taken, people or subjects you didn’t realize were in the scene, or the sheer delight of experiments that, against all odds, turned out just right.

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Of course, the best surprise is when you find that mystery roll wedged in the creases of your purse or photo bag for who knows how long. It’s like your photographic Birthday and Christmas in one, and when the images work, it’s like hitting the jackpot!

3. Negatives Respect your Highlights

Analog photography is fundamentally a chemical, almost alchemical, process where light interacts with the emulsion on a film roll, hardening it to form a dense, dark layer that captures visual information on the negative.

In contrast, while digital photography’s image sensors have significantly improved in reading and interpreting light, particularly in highlight areas, they still frequently suffer from blown-out highlights that become irrecoverable, a challenge less prevalent in the analog approach.

It’s in the highlights where analog photography shines. Unless your image was completely overexposed, you are still likely to be able to make out details in the highlights, and in many cases, you can even recover through printing or scanning techniques, some of those otherwise lost details.

The differences between analog and digital photography may seem subtle at first glance, with the loss of details like clouds in the sky or the texture of a white shirt appearing minor. However, it’s the ability of analog photography to preserve the integrity of both highlights and shadows that adds an unmatched depth and richness to images, a quality that, in my opinion, still surpasses digital photography.

4. Archiving your Work with Hard Copy Back-ups

Shooting in analog naturally creates hard copy backups in the form of negatives and prints, offering a reliable and tangible form of archiving that is immune to digital data loss and technological obsolescence. This physical archive not only ensures longevity but also provides a unique, hands-on connection to my work.

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Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that digital backups, though seemingly secure, can vanish in an instant, making analog a steadfast hedge against the permanent loss of cherished memories.

For a few vibrant years, I held the dual roles of chief editor and photographer at a Jordanian lifestyle magazine, immersing myself in the rich tapestry of life under the Amman sun. Of course, due to the fast-paced nature of photojournalism and the need to rapidly produce a large volume of images under tight deadlines, my work for the magazine was primarily digital.

Nonetheless, my camera and I were constant companions, capturing the essence of Jordan in every frame. The magazine had me snapping shots of everyone from the high and mighty – artists, writers, government ministers, and MPs – to the heart and soul of the streets: Bedouins, taxi drivers, and the culinary wizards behind the best falafel, shawarma, and kunafeh east of the Jordan River. In essence, my lens was a gateway to an entire nation, chronicling its diverse facets over a couple of years.

This visual odyssey was digitally chronicled, with each photograph meticulously saved on my laptop. However, as the archive grew, so did the need for more processing muscle, leading me to upgrade my laptop and relegate the original trove to a hard drive – a decision I would later rue.

Years down the line, when nostalgia beckoned me back to those Jordanian memories, I was met with a photographer’s worst nightmare: a dead hard drive. Even the best data recovery experts, those magicians who can conjure up long-lost files, were stumped by its damage. To compound the loss, the magazine folded, taking with it any other copies of my work. The loss of this irreplaceable collection, a vivid chronicle of a nation, remains a sore spot, a reminder of the fleeting nature of digital memories.

The moral of the story: there is none, it sucked.

The lesson I learned was harsh but invaluable: digital backups are not infallible and can fail unexpectedly. Consequently, I’ve adopted a multi-faceted backup strategy, storing images on my computer and various hard drives. However, the real security lies in analog photography’s enduring advantage: the film negative.

Protected from the caprices of digital storage and barring extreme events like fires or natural disasters, these negatives are a near-permanent record. Even though I digitize these negatives for convenience, I’m reassured that a corrupted digital file doesn’t spell total loss; the original analog captures remain safely intact.

5. The Sweet Nostalgia of Vintage Analog Photography Cameras

I like to think of nostalgia as a way of bringing the past into the present. Photography has a fascinating history, from pinhole cameras to twin reflex waist viewfinder gems.

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Using analog photography cameras and looking into those old viewfinders is like stepping into a time machine. It transports you to a time when people took longer slower strides to work and read newspapers in subway cars.

When shooting with old analog cameras, you feel like a “true” photographer, faithful to a time-honored craft, continuing a legacy that made images what they are and represent today.

Photography is a tradition that has captured and stilled countless moments from its inception. It punctuated the peak of industrialization and propelled us into the unknown. It freezes action, and it can spread out time into seconds and fractions of a second. It’s a record of history, a tool for the capturing of visual reality in our most contemporary archeologies.

Shooting with analog cameras connects photographers intimately with that history. It allots the moment the respect it deserves. It may not be the most practical or high-tech form of taking pictures, but it’s a beautiful tradition and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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