A couple weeks ago I developed my first roll of film. This is something that has been a goal of mine since I started shooting back in February, I just never committed to it before now and for those on the fence I would highly recommend it. I wanted to take this opportunity to share some thoughts on getting into developing as well as results from my first session.
To back track a bit, like I said I did my first at home development session a couple weeks ago. I souped up some HP5 pushed one stop with Ilfosol 3. I’m lucky to have a bathroom with no windows to act as my darkroom, and let me tell you those few minutes in my “darkroom” trying to get my negatives onto the SPOOL? were extremely stressful. But that’s not the focus of this short writeup.
I actually think at home development isn’t that hard. I get this sentiment from a how to video I stumbled upon while doing some research. This video more or less portrays developing like this:
Just like learning photography you can pick up the basics pretty quick.
But to become a pro it takes a long time.
That first point was what I connected to because what I’d heard before this video was that developing was this whole ordeal that required precision and instruments and experience, while that has merit, it’s also a skill that like anything else can be grasped quickly and should be honed over time.I’ve felt that developing was always a logical next step from just shooting and that video is spot on – it’s not that hard to develop at home. Sure it’s stressful working in the dark but everything with the chemicals is just following some instructions.
I don’t mean to take away from the skills required to master a darkroom. Like the second point above, becoming a pro takes a lot of time, energy, and experience. I know I have so much to learn but really for those on the fence, I’d recommend giving it a shot.
The biggest reason why I think you should try it? I can say with confidence you will feel a connection to that first roll you’ve developed more so than most of your previous work. Just like the first roll you’ve ever shot, the first roll you shoot and develop is new, it’s a fresh feeling and you’ve been the one to get it into a medium you can view, share, and love. The next step for me is to get better at printing my work, which is a whole other beast. Let me know if you’ve developed, would love to chat about what you’ve learned in the process.
I got inspired to write some thoughts on my experience learning to shoot film in Japan because of the way I shared my work with my family after my trip. Like any good business school graduate I created a slideshow with maps, information, and of course my photographs as a means to share my stories. In the process of creating this I was able to relive not only my experience in Japan, but my journey learning this medium and becoming a stronger photographer.
So I thought it might be fun to share some of those thoughts here and hopefully leave you either:
Inspired to pick up a film camera and shoot or
Laughing at my misgivings if you’re a seasoned photographer
In early 2018 I embarked on a three month trip to Japan. I wanted to be in one country for three months to soak up the culture as best as I could and Japan’s culture is awesome. I mean that quite literally – Japan is an awe inspiring country full of natural beauty, massive urban centres, welcoming people, and an allure that comes from perfect balance between history and modernity.
Was I a photographer before this trip? 100%, unequivocally, no. I owned a Nikon D3000 for a few years but never spent the time required to learn how to use it properly or develop any photography skill. So when I left for Japan without that camera I forced myself into choosing to pick something up upon arrival or go about my journey with my phone and my notebooks.
It was pretty early into my trip that I realized how fortunate I was to be in such a cool country for so long and I was eager to find a way to capture the charm of Japan. My good friend Sam (you know him as the other half of Box Speed) pushed me into getting a film camera, “Japan is the film mecca”, I can still hear it in my head. He recommended that if I want to get into this I should try to find a fully manual SLR, which is now my recommendation to anyone who asks me how to get into film photography. I cannot thank him enough for the introduction to this medium.
Unbeknownst to me I didn’t really take his advice though because what I ended up getting was a Yashica Electro 35 CC, a decent rangefinder that shoots aperture priority only. I meant to buy an SLR but my broken Japanese, the store owner’s broken English, and a shit Google translate did nothing to help me out, paired with my literal zero knowledge on cameras I walked out of this cute shop with my dinky rangefinder. It did the trick for two weeks until I realized the light leaks were terrible, and exaggerated in any amount of daylight.
This is how my first four rolls went:
1st roll: some good shots, loading, shooting, dropping off for development was seamless
2nd roll: loaded incorrectly but didn’t know until development results were 100% blank
3rd roll: (see 2nd roll)
4th roll: finally back to seamlessness but started seeing the leaks
Luckily I found a good deal on an Olympus OM10 from a store in Kyoto called 三條サクラヤ写真機店
with a manual shutter speed adaptor and the rest is history – well kind of. I shot 15 rolls of whatever Fujifilm 400 speed was available with my OM10 over the course of roughly two months but this is the start of where learning something equally complex as it is rewarding, like film photography, in a foreign country and on a time sensitive trip is a double edged sword.
On the one hand when I look back at my work from Japan I still feel that romance I love with film and I can put myself back into my shots and remember the sights in my viewfinder and the feelings I had pulling the camera away from my face. But on the other hand I knew I left things on the table by not taking advantage of what you can do with film because I wasn’t focused on truly learning.
I try to conceptualize this in two buckets:
Not testing things out
First of all I didn’t shoot any black and white with my OM10 while I was there (thank you for the gasp, I too regret this). I also didn’t shoot any professional grade film. Is this the end of the world? Of course not but if I had the chance to do it again I’d experiment more, I’d try harder to get out of my comfort zone and create works of art that challenged me.
And not trying to get better
I also didn’t have any access to editing software, like Lightroom which I use sparingly now. I’m not a huge editor of my work, I prefer to keep things simple but what I enjoy the most about using Lightroom is cropping and analyzing my work with the rule of thirds, golden triangle, etc. Whether or not I end up actually cropping is another matter but I find value in comparing my work with those well established standards to find trends and get better. I definitely relate this to my previous thoughts on being more intentional when you shoot.
I’d like to leave you with reiterating what I was saying earlier because albeit not perfect, Japan was an amazing place for me to fall in love with film photography. Every setting you could want to shoot you can find in Japan and as my good friend told me, it is the Mecca for film. Next time I’m back I’ll be applying what I’ve learned and developed since being back home to create pieces that inspire me – and I hope to be back soon.
In June of this year I joined my family for a two week trip to Scotland and Iceland. We spent ten days in Scotland travelling north from Glasgow, through the highlands, and making our way to Edinburgh before we jumped to Iceland for a four day adventure.
I made this trip an opportunity to work on my intentionality when it comes to photography. I still consider myself as really new to film, even though I’ve been shooting for the better part of eight months. I primarily shoot to capture moments in my day to day life but as I learn more about this medium I try to shoot more and more with the intention of finding a scene, composing it, and capturing it. Maybe that seems like a nuanced difference but for me it’s an attempt to change my approach to photography.
I embarked with something a bit fancier than the usual “cheapest 400 speed you offer” so I ended up bringing five rolls of Portra 400, two HP5 Plus and two Tri-X 400. Why the variety? While I strive to become more intentional in my approach to photography I need to be purposeful about how I utilize a given stock of film. As for gear the only camera I owned at the time was my trusty Olympus OM10.
There are two things I noticed when I kept intentionality at top of mind,
First was that I was more willing to take risks with composing because I was trying to shoot out of my norm, basically it forced me to get out of my comfort zone
Second was that having constantly gorgeous new scenery all around you makes it harder to be purposeful because I wanted to capture everything!
These differences are what I think about when I go back to these shots. I can see some scenery shots here that didn’t challenge me as much, like this shot from the Quiraing landslip on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. It’s not necessarily hard to line up where you want the horizon, capture this rugged landscape, and get it in this shot. Could I have done more to add some character to this shot? I very well could have but it’s not something that was top of mind because of that second point above, sometimes you just want to mindlessly capture gorgeous sceneries like this.
And I look at this one from the Reynisfjara black-sand beach on the South Coast of Iceland. I was under a cave staying dry and just people watching and taking in the desolate scene. I knew I wanted to shoot something here that was more than just the sand and the cliffs because that wouldn’t do any justice to what I was seeing around me. I thought if I could contrast the ominous setting with something bright and warm then that would achieve my goals. I ran out into the rain to create this shot when the two vibrant ladies were contrasted with the sand – and in that way I challenged myself and got what I wanted from the scene.
The more I think about it I figure it’s not hard to shoot with intentionality in mind. Does it require more focus on your subject and the composition? Certainly. That’s what it’s about by definition, but at that same time a requirement to focus gives you the time it takes to challenge yourself and to become a more vulnerable photographer.
It takes a whole lot more vulnerability to want to share the ladies in the poncho shot because it took me a lot more thinking and it’s more personal than the Quiraing shot. I’m sharing my own thoughts on what I wanted that image to look like and I get to benefit on a discussion related to those thoughts. So overall, being intentional and being vulnerable to share that intentionality forces you to grow and become a better photographer.
Maybe this all seems like an obvious point but I just wanted to share where I’m going with my photography and I hope some of you connect to that approach, if not I hope you enjoyed the shots.
All shots developed at Kerrisdale Cameras in Vancouver BC, black and white shots scanned by me on an Epson perfection v550.