My first shot with a digital camera was of a hammock. An old hammock hanging outside a frat house on Stanford University’s campus during a hot summer six years ago.
I went back to the lab where all the student computers were and sat down for hours, Lightroom open, editing that photo. The hammock became my playground, no edit was too much or too shy, it was all about transforming that image hundreds of times, until it felt right. That process took me weeks, and, to be honest, it never felt quite complete.
That photo of a hammock is now lost in some hard drive I haven’t looked at in years, however not much has changed. After shooting the cover of FORM XXI, the same process repeated itself. Edit after edit I tried to build the photo that felt right both for me and for the magazine. Even after so many edits, when the team shook their heads in disapproval during a FORM meeting, I went back to editing, looking for that “just right” feel.
To find this, a photographer must spend hours and hours editing, changing and tweaking their images until they feel just right to them. After making this a ritual undertaken for all your photos, they will start to look connected to one another, and people will be able to recognize your style, immediately being able to tell when a photo is yours. I believe this process and developing a unique aesthetic is fundamental to the growth of a photographer. However, it is becoming less and less common.
In a time where technology is revolutionizing the world of DSLR and mirrorless cameras, improved performance and portability allow photographers to be creative in new ways, many young photographers are picking up film looking for a way to stand out and be recognized as artists. This is not just a personal choice, but a movement, that promotes film as the true and original form of photography. Now the real question is how many of these photographers develop their own film, playing with lights and shadows similarly to how many digital photographers do on a software? Close to none. Young photographers seem to prefer the aesthetic of film which fits in the mainstream concept of “artsy,” to the comfort of digital photography that enables you to edit thousands of photos from a laptop. But when it comes to getting their hands dirty and undertaking the most challenging part of shooting film, developing in a darkroom, they pull back, forgetting that a photo is not complete after the sole pressing of a shutter button. Stop aspiring at becoming a film photographer, celebrating commercialized nostalgia, and understand that the modern interpretation of this medium offers comfort to the photographers that are too shy to develop their own aesthetic. Kodak Gold and Fujifilm Provia are easy ways out of avoiding growth as a photographer and protecting yourself behind the reputation of alternative photographers who shoot 35mm.
I hope you understand that I am not saying that film is bad. Some of the greatest photographers such as Jan Scholz and Greg Miller, use film and have a unique and recognized style. The main problem of film is that it doesn’t push young photographers to nourish a personal and unique style
So do yourself a favor: abandon 35mm film and force yourself to learn through the process of shooting thousands of photos and editing them. Don’t conform to a movement that claims to be ‘alternative’ and be the photographer you want to be.