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Something New (or old)

I have been playing lately… and not just with my two little girls. I have been playing with film, and it has been such a wonderful exercise for me.

And yes, I have been asked a million times “why would want to go backwards?”  And my answer is, that right now in my career AND in my life I feel as if I need to go backwards in order to go forwards.
Sounds crazy, I know, but I need something to slow me down, to make me pause, to make me take the time to appreciate what is in front of me and how I see it. And film has been the perfect medium for that. Plus I am yearning to turn off my computer and come back to the part of photography that I adore- capturing real moments of the loved ones around me.

So my journey with film started with the little Holga that I received at the Jose Villa Workshop a few years back. This sweet little plastic camera has been sitting on my shelf just waiting for me to come and play. Well, I finally decided it was time after reading the great book “Film Is Not Dead” by Jonathan Canlas & Kristen Klap.

I pulled the Holga out as a little something fun & different during the reception at Kate & Ralf’s wedding. I was delighted when some of the images actually turned out- since I really had NO idea what I was capturing with a plastic toy camera.

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And I was especially tickled with this capture from the morning of the wedding on the top of McClure pass .


My little Holga experiment didn’t stop there. Then I decided to take it to the pool with my girls. I was really enjoying this experience…and my girls thought it was really fun too! My oldest even got to try out the Holga herself. Happy mistakes abound wiht the Holga- overlapping images, double exposures (when you forget to wind the film) light leaks…it all makes for a unique result.




After seeing these few images a spark was lit and I started reading and researching other film cameras.
When I started in photography years ago I shot 35mm film, mostly black and white. And even back then I always dreamed of owning a medium format Mamiya someday. The wonderful photographer Andy Katz who I worked with throughout college shot a Mamiya at the time, and I drooled over it every day. Well, since the digital boom, medium format film camera prices have dropped significantly… so finally, there was a way I get my hands on one. I purchased a used Mamiya 645 and have been playing with it over the summer. My first attempt was when a group of us gathered at a friends house and I asked the kids if they wanted to be my test subjects. After You Tubing how to load film into the camera…I was ready to roll (no pun intended!). The kids were wonderful sports as I fiddled around and tried to get a hang of it. It is a learning experience…and boy did it slow me down (yay!). And for my first roll, I thought these captures were just fine.
I do have to add that it was hilarious, every time after taking a photo one of the kids would say “can I see it” and I tried (poorly) to explain that this was different type of camera, to them it was an “old fashion” camera, and they weren’t quite as excited as I was about not being able to see the pictures immediately… I know they all thought I was nuts for thinking it was so fun.

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After I got these images back, I was even more excited and inspired.  I headed back to the pool and this time I took the Mamiya instead of the Holga.

I adore how this shot turned out. And what was wonderful is that I had to pause and think about everything before I clicked- I thought about what aperture I desired for the focal plane, the composition, the lighting, all of it. And honestly I had a really good idea of what that image was going to look like when I got the film back. It took me back to the feeling that I use to get when shooting film, that sense of “I got the shot I wanted” now I can’t wait to develop the film and see if I really got it. There is something to that delayed gratification and the sense of excitement.

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And I do think there is something truly unique about the look of film, and I love it. I don’t think it can be 100% emulated by any of the apps or presets or actions that adjust digital images and to try to get them to look like film.  And YES I love playing with the awesome apps and presets too, but I figured if I wanted my images to have the look of film, and I wanted to challenge myself to slow down, I might as well actually shoot film.

As I was explaining this journey to my husband and was showing him some of my film shots, he said “do you have an image taken on film and on digital to compare?”…and low and behold we found this shot. A great comparison. This is non-scientific, but ALL of the settings are the same out of Lightroom. They have exactly the same curve and exactly the same saturation, contrast, clarity and sharpening with no other adjustments. Look at the difference. WOW.


What do you think? Do you prefer one over the other? I go back and forth, and I think that is okay. I also think that I am learning that there is a time and place for digital and a time and a place for film in my photographic world…and even if I don’t have the exact time and place defined yet, I think that this journey will help me figure it out.

And then to push myself even more, I took the Mamiya to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge when the race came through town. This time it was an exercise of – can I do it? Can I shoot quick enough to capture what I want during this busy event, and get the results I want?
And yes I did, I got just enough to make me happy. Not too many (as I do all the time when overshooting with digital) and not too few where I don’t feel as if I captured the sense of our day. So all in all, I feel like my little self test was a success. I especially love the last image of the day, two buds with their 80s sunglasses on and the awesome Colorado sun shining down behind them.

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As I travel this film path I have a few things I want to work on during my journey. I am going to try to break the habit of  just firing away, looking at the LCD, correcting and continuing. I want to actually look for the decisive moment and  literally and figuratively slow down before I hit that shutter button. And I want to get away from my computer (especially away from white balance- which seems to occupy too much of my editing time when using digital). I wish I could spend time in an actual darkroom instead of behind a computer screen, I adore watching and waiting as the magic happens and the images come to life in the chemicals, and someday down the road it is a goal of mine to get back in the darkroom as well. But for now, if I can decrease my editing time at my computer (yes, some computer time is still required because life is digital now, and even when you shoot film, it is still digitized and final edits happen in the computer) that means I have more time to be involved in my real life with my family and friends, and that is something I desire.

SO where is all of this leading me? I don’t quite know yet. The next question I always get after talking about my little foray with film is “What are you going to do with it? Are you going to use it professionally?” Well, I don’t really have an answer to that right now. I am excited to see where this little journey is headed. I think my good friend Steve Glass put it best “In the end if it keeps you inspired and seeing differently, I’d keep traveling down that path.”  And that is exactly what I plan to do…I will continue to travel down the path see where it leads….


5 Comments Post a comment
  1. I have a feeling this path makes you smile, a lot, and your destination will be found naturally. It’s been a hoot reading about your journey. Film is much more like water color painting where the “happy mistakes” can add a unique garnish to the final result vs the “exactness” of acrylic painting. In the end you will have priceless images of your favorite subjects to hang on your walls and your digital skills will improve as well. Good luck and keep the fun “rolling.”

    September 19, 2013
  2. It was fun to read your reflections on this process.
    Glad you are having so much fun!
    Lets go shoot some film together!

    September 19, 2013
  3. Meg Pellegrino #

    This is AMAZING. I loved reading about the difference between film and digital. I know when you were shooting yesterday, I was intrigued by how the shots would come out. When I heard that old sound….the whirring of the film rewinding when we finished the roll….I was taken back to the days of using regular old cameras. I was taken back to the days when pictures were to capture moments, not perfection. Now, we all go running to the camera to make sure the moment was “o.k.” (which means…Do I look fat? Pale? Awkward?”) Using film feels authentic. Old fashioned.

    The shot of your girl at the pool is stunning….the close up. Simply gorgeous.

    Love you lady. Keep growing and learning. It’s fun to learn right along with you. 🙂

    September 22, 2013
  4. Meg, you are artful in your words and wisdom and I applaud your comment! Authenticity remains such an important part of photojournalism by telling an important story. And on that matters. Afterall, photographs help stop wars more than a painting. And they show love more than words. Authenticity remains an important part of photography, a mirror of life. A photographic artist like Rach respects this well.

    September 22, 2013

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