Got a trip coming up? Are you the kind of person who shoots both film and digital cameras? Then let me make a suggestion; the next time you’re traveling, leave the DSLR at home and only shoot film.
I know what you’re thinking – “But how will I upload my photos mid-trip? How will I make my friends jealous of my adventures? What about x-rays!?” Calm down and trust me. As both a photographer and traveler, leaving your digital camera at home and shooting nothing but film will be one of the most rewarding choices you’ll ever make.
Not convinced? Here are five reasons to pack film and forget hi-tech (for just a little while).
Reason 1: Film cameras are less distracting.
Digital cameras are distracting. They’re complicated, intense, and have giant display screens, and all of these things suck our attention away from where it should be. With a digital camera, we’re adjusting ISO, selecting shooting modes, and twiddling through menus while we should be spending time enjoying and exploring the people and environments around us.
And what happens after we take the shot? No matter our self control, we’re reviewing the photos, with our necks craned and eyes glued to the back of a camera. Zooming in to see if the gondola oarsman is in sharp focus. Checking the fifty frames we shot of the sprinting cheetah to find the one that’s the most exciting. Deleting extraneous photos to free up space on our memory card.
Worse than this chimping is what happens when we get a moment of down time. We’re using our technical marvel’s Wi-Fi mode, transferring our photos to our iPads, tweaking our exposures in VSCO, and sharing to Facebook, Instagram, and everywhere else our envious friends’ eyeballs may fall by day’s end.
This is exhausting, so give it a break. Or rather, give yourself a break. Use your vacation to disconnect from the social rat race. Instead, take some time to look around you. Wind the advance lever. Shoot a shot on film. Lower the camera, and move on to the next experience of your trip.
Reason 2: You’ve got a phone, don’t you?
Reason number two is a compromise position, but I feel it makes the case for shooting film even stronger. Chances are good that on your next vacation you’re going to bring your cell phone. And chances are even better that your cell phone has a pretty decent digital camera built into it.
Now, I’m not saying you should use only your phone to take photos on vacation. As in my previous point, I think you should detach as much as possible from social media and technology. That said, there’s no denying the fun and excitement of sharing with people back home what you’ve been up to during your trip. So, for those few moments when you want to share an experience across your social networks, or send a photo via text to your best friend, use your phone.
But remember to quickly put it away, dig into that authentic creme brulee, and take the vast majority of your vacation photos on film.
Reason 3: Less economic risk.
If you’re shooting film, that means you’re shooting a film camera. And unless you’re sporting some kind of Plaubel or Hasselblad, film cameras are typically less expensive than their digital counterparts. That means you can fumble it into the Blue Lagoon, drag it along the Road to Hana, or bounce it down the steps of Machu Picchu without stressing that you’re out a couple thousand bucks. Pick up a fifty dollar Pentax K1000, load it with film, and worry not that you’re photographic investment is going to take a beating.
And if you’re the kind of tourist who likes to hoof it through the dangerous side of town, carrying a beat down Minolta could make you less conspicuous than someone whose face is aglow from a brightly lit LCD display. Yes, shooting film could keep you from being robbed at knife point, which, for most tourists, is something to avoid.
Reason 4: Safer storage of memories.
Here’s another purely practical reason to shoot film when traveling. The number of times I’ve lost, damaged, or accidentally formatted (yep) my memory card can’t be counted on two hands. They’re tiny, fragile, and easily lost. On the other hand, saving your precious memories on a number of rolls of film offers redundancy. Even if something happens to one roll of film, you’ve still got the others. Sure, there are hazards unique to film (such as the mentioned x-rays), but I’d rather store my memories in a number of rolls of film than put my proverbial eggs (photos) into a single basket (SD card). You get the idea.
Reason 5: Delayed gratification.
We all know digital is a better medium for taking photos. I’m not arguing that it isn’t. Shooting a DSLR gives us photos that are sharp, beautiful, and ready for viewing in an instant. But is that what we need when traveling? I don’t think so.
Imagine you’ve shot only film during the entire span of a recent trip. You’re traveling back home, by plane or car or bus, and you’re sitting there with that feeling of unique nostalgia that only comes when on the homeward leg of an amazing trip. You know you’ve taken a few hundred photos, and some of them you distinctly remember taking, but there are quite a large number that you simply can’t recall.
What’s on that film? Were the shots any good? Did you make anything worth keeping? Will they come out well? The anticipation is fantastic, and it only gets better from here.
A couple weeks later you’ve gotten your prints or scans back from the lab. You flip through, and frame after frame you’re rewarded with an awesome sense of discovery – or rather, rediscovery. A fleeting scene captured as you streaked by in a taxi. A meal you’d forgotten you ate. An unusual person who’d crossed your path only momentarily. All captured on film. You relive those moments, many of which you’d completely forgotten, as each frame brings its own unique memory. Small moments that you’d whimsically captured are gifted back to you weeks after the memories and tan lines have faded.
Sure, digital can do this too. But there’s something far less magical about it. Only film can give us that sense that we’ve frozen a moment in time, and that moment is now ours forever.
And that’s my take on it. From my own experience (I recently took nothing but Portra and a Rollei 6008 to New York City) I can tell you that shooting film on a trip is the best way to capture a time away. Give it a shot, and let me know if it worked out.