My Greatest Joys

As a Film Photography Newcomer

5 min read by Nils Leonhardt.

I got introduced to film after becoming involved with digital photography. At the time, I already knew my way around the camera: operating analogue counterparts did not seem that different. But a new skill was required: a deep level of trust in the chemistry.

The movies “The Bang Bang Club” and “Kodachrome” inspired my further interest in the analogue process and the highly complex industry that supports it. I’ve learned about the chemicals that make the cameras useful and the enormous effort put into developing them.

It turned out that those chems and cameras are now the source of some of my greatest joys.

In this read, I would like to share those joys with you, along with a few photographs from my recent analogue photo walk at the local Wilderness Festival.

Slow-paced rhythm.

In a world dominated by digital technology, we live surrounded by high-velocity, ever-present information feed. Shooting film helps me tune down the overwhelming stream of life events from the prevalent screens.

Film soothes my modern urge for immediacy. The shutter clicks, but there’s no image at the back of the camera. A weird experience for someone who shot digital throughout their whole life. But with this new process, I’ve been able to develop patience towards the quotidian, something that I’ve only had for landscape photographs.

Weeks may pass by before I get to see the shots that I made. Thanks to that, there is a magic feeling that rises while viewing the photos, preserved truly in the past.

Through film, I feel that we can recover that sense of time and space, which we lost thanks to our digital world, cramped with speed and immediacy.

Trust for the invisible.

To be honest, I didn’t trust film at first. When I started with my Nikon FM2, I had every analogue photograph backed up by my trusty digital camera. But after a couple of successfully developed films, I started trusting the format, and I don’t rely on digital backups anymore.

Having confidence in that invisible component feels strange, but I found it nurturing and satisfying. I’m still pretty young at this format, but I’m sure that feeling will mature into a more profound philosophy in my life, at least in regards to the visual aesthetic.

The complete workflow.

The digital photography workflow allows for creative control, though, somehow, it feels shrunk when compared to film.

I found that the tactile connection makes the experience thicker: from loading the film to making the prints. Digital showcasing platforms and aura-less screens have obscured the print. The ultimate experience in photography is to see a printed image, and with film, you’re almost obligated to do it.

A passion for colour.

Colour has always intrigued me. I’m not a black and white shooter.

Digital photography renders the reality with beautiful, almost perfect accuracy. Film, on the other hand, interprets it in its own way. It seems to be “trying” to capture the colours in their natural hues, but it can not do that nearly as well as the sensor. Instead, it creates an “unseen” colour world, a rendition I strongly prefer to monochrome imagery.

The grain adds a rich aesthetic layer that’s impossible to achieve with digital technology in the same capacity.

The printing force affects how the colours are seen, also. You can’t truly see the photos unless they’re on paper.

A joy towards the apparatus.

I’d like to think that I’m not a gear-head. Still, using, holding, and acquiring analogue cameras has recently turned into a guilty pleasure of mine. No matter the build quality, those devices create an aesthetic experience, I can’t seem to get with digital cameras.

I still love and shoot digital. Both sensors and film have their unique qualities, which make choosing just one nearly impossible. Why should I, anyway?

All images captured on Kodak Portra 400 film with Nikon FM2n and Nikkor 50/1.4 AIS. Location: Wilderness Festival, 2019; Cornbury Park, United Kingdom. August 2019.