Film Street Photography
I didn’t always think film photography would be around forever. Years ago, while studying photography in a course at Brooklyn College‘s art department, I remember telling one of my professors that I thought film photography would die out, and I remember the look of horror that came across her face. For photography purist, b&w film is not only the foundation of photography, but it represents photography itself. When I think back, my opinion of b&w film photography has changed greatly from then to now.
I’ve developed a much greater appreciation for film photography, especially street photography with black and white film. I love the look of the grain that can only be imitated with digital photography. What probably changed my opinion the most was when one of my hard drives, with an entire years worth of images fell and broke. I lost almost an entire years worth of work, except for the film images I had made that year. The film photography images that I had made during that year only needed to be re-scanned. Of course I should have backed up the hard drive, which I do now, but some lessons we learn the hard way. I emerged from this experience with a much deeper appreciation for film photography.
Film emulsions have continually developed over the years, and thanks to motion picture film R&D, consumer film continues to be developed with the latest technology. When I started photography at the age of nine, it was with Kodak TriX 400. This film has lasted the test of time and is still popular today, but while getting back into film photography a few years ago, I fell in love with TMAX 100 black and white film. The grain pattern isn’t as pronounced as TriX, but it is great for street photography with black and white film. I use this film mainly for street photography in New York, which has traditionally been done on black and white film. There are color films from Kodak that interest me as well. I enjoy the vivid look of 35mm Ektar 100 film, and I even like the new 35mm Portra 400 film, but when shooting film, I usually use black and white 35mm TMax 100 film. It’s been my favorite for a while, but it’s time to find something new.
Instead of waiting for the day that I stop by Adorama to pick up some Kodak Tmax 100, and they tell me it has been discontinued, I will start looking for an alternative just in case. I’ve used Ilford HP5 plus, which has really nice grain and contrast, so maybe that will be my new film of choice. Maybe I’ll try Ilford FP4 plus or Delta 100? I’ve been very happy with the results I’ve gotten on Ilford films in the past, and I use Ilford paper in the darkroom, so maybe I’ll be happy with Ilford. I know my preference of Nikon DSLR’s over Canon is based off of my early experience of using a Nikon FM2 when I was a kid just learning about photography. Either way, it looks like Ilford is not shifting away from it’s film business anytime soon, so I can be confident that their film products will be around for years to come. I hope Ilford values my business and my loyalty by keeping high quality products on the shelves. If Ilford keeps 35mm film available for film street photographers like myself, I’ll keep up my end of the bargain and keep shooting with film.
I could just shooting black and white New York Street Photography with a digital camera and stop using film all together, but I love using film for street photography and fine art photography. I’ve shot many street photography images and fine art photography images with a digital Nikon D80, a Nikon D300, an Olympus Pen EP2, and even an iPhone, and then converted the images to black and white in Adobe Lightroom. I also use Nik Software Silver Efex Pro2 to convert color images to black and white images. The images have come out great, and if I wanted to add some grain with Silver Efex pro 2, that option was always available.
Even if I want to use a rangefinder, the Leica M 10, M9, M9-P , or the Leica M Monochrome looks like they were made with street photographers in mind. These Leica digital rangefinders can make images with almost the same dynamic range as street photography with black and white film. I would love to roam the streets of New York with a Leica M10 or a Leica Monochrome, and see how the images compare to the the film Leica M7‘s black and white street photography images. I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter to some what camera you shoot with, whether it’s digital, or film, the only thing that matters is the photograph you end up with. For me, the experience of shooting Street Photography with a film rangefinder is rewarding in itself. If I end up with a beautiful example of black and white New York Street Photography, even better.
by: Daniel Norman