The Writings

Adventures in Film, Roll No. 1 - Dance For The Dying + Paperhaus at The Red Palace

Well, I certainly chose one helluva scenario to try out shooting with film for the first time.

Last week, I mentioned that I was embarking on the journey of film photography, prepared to document my experiences as I learned a whole new medium of taking pictures and creating art. I could have chosen something simple... a pleasant, yet brisk walk around Washington, D.C., a friend's party, or maybe even a progression of what I have eaten over the past few days ... but no. Not me. I had to go to the extremes, didn't I? A dark, intimate concert venue with the always-fun-to-work-with contrasty stage lighting... and it was my first time shooting with film. Whoops!

It was the last concert being held at The Red Palace in Washington, DC, so what better way to document the occasion than through my Canon AE-1? My friend, Berto, has a brother who is in the opening band, Paperhaus, and I figured it would be a great chance to shoot some more shows, especially at such a highly-touted venue. With my camera in hand, I was ready to pursue some rockin' photography! (ok, that was bad... I apologize)

Before I get into that, let me learn ya some things I've picked up about shooting with film:

  1. It's fun. That goes without saying, but something about having this film camera has gotten me giddier than a kid on Christmas. There's opportunity to shoot something EVERYWHERE! Just walking to the grocery store or the coffee shop arouses my imagination and creativity. That's saying something, considering how much I loathe the cookie cutter-esque cultural landscape Arlington sometimes.

  2. It's expensive. Holy shit, is it expensive. Buying film isn't the problem ($4.95/roll for black and white, $7.99/roll for color film).  Developing a roll isn't the problem (at the location I have been to, it cost $7.99 to develop a roll of color film); it's getting high resolution scans of said developed roll that is. (at the location I have been to, it cost $17.99 to scan a roll of color film. Ouch.) I have heard that Costco does a great job developing film, and for cheaper than that, though no word on if they develop black and white film. I'll have to look into this more and report back with my findings. That, and I should see if I have a photo scanner. For serious.

  3. It's not as difficult as you think. With the ease of digital, one could look at the entirety of the film process - from loading film into the camera to shooting to processing the photos to trying to scan them to share to friends - and think it's way too complicated. Really, it's not. I was able to load film correctly after only a few tries, figure out how to expose the shots I'm taking in the way I want, and Penn Camera took care of the rest. I got my prints back after a day and scanned in high resolution on a disc. Easy peasy.

Frankly, there was no better feeling of fulfillment than retrieving my prints from Penn Camera. The entire trip to the store, I was genuinely excited to see what developed (literally) and how well/poor I did. There was no chimping during the show to see how I did; all I had was my recollection of how I took the shots to even learn what I did. Something about holding the tangible prints in my hand felt... rewarding. As if I achieved something great. And all I really did was take a few photos at a concert.

I'm not going to lie to you: shooting concerts is difficult. What's worse? Shooting a concert with a film camera for your first time. While I thankfully could recollect experiences and learned lessons from previous shows I've shot, it was hard to focus on my subjects and have them accurately exposed while attempting to read the AE-1's light meter. I couldn't initially tell if my shot had come out or not and what adjustments I needed to make; I had to rely on pure instinct and whatever photography know-how I had in me. Though I enjoyed the challenge, I was definitely glad I wasn't on assignment with a film camera!

Sadly Not-so-sadly, a little bit of post-processing was required. I love everything about the Fuji 400H film I was shooting with - even with my extreme hatred for an intense amount of grain - but the problem was that, given the [relatively] low ISO of the film and dark conditions, my images were grainier than a wheat field. Ideally, I wouldn't have to do anything additional to my images after they get developed, but there was so much noise that I had to tweak a bit in Lightroom. After adjusting a few sliders, I got my photos [relatively] looking how I envisioned, and then some.

Overall, film and I are going to have a long, lasting, loving relationship. Thus far, I've only shot with the Fuji 400H, and I selected that film because of the look of the images I've seen from it. The Kodak Portra 400 35mm film took a close second, but the Fuji 400H gave me this vintage, nostalgic look I was going for. Currently, I'm shooting with Ilford HP5 black and white film, so stay tuned for those!

I hope you enjoy the shots from my first roll of film!

Until next time,

- Patrick