15 Frames: Back to Film Photography

I learned photography in the days of film. I was a college student toting around my used 35mm Canon and a notebook, meticulously writing down the shutter speed and aperture for each frame. Without the instant feedback of a digital camera, the learning curve was slow, but I loved the process. I dreamed of one day owning a medium format camera, with its larger negative size and superior quality, but the cost was too much for my college budget.

Many years later, I invested in my first digital camera. I loved the convenience and thought I would never look back. And yet, that medium format dream still called out to me! There is something about that unique film look that digital has a hard time re-creating: accurate colors, beautiful skintones, excellent dynamic range... So this year for my birthday, I finally took advantage of the unbelievable deals on film cameras and bought my long-awaited medium format camera, a Mamiya 645 Pro.

I took my Mamiya to the first place I had shot 35mm film all those years ago, the Great River Road through Alton, Elsah, and Grafton, IL. I found myself carefully choosing my subjects, knowing I only had 15 frames on my one roll of film. I prepped for 10 minutes before taking that first shot, studying different angles and taking multiple light readings from my hand-held meter. When I finally pushed the shutter and heard that long-forgotten sound of film advancing, I was taken back to those early days, when I first fell in love with photography. It took me nearly 4 hours of driving and shooting to take those 15 photos. I was forced to slow down and think through each shot, to get the settings right BEFORE hitting the shutter button. I had to be deliberate and choose the shots that were most important to me. The process reminded me of why I had started my photography journey in the first place, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I sent my film off for processing and waited. When the scans (finally!) arrived, I was pleased to see that I had not lost my "old-school" film skills.

Both digital and film have their advantages. I am looking forward to experimenting with how I can use them alongside one another in my work. Here are my favorites from my first roll of medium format film:

Mamiya 645 Pro, 80mm 1.9 lens, Kodak Portra 400, processed and scanned by The Find Lab.


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