[Community Corner 💌] Film Photography and the Passing of Time 🎞️
By Louisa Weldy
|Cornell Creatives||Mar 7|
At my High School graduation party, I placed disposable cameras at each of the tables in my yard to encourage people to take pictures. The last time I had used a disposable camera was more than a decade ago, and I felt that this was a time to get back to it.
The party came and went and so did my memory of ever having disposables at my party. A year later, after forgetting I included such favors, I got the film developed.
Although disposable cameras are a rudimentary form of photography, film has a certain timelessness and beauty that clearly resonates with many people. I’ve only begun to learn the full mechanics and process of film and development - but nevertheless, I decided to embrace the challenge and retire from my status as an amateur film photographer.
During the first few weeks of quarantine in mid-March of last year, I learned to shoot film the same way I had learned to shoot digitally—in a setting where I have full artistic and technical control over my photographs, allowing me to easily manipulate the aperture and shutter speed.
Stuck at home, I asked my dad to reach into his collection of film cameras and teach me the art of real film.
I was handed a Nikon F film camera, and everything changed.
📷 Let’s talk Nikon for a Second
The Nikon F film camera is one of those classic cameras where you have to manually wind and advance the film - the type that weighs a couple of pounds, but makes the most satisfying click when you snap a picture. Honestly, I don’t know why it took me so long to get into film considering the boatload of ASMR opportunities.
After learning how to wind the film, and understanding the basics of adjusting exposure without a visible light meter on the camera, I shot my first real roll of film, one where I had artistic and technical control. For those new to film or just beginning to understand it, many film cameras don’t have a light meter, which is a way to see if your image will be over or underexposed.
My first roll of film turned out pretty well, all things considered; I had taken photos on a true film camera and developed the roll by myself for the first time.
Given my experience, I have a few lessons to pass on to those starting for the first time:
On a bright day, set your aperture to f/8 and your shutter speed to one over the film speed of your film. From there you can adjust your aperture and shutter speed based on the effects you want.
If you want a smaller depth of field, you should go down one or two f stops and simultaneously increase your shutter speed. This is a very rough way to balance the exposure, but it is a good first step if you don’t have a handheld light meter or one that is already built into your camera.
It is better to overexpose than underexpose your film.
If you want a more grainy, vintage look for your photos, use expired film. With that, you may run the risk of having your photos not show up after you process them, but that is a part of the fun.
💖 Why Film Became my Passion
To be honest, I hit the jackpot by making photography a passion of mine. My dad worked at Kodak for forty years, has dozens of cameras lying around, rolls of film waiting to be used, chemicals for development that expired in 1980, and more knowledge than anyone that I know. With his help, I developed my first roll of Black and White film in my basement.
From there, my obsession for film and vintage camera collecting began. Well, it actually began when I traded a roll of film for a film camera during a free market exchange in economics during my senior year of high school, but that is a story for another day.
Graphic by Ryun, CC Designer
Over the past several months, I’ve realized the real reason film has swept me off my feet. It’s not the vintage aesthetic (which I’m not going to lie, I do love), nor the sound of taking a picture. It is in fact what it is not: instantaneous.
In a world of constant movement, messages, and automation, it is hard to find things that take time. When we take photos on our phones or even digital cameras, we see the results right away. We convince ourselves we need to take another picture because our face looked funny in the first one, or because our SD card is 256 GB, and taking multiples of a single subject is encouraged.
If film has taught me anything, it is the value of time. I think we all have a poor perception of time and what it should mean. We are constantly fixed by the lack of time but forget to understand and reflect on it when it has passed. When we allow time to pass before knowing what a photo looks like, it gives us the opportunity to briefly forget that moment in time. It is the initial act of forgetting that allows a moment to be revitalized.
In other words, with film, the photo becomes a memory just as the memory is forming itself.
I encourage everyone to take on film, even if that means going to CVS and buying a disposable. Before you let the construct of time pressure you to meet deadlines or cause you to stress about aging, remember that time is your friend when you have film on your side.
Louisa is a sophomore majoring in ILR and minoring in business and European studies. She is passionate about film and digital photography, music (piano, guitar, cello) and loves to travel!
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