Put Down Your Phone, Pick Up Some 35mm Film

Shooting analog will change how you see the world.

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Why Shoot on Film?

My first camera is a Pentax K1000, which takes 35mm film. I took it on a walk through Central Park, a block from Sweet HQ, on a coffee break.
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Because I already have access to a digital camera (in my pocket), I don't need to learn to shoot photos with film. Still, there's something about shooting film that seems necessary. An image captured with film feels handmade, like a careful labor went into its construction.

"Copy your favorite photographers in the beginning to get going." — Christian Storm, Sweet photo editor

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Photographers I know who are comfortable working with film move through the world with an attention to detail I envy. They're more sensitive to light, and they seem to have a preternatural sense of space and scale. When they shoot they move with a particular carefree grace and speed, crouching, leaning, hunching, their bodies trained to find that perfect angle. Shooting on film, these photographers tell me, isn't actually all that difficult to learn.

Sweet photo editor, Christian Storm, and assistant photo editor, Ryan Duffin, agreed to teach me a few basics, arm me with a camera, and send me out into the world to shoot a few rolls of film.

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A Quick Lesson on the Basics from Sweet Experts

Shutter Speed and Aperture

Ryan Duffin: "Inside the camera, there's a shutter. Think of it as your eyelid. It opens up and down to let light in to make the picture on the film. The shutter speed is how long that stays open for. The aperture is how big the hole is that lets light in. If you want a longer shutter speed, you want a smaller aperture, because that lets in less light. If you want to catch motion, then you want a short shutter speed and have a bigger aperture, so that you can let as much light in as possible."

In Grand Army Plaza, near the Plaza Hotel, a gilded William Tecumseh Sherman is guided by the goddess Nike.

Depth of Field

Christian Storm: "Think about what you want to have in focus. If I photograph a cup on a table in front of me, I have a low depth of field; the cup will be in focus, but everything else will be blurred. If I have a high depth of field the cup is in focus, the chair on the other side of the table is in focus, the exit sign 20 feet away is in focus."

How to Develop Your Style

Christian: "I looked at photographs by famous or successful photographers to figure out what I liked and didn't like. If you look at a lot of photography, you'll pretty quickly figure out what your tastes are. I think you sort of copy your favorite photographers in the beginning to get going."

There's something charming about a playground fort that looks like a Brutalist bunker...right?
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Decide If You're a Hunter or a Gatherer

In the beginning of his photography career, Christian says, he saw photographers as mostly falling into one of two camps: hunters and gatherers. "Hunters are photographers who go out into the world and see things and document them as they are," he explains. "Then there are people who create the images they want to see. Sometimes that's in the studio, but it can be anywhere. I was always drawn to the hunters, who went out in the world. That was always my first instinct."

This shot of the Plaza Hotel has a light leak, causing a red and yellow glare. Obviously, I didn't mean for this to happen, but it adds some character to the image. In other words, I screwed up somehow in my handling of the camera, but I don't hate it.
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Ryan is, by his own admission, something of a gatherer. "I didn't really care about documenting the world around me because it was boring to me," he says. "Instead, I wanted to make pretty still lifes and make them look like there was a little bit more magic than there actually was."

Be Prepared to Make a Ton of Mistakes

Ryan: "When you're first starting out, when you get that first camera, don't worry about getting too theoretical and academic about how you're about to take a picture. Just get a bunch of cheap film and try different things. Sometimes it's the accidents and the mistakes—the light leaks and overexposures—that are actually the exciting parts of photography."

Little trees fill the basin of the Pulitzer Fountain during winter.

Let Shooting Film Change How You Notice Details

Christian: "I don't want to sound too cheesy, but I see photographs everywhere now. It's made me much more observant to the world, the small things that are beautiful. I think that just being interested in photography helps you, in general, to look at the world a little differently. It makes the world a little more interesting."

I'll leave you with this royal screw-up of a photo of Joan Miro's Moonbird:

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