Revisiting Film Photography After 10 Years: Composing Through New Eyes

Aspen Tree Fall Color in the Eastern Sierras of California

Aspen Tree Fall Color in the Eastern Sierras of California

This is the 2nd of a 3 part series on my experience jumping back into film photography after a 10 year hiatus focusing purely on digital photography. You can start here at Revisiting Film Photography After 10 Years: The Readjustment if you missed it.

Mental Math & Visualization
As I’ve been shooting with the Fuji GX617 I’ve had to make a bit of a mind-shift in my approach. On one hand I have to account for slightly different mental calculations regarding how medium format focal distance, depth of field and vignetting might impact my composition. This is rooted with the fact that medium and 35mm formats follow the same mathematics, but the calculations for similar units (focal length, aperture, etc.) result in different visual aesthetics. 90mm focal distance on the GX617 equates to 20mm on a 35mm camera and a 300mm lens on the GX617 equates to ~70mm on a 35mm camera. f/8 on the GX617 is shallow for closer subjects while not so for most images on a 35mm camera. It’s an interesting adjustment, but frustrating if you forget or don’t fully make the right mental calculations as you’re taking photos. After all mistakes on film have a financial cost.

Volume versus Quality
Back in October when I took out the Fuji GX617 and the Canon 5DS R on a trip I found it notable how different my approach to shooting was with each camera. Unsurprisingly I shot less with the film camera and was much more generous in my shooting with my DSLR.  I spent a lot more time on my film shots to focus on correct exposure and composition. With 4 exposures to a roll I took greater care to work a scene by walking around, looking for different angles, check focus, check settings, double check settings and account for various lighting conditions before triggering the shutter. The net result was feeling more connected to the scene I was photographing.

My efforts with the DSLR were much quicker and as a result I took more photos. Shooting RAW affords you to work fast and loose. It was eye opening to see how fast and loose normal shooting has become for me. Jumping back to film made that all too clear. The digital format affords you the ability to:

  1. Salvage an image with +/- 2 stop latitude (potentially more if you use a newer digital camera)
  2. Have virtually no exposure (image count) limitation creating an “insurance” mentality where you take additional photos to account for lighting or weather variations or just to cover lazy technic
  3. Change ISO or lenses during a single composition on a DSLR in the event you realize your initial approach isn’t working


In the end the ratio of digital versus film photos taken on my trip was 1:20. For every film photo taken I took 20 digital photos, but that said I utilized my DSLR to experiment and photograph a much broader array of subjects. As for the photos I considered keepers and worth sharing the ratios broke down as follows:

  • 1 out of every 9 film photos taken was sharp enough and composed well enough to share and/or print.
  • 1 out of every 7 digital photos taken was sharp enough and composed well enough to share and/or print.


Seeing photos that didn’t work out on film were much more painful. Psychologically I felt more angst either because of lost opportunities or the cost associated with a blown roll of film. I’m not sure if my history of shooting film makes me more or less prone to take extra digital photos for insurance than the average photographer, but it certainly has an impact on my emotional state.

Emotive Photographs
Beyond concerns about technical proficiency and productivity I was most concerned about being able to capture images that deeply resonated with me. It’s one thing to say that I got 5 or 100 publishable photos and it’s another to state that they’re photos I think will resonate with others let alone me. Sharp photos, well composed photos, etc. don’t always equate to a great photo.  Images that resonate more deeply are not just about sharpness and composition, but atmosphere, artistic presentation and often “je ne sais quoi”. I’ve yet to compile stats for this as I’m still evaluating images from this trip, but if history is a guide the volume is always low.

The jump back into film has been interesting, fun and even anxiety provoking at times. Most of all it’s been eye opening in how I work, compose and think about photography in general.

Continue to Part 3 in this series – Revisiting Film Photography After 10 Years: Development & Post

Jim Goldstein is a professional photographer and author, based out of the San Francisco bay area in California, who specializes in outdoor and nature photography. Passionate about nature and the environment Jim infuses elements of the natural world into his commercial, editorial and fine art work. For more follow Jim on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Subscribe
  1. James Cooper

    The most exceptional thing about your series of post is, you have shared opinion from your own experiences. Photographers either expert or newbie definitely going to have some help from here on taking a perfect shot.

  2. Raul Reis

    Hi jim goldstein,
    Your experience is great and shared thought is highly qualified. Like me who are beginning to photography they will be grateful to you as you have shared very useful things for the inspiration.

  3. Engr. Mishuk Hasan

    Excellent Experience !!! This is really helpful for beginner on photography.