6 Reasons to shoot & upload a whole roll of film

by diarmuidmcdonald

As a photography beginner I have found projects beneficial in giving me a focus, forcing me to get out-and-about taking pictures, and by fueling my to desire to improve my work. I have already mentioned my current Project 365, and have touched upon my Project 50, but I would like to talk about another that I believe to be a worthwhile learning tool for any fresh faced photographer out there.

Take one roll of film and upload the whole roll onto flickr

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This is a project that I completed unintentionally; I had a roll of Ilford 125 black & white film in my draw at work that I was struggling to find any shop willing to process, the film sat in my drawer for a few months and I forgot all about it until I stumbled across a small family owned photography shop able to process B&W film. This coincided with the premature death of my hard drive, which took with it to the grave all of my photographs to date (including all my photos from Berlin & Dresden). I’m not sure whether the loss of my photos had left me in an odd state of mind, or whether I was just especially proud of the B&W film shots, but I decided to just upload the whole roll. Either way, I’m glad I did.

Enough about me, this is why I think this is a great project for any beginner.

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Mix work & play

This one depends on how trigger happy you are; most people, especially beginners, are reluctant to snap a whole roll of film during a five minute walk to the shops (Garry Winogrand aside), so you should find that the final collection of photos is a composite of two or more days worth of shooting. This may result in a more varied mix of subjects and scenes, for example; the first 10 shots may be street portraits, the next 10 could be taken in a specific area of town, or public event, and the remainder of the roll might consist of more personal shots, such as friends, family, or even self portraits. Variations in weather or lighting conditions on different days will have a notable impact on the final product and will help the viewer identify the constituent photography sessions and add variation to your photostream. If you concentrate on street photography, but end up including photos of good times with your friends, these photos are not discarded as they might if taken digitally, but instead will offer an interesting insight into your life in front of the camera and away from the streets.

Im not saying that you must break up the roll of film in this way, for some it is important for their photostream to remain purely street photography, and for others a roll of film may only last one session. This is one of the benefits of this exercise, there is essentially one rule; shoot the roll and upload it all. The remainder is up to you. You may choose additional restrictions, giving the project a narrower focus, or conversely, just take things one shot at a time.

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My roll was shot over 5 sessions consisting of street photography, lazy sunday afternoon coffee breaks and a friend’s birthday. What I find exciting about the set is looking at the miscellany that caught my eye; a bicycle, derelict buildings, and a sports car with ‘WOW’ on the license plate. These are photos that you take for personal reasons, they momentarily interest you and you take the picture. It may not be the best composition or most interesting subject, but it still elicits an exposure. These are everyday tourist snaps and they usually forge out an empty existence hidden away on your hard drive. There is often a good reason for this. However, sometimes (and especially as a beginner) it is nice to see these photos in the order that they were taken. Everybody takes these throwaway snaps and it is important to remember this as a beginner, because if you are like me, you can easily find yourself demoralised when looking at another, more experienced photographer’s greatest work. Once you are confident on your vision and style in photography you may want to limit your Flickr uploads, choosing only your strongest shots, but until then, there is nothing wrong with uploading a few non-shots, if only for the purpose of measuring your progression.

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Identifying strong photographs

It is often said that amateur photographers struggle to identify their strongest and weakest work, and as an amateur photographer I wholly agree with this. Often I will take a photo that immediately stands out to me and makes me proud; maybe the subject is of particular personal interest, or perhaps I had to push my confidence boundaries to take the photo. I find myself uploading these to Flickr expecting a huge response and a whole bunch of favorites, only to witness these beloved photos fester in anonymity; in the words of Erik Kim “Just because it is difficult to take a shot doesn’t mean it is any good.” 

By uploading the whole roll of film you bypass this possible pitfall. Sure, you may take 36 photos and not get an obvious ‘stand out shot’, but you will likely capture some worthwhile images. With the whole, unaudited roll on flickr your stronger photographs are not identified by you but for you. It becomes the responsibility for the viewer to dwell on the images that catch their eye, and (if you are lucky!) provide a critique. You may well find that the images that attract the most attention or receive the most encouraging feedback differ from those you would have chosen to upload had you not undertaken the project.

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Identifying weak photographs

While this project can be beneficial by allowing others to identify your stronger photos, the opposite is also true. By uploading an entire roll of film, you will be offering up photos for criticism that would have otherwise spent the rest of their days as an anonymous .jpeg. There will be photos on your roll that are decent photos with perhaps one flaw or a few weaknesses. You could recognise that there is something off with a shot that would have prevented you from uploading it, but might not be able to identify what was detracting from it. If you are lucky and have nice flickr contacts (willing to take the time to offer criticism), then someone might be able to identify, or at least give their view on, what makes this a weaker photo. While the natural stance is to upload only your best work onto the internet (and I generally think this is a good rule, outside of a specific project), if by uploading a mediocre image you gain an insight into its flaws and weaknesses, and subsequently can apply the lessons learnt to future endeavors, then I would say that this justifies this photograph’s place on your flickr.

In the broader sense, I think that criticism is really beneficial; I would much rather have somebody tell me what is wrong with my photos (provided it is an informed, and unmalicious critique), as this pushes me to keep learning and provides me with drive to improve. Ten ‘nice shots’ tell you nothing about a photograph.

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An online contact sheet

By uploading an entire roll of film you essentially create an online contact sheet. Im not going to talk about what a contact sheet is, or why you should study them because there is a pretty comprehensive article about this on Erik Kim’s Blog which does it better than I could. However, specifically considering this project, the online contact sheet that would result will allow you and others an insight into your method and approach to shooting.

Normally, your contacts are only exposed to the ‘decisive moment’ (we all wish!!!) or the single shot that you choose to upload. Examining your contact sheet will reveal whether you take a snap and move on, or instead dwell on a  subject and scene. Changes in your settings or shifts in position will also be apparent, and these elements will better illustrate the essence of what you are attempting to capture, be it the subject’s posture or perhaps a juxtaposition against an element in the background. For photographers who focus on projects it is easier to identify traits in their working methods, for those who take things ‘one shot at a time’ this is often not so obvious. If you fall into the latter category, this project should provide a visual insight of your working style.

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It is all very well listing the benefits that others might get from viewing your online contact sheet, but the real value lies in what you will gain. Having the whole roll as a set on your flickr will give you more opportunity to reflect on the process of shooting it, recalling specific moments and allowing you to evaluate how you might have improved some of the weaker images. I often find that once I get a roll of film developed I quickly identify my favorite photos and after uploading them I tend to forget about the rest of the roll. This exercise prevented me from discarding 90% of the roll and has forced me to look at photos that I know aren’t great and think about what I might have done differently. If my contact sheet shows that I only ever take one photo of any subject or scene before moving on, then the lesson to learn is pretty clear; take more time and more shots to allow a scene to unfold or to get to the photo that you want.

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A quick and easy project

Undertaking a photography project is a daunting prospect, thinking of the theme or concepts to unpin a project can be just as difficult as taking physically taking the photos. This project requires no preparation other than possessing film and a camera. For photographers who stick to individual images, this project is quick and easy. You are free to incorporate a theme into the project, but ultimately this will be a secondary element.

Film is expensive!!!

Lets face it, film is expensive. You may as well get the most out of it. I can only speak for the UK, but buying film is not cheap. I know that Boots currently have a buy one get one half price deal on, but, if the Manchester Boots is anything to go by, the choice is limited. Personally I would recommend going to Jessops or an independent photography shop, you might have to pay slightly more but the choice will be better. If you are serious about it then you can bulk buy it online, either Amazon / Ebay, or if you are after something specific a specialist dealer (I recently bought 10 Rolls of Kodak Tri-X which came to about £3.50 per roll – link below).

Once you factor in the development / scanning costs you are working within the region of 12-15 pounds per roll! With digital it is fine to take 25 photos and only keep 1, but if you are working with film then that is one expensive photograph. The lesson: make the most of the roll during and after you shoot it, think more carefully about your photos before you take them, and get feedback on the whole roll.

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My experience

I shot a 36 roll of Ilford fp4 125 on my Father’s old Pentax ME Super (50mm f/1.7), the roll is a composite of a couple days shooting and includes my housemate’s birthday meal which I like. Half of the photos were taken on a lunch break in the centre of Manchester and the remainder around Rusholme where I lived at the time.

I had no intention of uploading the whole roll at the time of shooting. Once I finished it I took it to Jessops who at that time had only just re-opened and were unable to accept it, so the roll just sat in my desk at work for three months and I forgot all about it. I then went on Holiday to Berlin and Dresden, I had bought my X-E1 specifically for my trip and took a shit ton of photos. Long story short, a few months ago my hard drive died. Being a fool I had no back-up and had lost every digital photo that I had taken to date. A week or so later, I got the Ilford developed and decided I would just upload the whole damn thing, I had nothing else to show anybody anyway.

So for me the project was never intentional, it was the outcome of circumstance; a reaction to losing all of my photos. The advantage of this was that I did not dwell on the project itself while taking the photos, I just took them.

The whole set is on my flickr (just click any photo on this page, or follow link below) and includes a couple of my favorite shots to date, but I am not going to say which those are.

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Recommendations

  • Use a camera you are familiar with. If you haven’t shot film before make sure you shoot a few rolls before you try this project to get the hang of things.
  • Stick to one lens / focal length. This should add consistency to the set.
  • While shooting, try to forget that these will all be uploaded. Just focus on the moment and concentrate on the next shot.
  • Upload them all at once, as a set and in order of shooting.
  • Use expensive film. Since you are uploading the whole roll, you may as well use decent quality film. Mine was taken on Ilford FP4 125, I also recommend Kodak Tri-X 400, for colour I would suggest Kodak Portra, my housemate uses it and gets greats results.
  • Don’t get the photos developed immediately. I know it can be painful waiting too see your images (I am currently waiting on 4 rolls, each with different ETA’s), but give yourself a break between shooting and viewing to allow yourself a cool off period. If you shoot in Black and White then this is essentially forced upon you, Jessops & Boots both take 3 weeks to turn true B&W film around, but if you opt for colour then I recommend you get the 2-day process rather than the 1-hour.

If any one does decide to undertake this project, or has already done so, I would love to see it and am happy provide constructive feedback.

Useful Links

http://erickimphotography.com/blog/2013/06/07/the-importance-of-letting-your-photos-marinate/

http://www.discountfilmsdirect.co.uk

http://www.flickr.com/photos/momentsborrowedfromtime/sets/72157633484509062/

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