Turn Your Digital Camera Into A Film Camera

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I got into photography back in high school when I had to sign up for a fine arts elective during my sophomore year.  Without giving it much thought at all I somehow ended up in a black and white photography class.  At this time megapixels and LCD’s were a long way off from being everyday terms so I borrowed my dad’s old Minolta film camera with nothing but a 50mm lens. Our first assignment was to take a series of shots with different apertures so we could learn about depth of field. I set up a simple shot with three darts at different spots in a dart board and started shooting. Of course I had no idea what the images looked like or if my settings were even close to correct. In the next class I learned how to load my film into a developing tank and started the development process. Still no pictures, but I was getting closer. One class later I cut my negatives and put them into sleeves and made my first contact sheet. It wasn’t a full print but I still thought it was pretty cool. After selecting one of the negatives for my very first print I put it into the enlarger, exposed the paper with the image, and put it into the developer. As I sat there patiently a very simple image of three darts started to slowly appear.  There was nothing special about this image but as any photographer that’s ever printed their own images will tell you, watching that piece of white paper transform into a photographic print was pretty amazing. It was at that moment that my love of photography was born and what started out as a one-semester fine arts elective turned into three years of photography classes.

A little more than two decades later I’ve put away my film camera and made the switch to digital.  I love digital photography and the immediacy in which we are able to review our images is great, but I sometimes miss the suspense of not knowing what I’ve shot until I get home and develop my film. Well unlike the title of this post suggests, I have no idea how to magically turn your digital camera into a film camera and experience some of the mystery and joy of shooting with film. Instead, I’ve got a fun little exercise that you can try that will allow you to use your digital camera similarly to how you would shoot one roll of film. Here’s what you do:

  1. Turn off the automatic review feature so that after you take a shot your LCD remains off. If you’re not sure how to do this consult your manual.
  2. Go out and take 36 pictures as if you had just loaded a 36-shot roll of film into your camera.  No cheating, only 36!
  3. Make sure you don’t hit that play button at any time while you’re out shooting. It will be tough because I’m sure it’s habit for many photographers out there but resist that urge!
  4. Once you’ve taken 36 pictures turn your camera off and don’t even think about looking at your shots.  Once again, resist that urge to look!
  5. Go home and upload your images to your computer.
  6. Sit back and enjoy looking through your images for the first time.

This is a great exercise for many reasons. By not checking your images after each shot, making adjustments and re-shooting you’re forced to really think about the ideal exposure settings. You also won’t be ‘chimping’ after each shot which will keep you more engaged with your subject and will allow you to continue observing the scene and your surroundings. Limiting yourself to just 36 shots will also make you more selective about what you shoot. But the most enjoyable part of this exercise is that once you’re finished you’ll also get a chance to experience that feeling of suspense and then wonderment as you see your images appear before you on the screen for the very first time.