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A few days ago I was having lunch at a restaurant in downtown Vancouver. I was alone so I sat at the bar. There was a guy sitting next to me who was chatting with the bartender about Wacom tablets and other tools for digital art. I joined in, and we started chatting about all kinds of stuff.

I had my Nikon F90 around my neck, which sparked a discussion about photography. One of the things he brought up was a kind of film I hadn’t used before. Agfa CT Precisa, to be precise. He said it was really fun.

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Driftwood and mountains. Velvia.

It got me thinking… I’ve been shooting more and more film, and until now I’ve been choosing film pretty much at random (except for Velvia, which I really love). But it turns out that one of the interesting things about film photography is the characteristics of each film. Who woulda thought?!

I find film particularly interesting from the perspective of someone who works a lot with digital media. When I shoot digitally, I shoot RAW because I want as much flexibility as possible after I’ve captured the shot. There are many reasons for which I shoot film, but this recent discussion got me thinking about how much I love the freedom that comes from having the look and feel of the image largely constrained by my film choice.

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Looking out at the Vancouver Harbour. Rollei Retro 80S.

With the image above, I chose to shoot a roll of Velvia. I made a choice before taking the shot that the entire roll would have a certain look and feel to it. This offers less creative flexibility after the fact, but that’s precisely what can be fun about film: you’re giving yourself a creative constraint to work with. And creative constraints can be, paradoxically, extremely liberating, because the allow you to think more about the things that aren’t constrained.

For example, in this image of the Vancouver Harbour, I couldn’t rely on the colour of all the industrial equipment to create the look and feel I wanted in the image. I had to rely primarily on the patterns and lines in the scene to build a composition I liked. Of course, light is also particularly important to think about when colour is out of the game.

When you shoot a lot of digital images and you’re used to spending hours on each image tweaking your Lightroom settings, it can really be really nice to make a simple decision before you shoot and bind yourself to that constraint. In this case, it’s film, but another way to do this is to limit yourself to a single prime lens, which I also love to do.

Happy shooting!