10 Reasons Why KT Merry Still Shoots Film

A guest blog by KT Merry.

Today I’m dishing about my long and complex relationship with film. You see, when I began shooting (I’m about to date myself) there was no digital. There was only film and thus I had the, now rare, luxury of learning the art of photography in a darkroom. I developed (no pun intended) the patience of waiting for images to magically materialize from tiny canisters, then darkroom trays and finally as prints. It was this magic that made me fall in love with the art form, and it’s this magic that has kept me inspired nearly 20 years later.

So today I’m sharing 10 reasons that exude why I still (and always will) love film. Let’s dive in…

1) It made me the photographer that I am. There is not doubt about it, without film, my work, and my art would not be what it is today. It taught me to trust my inner eye, to learn to be present while shooting (versus staring at the back of my screen) and to gain the confidence I needed to go from being button pusher to an artist.

2) Calmness. There is no doubt that shooting film made me a calm creator. Maybe it’s the manual focus, the slowness of the shutter button, the patience required while changing a roll of film. I am by all means a busy-body, full of energy and go, BUT it’s film that brought the zen-calm to my creation and it’s helped make me more intentional, more focused and absolutely more present.

3) Trust. Film requires a level of faith. As a responsible photographer I regularly service my equipment, test my camera (I polaroid my film camera before each job), and treat my gear as a crucial part of my workflow. But, there’s no doubt about it. You can’t get the instant satisfaction of seeing the image on the back on the screen. And yes, I am a hybrid shooter and do back myself up on both mediums as a safety precaution, but my favorite work usually comes from my ever elusive film images that were born out of instinct and faith.

4) The intangible. Often, when I meet a stranger - think airport bar - and I’m explaining what I do and what makes it unique, I share the tidbit about shooting film they’re flabbergasted. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same. They go - but why? - what makes it better? And this is when I try to convey (usually not so successfully) the soul that is in a film frame. The intangible aspect that makes it so alluring and so damn beautiful. Is it the grain, the color, the tone? I think it’s something more, something that's like the goosebumps on your arm, that magic intuition you sometimes feel, you can’t quite capture in words.

5) Christmas Morning. When I first began shooting film, I was about 12. Hard to say exactly but somewhere around there. I had a really cool 35mm point and shoot that had that cool sliding cover that slid over the lens when you weren’t using it. Very fancy stuff. I took pictures of everything I could - mostly my animals - and then would ask my mom to drive me into town so I could drop off my tiny canister at Gordon’s Photo Service. 24 hrs later, I’d ask her again to make the 15 minute drive and I’d retrieve my white envelope with 36 treasures. I was hooked.

Each and every time I get an FTP email from Richard, I am taken back to that 12-year-old excitement, it’s like Christmas morning all over again. I think having this excitement, the reward to all the hard work, has kept me inspired all these years later.

6) The skin. So let’s get practical here and super honest. Film, at least the kind I shoot and how I shoot it, is incredibly kind to the skin. I’m not a fan of overzealous retouching. In fact, I loathe nothing more than a magazine where a beautiful actress doesn’t even look like herself because a digital artist (aka retoucher) went gangbusters on her face. It’s the opposite of what I aim to achieve in my work. That’s why I love film, it can make real humans look amazing, like the best versions of themselves, while (most importantly) looking like themselves. It helps me eliminate hours of post production, unnecessary retouching and creating a product that’s not representative of my lovely clients. It helps me to create beautiful and authentic imagery.

7) Highlights. So now I’m getting more technical but it’s so worth noting. Film has a big step up on its digital counterpart when it comes to highlights. I shoot the mediums side by side often and when I have a backlit subject or harsh scene with lots of contrast, film saves the day. It magically holds the highlights while delivering information in the shadows and it’s saved me in harsh light many of times.

8) Post Production. The most valuable resource I have is my time. The same is true for you. We each have 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year and how we decide to spend our time while here on the planet, well, it’s the most important decision we can make. Long ago, I would painstakingly stare at my screen of digital images and try to get them to look like my film. While this has gotten much better over the years (especially with the development of my new preset Refined x KT Merry) I still love to see film scans show up and be 90% ready to go to the client. A couple of tweaks to the horizon line, or color and I’m done. It has saved me so many valuable hours I’ve been able to focus on my life and business instead.

9) Inspiration. If you are an artist who makes money off your art you need to pay special attention to your inspiration and inner artist. What I mean by this is you can’t demand your creativity and inspiration just work, work, work for you and feed them nothing in return. It’s a recipe for creative burnout. I have found the the act of shooting film, of seeing an image come into frame in my viewfinder, is one of the reasons I’m able to keep my inspiration alive all of these years in. Nearly 20 in the photo industry if anyone is counting! The moral of the story, do more of what feels good, and simply put, shooting film feels good!

10) Last but not least… There are so many arguments as to why film is not practical, not necessary or some digital camera can outperform it. And, it’s with every iPhone release that I’m reminded that good photos are no longer reserved for the professionals. Almost every human in a modern country has a very powerful camera in their pocket that takes pretty amazing photos. I see it at each and every wedding when I see what the guests are shooting with their iPhone and with a cocktail in hand.

Shooting a medium that is rare, special, and requires skill is just one more way that I separate my work, myself, and my brand from the masses. Our industry is changing with technology step by step and it’s important to think about what that looks like in the long term. Don’t be in autopilot with the changes that technology will bring. Think ahead and build a plan to grow and sustain your business for the long term.

And, if you’d like help in doing so, learn more about my brand new digital course The Abundance Plan, focused on building a thriving photography business.


KT Merry @ktmerry