Back at it

Back at it

I graduated from the University of Iowa in May, which caused me to lose access to a lot of their amazing film equipment… but I just bought a Braun NovoScan 120 film scanner so I can finally make digital copies of my images again.

I’m still getting used to it, and I’ve been having trouble getting the colors right. The scanner makes almost all of the adjustments automatically. Ektar is so saturated, I’m sure that’s throwing off the colors completely. Or maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always had this issue while scanning Ektar.

I won’t write a review of this scanner until I try using it with some other (more scanner-friendly) films. I just wanted to get some images posted on my blog to celebrate the fact I’m back in action.

All of the following images were created in La Porte City, Iowa using a Mamiya 645 1000s camera and Kodak Ektar 100 film.


PICT0009 copy copy





Year in Review

Year in Review

But I recently realized that looking back at accomplishments over the last year can be just as important as setting goals for the next. I also want to look at my year in review.

I learned a lot in 2016. I took a class on large format photography. I gained the courage to ask strangers if I may take their portraits. I participated in my first three photography shows, two group shows with my class and one online.

More than  anything, though, the best decision I made for my photography was starting a blog. In the past, I was reluctant to share my work. I didn’t want any of it out in the world for others to see until I felt completely ready.

Instead of allowing me to improve privately without judgement, hiding my work set me back. I was convinced I should keep my images private until I considered myself a fully fledged photographer.

But that’s just not how it works. I rarely shot anything except when it was required for class and I hated the results when I did. Working alone in secret gave me little motivation to make anything at all.

The piece of advice that changed my mindset came from Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. I read the book several times in years past but his words finally sunk in in 2016: “You can’t wait until you know who you are to get started.”

If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started “being creative,” well, I’d still be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.

—Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

I knew he was right. I couldn’t wait until I perfected my work to start interacting with others. I had to hone it by sharing. And so I launched this blog in September 2016.

Composing a blog post every week was a challenge, but now I’ve written over 20 posts and am glad I took time to make every one of them. I went through at least double the film I was before starting my blog, probably more. Plus, knowing the images would be public forced me to try even harder to produce my best work every time I went shooting.

Secondly, starting a blog allowed me to find a community of photographers online. Between this site and my Twitter account, I’ve learned acquired all kinds of useful advice. Any time I have a question, I now have a small army of film photographers I can call on for help.

Lastly, my blog offered me a space to share work in progress from where I am right now at this moment in photography, not where I will ultimately end up. Looking at my blog as a sketchbook rather than a perfectly curated gallery allows me to focus on what’s most important: to keep creating work. One day I might look back at the work I am making now and dislike it. But the fact remains that continuing to shoot is the only way to get where I am going.

Here are some of my favorite images I made in 2016:

















Hanging Prints with Magnets

Hanging Prints with Magnets

One year ago, I tried to Google how to hang gallery images with magnets and my search turned up almost nothing, so I wanted to share the method I’ve used to hang group gallery shows.

Using magnets is great because it’s much cheaper than framing work and it still looks professional. All you need are nails or screws from the hardware store (not copper or aluminum) and small disc magnets, which you can buy for about $0.25 each.

You can find the magnets I used online here. The discs are about the same circumference as a normal nail head and are strong enough to hold my 16×16″ prints.

The first step of this hanging method, and probably the most difficult one, is taking measurements. I used a ruler to measure out where each of my prints would go in pencil leaving several inches between each.

Next, I put nails on each corner about half an inch inward from my measurements. This way, the magnets will sit on the boarders of your image instead of insecurely on the very corners of your prints.

You can hammer the nails all the way into the wall so your prints will lie right against it, but I prefer to hammer the nails in just enough that they are secure. This way, my prints sit about one inch from the wall, which provides some dimension.

Magnet Mounting Diagram

Gallery display nail setup
I measured out 16×16″ squares in a grid pattern then hammered in four nails on each corner.

Once your nails are in place, hanging work is easy. Simply center the print on top of its four nails and place a magnet on each corner.

You can learn more complex methods that use magnets here.


Here are other supplies I used to hang my show:

  • Clamp lights, available at hardware stores
  • Outdoor spot floodlights
  • Hammer or screwdriver
  • Extension cord, preferably with several outlets
    • OR an extension cord and a surge protector
  • Printed/mounted artist statement


Click here to view the images I displayed in this show.

Top three reasons I still shoot film in 2016

Top three reasons I still shoot film in 2016

Photographers who grew up shooting digital are making the switch to film. In a survey published last year, Ilford learned 30 percent of film shooters are under 35 years old and 60 percent of them have been using film for less than five years. And many of them use film just because it’s fun.

I definitely fall under these categories. I discovered film in June 2015 when I was given my great grandma’s old Minolta X-700. It was 35mm, so I definitely wasn’t attracted to film because it has higher image quality (though I shoot medium and large format now, which reach better quality than digital camera). I liked it because it made me feel more deeply connected to my photographic process.

Here are three ways film changed the way I shoot.

  1. Film is physical.

Before I started using film, I rarely had the opportunity to handle my images. Prints were the only way I could access my work. With film, the process is touchable from the start. My shots take up real space in the physical world before they became fully fledged works of art. Therefore, each photo feels important and is a tangible product of my efforts. This increases my investment in my work.

  1. Film changes the way you think about shooting.

Shooting on film makes photography less automatic. A roll of 35mm film can only hold 24 or 36 images. If you’re shooting medium format, those numbers drop down to 12 or 15. Because I don’t have an abundance of money to buy lots of film, this forces me to shoot more deliberately. I find it difficult to go through more than one roll in a day, because I will often shoot only one image per subject. With digital, I might have hundreds of images to sift through at the end of the day.

The fact I can’t look at your images immediately after shooting (known as chimping) also works as an advantage. This improves my skills by forcing me to envision your images in my mind’s eye.

  1. Film isn’t instant. And that’s a good thing.

Waiting for the lab to develop my film is one of my greatest joys. My lab, University Camera (UPDATE: Closed as of April 2018) typically takes three to five days to finish developing and printing my images. During this time, I have the opportunity to reset so I can view my finished images with fresh eyes making me a better judge of their quality and composition.

That gratification of finally finding out whether my image is pure gold or garbage just isn’t as sweet when it’s instant.

Jeff Rich: Teaching Film Photography Today

In part two of my interview with University of Iowa assistant professor of photography Jeff Rich, he shares what it’s like to teach a generation of photographers who grew up with digital how to shoot film.

To listen to part one of our interview, which discusses why Jeff uses film in his personal work, click here. Or, to listen to the full version of the interview on SoundCloud, click here.

You can see Jeff’s work and learn more about him on his site.

Jeff Rich: Using Film in Fine Art Photography

I interviewed Jeff Rich, a University of Iowa assistant professor of photography, about why he chooses to use 8×10 large format film for his fine art photography projects.

You can see Jeff’s work and learn more about him on his site.

Check back tomorrow for part two of our interview where Jeff talks about what it’s like to teach film photography to a generation of photographers accustomed to shooting digital.

Analog Film — Back from the Dead

Analog Film — Back from the Dead


Film once seemed to be going extinct but is currently experiencing a revival. Here are three signs analog is back by popular demand.

1.  Some of the more experimental brands are adding new films and cameras. One of the biggest recent developments: This month Fujifilm is releasing a monochrome version of their popular instant color film for their Instax Mini cameras.

Fujifilm also plans to release a new square format instant camera (and the corresponding film) in spring 2017.

Likewise, Lomography is also working to release a new instant film camera, the Lomo’Instant Automat. Their Kickstarter ends tomorrow (10/5). They have over 5,000 supporters and are more than $750,000 over their $100,000 fundraising goal. This is the sixth time they’ve raised money for a new product this way.

And CineStill, motion picture film modified for C-41 processing, is raising money on Indiegogo to make medium and large format versions of CineStill 800T film.

2. New photographers are constantly discovering the joy of film photography. According to Google Trends, interest in film photography plunged from 2004 to 2007. But since 2007, the number of search queries has remained fairly steady.

Interest in film photography over time, according to Google Trends

This is not because older photographers are refusing to give up film. Instead, Millennial photographers who grew up in a completely digital era are picking up the medium for the first time. According to a survey conducted by Ilford, 60 percent of film users under 35 years old have been using film for less than five years.

About 84 percent of those surveyed taught themselves how to use film from books and the internet and 49 percent process their own photos in the darkroom.

And as local labs continue to close, some photographers are inventing new techniques for the sake of ease and accessibility. For example, many share recipes for cheaper developer alternatives, the most popular being coffee and vitamin C, nicknamed Caffenol.


3. Video film has also seen its own resurgence in popularity. Kodak is working to launch a new Super 8 camera.

And major productions are not immune to the trend. Star Wars: Episode VII — The Force Awakens is just one recent movie shot on film. This is unusual considering the franchise has used digital since Star Wars Episode II (2002). In an interview with, J.J. Abrams said one of the reasons he chose film was to retain the look and feel of the trilogy.

Kodak CEO Jeff Clarke anticipates Episode VIII will also use Kodak film, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Due to Star Wars and other recent movies favoring film (Boyhood, Interstellar, Steve Jobs, and Suicide Squad, to name a few), Kodak is expecting to be profitable in 2016 for the first time in years.

Bonus: Analog is also making a comeback outside of film. This podcast with David Sax, author of The Revenge of Analog, discusses how vinyl records, printed books, and Moleskine journals are surging in popularity. Sax says these are more than hipster trends. They reflect our efforts to have sensory experiences in the digital world.

Also an important influence is what he calls this “finishability.” While digital makes life faster and more efficient, humans continue to seek experiences with a clear starting and ending points. “It’s that contained experience and that’s something that we want a lot of the time,” Sax says. “We want limitation. We want our experiences to be contained. We don’t want everything. We don’t want life to be one endless all-you-can-eat buffet. We prefer to have limits.”

What draws you to film in an age where shooting digital is often easier ? Let me know in the comments.

Start Shooting Film Without Breaking the Bank

Start Shooting Film Without Breaking the Bank

Shooting film can quickly become an expensive endeavor. But you don’t have make a huge financial investment when you’re just starting. Here are some simple ways you can save money (and use it to buy more film).

Buy used gear

Sure, pricey cameras and lenses might get you better quality images, but retro cameras are a significant part of the reason many people still shoot film. Consider seeking out a vintage camera from eBay, Goodwill, or at a garage sale. Better yet, ask around. More likely than not, someone you know has film camera sitting around that they would love to give to a photographer who would put it to good use. I received my two favorite cameras, the Minolta X-700 and the Mamiya 645 1000s, this way. Plus, going old school is on the upswing.

Ethan posing with the Mamiya 645 1000s
Minolta X-700, Kodak Portra 400

Skimp on film

It may sound cliché but it’s true: A bad photographer with all the expensive gear in the world won’t be able to create a good photo. (For more on this, visit Casual Photophile’s post Not Everyone Needs a Leica.) Likewise, expensive film will not automatically improve your images. While you’re learning the basics, mishaps are bound to happen. When I was starting, I made almost every mistake possible: accidentally loading film improperly, exposing it to light, developing it wrong. Save yourself the heartache and purchase inexpensive 35mm film. You can still buy a four pack of Fujifilm Superia for about $15 at Walmart or CVS. Plus, normal color film uses C-41 processing which you still may be able to find locally. If not, there are mail-in businesses that will develop and scan a roll of film for you for about $11.

Minolta X-700, Kodak Ultramax 400

Try a toy camera

If you want to capture the effects cheap film cameras are known to create like vignetting and light leaks, you can look into cheap, plastic cameras. Toy cameras are notoriously fun to use because they allow you to unleash your creativity. (Think double exposures, over-saturation, infinite panoramas, and pinhole images.) A new Holga camera can retail at as little as $30 to $40. Of course, you can get similar effects digitally on Instagram and VSCO, but you can achieve a more authentic look on actual film.

Diana F+, Kodak Portra 400
Diana F+, Kodak Portra 400