Getting Started with Analogue Photography – Interview with Chris Lanaway

Marianne Stenger
1st June 2020

Although the ability to take unlimited photographs and view them instantly is invaluable, there’s also something to be said for slowing the process down and taking time to survey a scene and compose each image more thoughtfully before clicking the shutter button.

Analogue photography has been making a comeback in recent years, and perhaps surprisingly, this return to film has been driven by the younger generation; those that have grown up with the convenience and immediacy of digital technology and smartphones.

So why are more photographers choosing analogue over the convenience of digital? We asked commercial and portrait photographer Chris Lanaway to share his insights on the benefits of film photography, as well as some advice for those looking to give it a try for the first time.

Photos © Chris Lanaway

What would you say are some of the most important reasons photographers might choose film over digital?

I think there are numerous reasons film photography is making a comeback, and depending on who you ask, they’ll probably cite various factors, because photography is quite subjective and often a matter of taste. Some photographers just prefer the look of certain film stocks. I know there are presets now to make digital look like film, but in a lot of cases it’s easier to just shoot real film to achieve that look.

Personally, I think the resurgence of film photography comes down to two factors, equipment and Instagram. Film cameras are cheap, especially when you compare them to the latest Canon, Sony, and Nikon high-end cameras. It’s possible to buy a decent medium format camera, a scanner and all the equipment required to process at home whilst still having a large amount of change left over.

When used correctly it’s possible to create high quality images with a much smaller financial investment. I mean you could buy a range of cameras and it would still cost you a fraction of the cost of the newest DSLR bodies. It’s accessible and unlike digital, it provides you with a tangible image at the end of it, because even if you don’t print you’re still left with a strip of negatives.

This just isn’t how it works with digital. Holding a CF card doesn’t quite have the same appeal does it? I think it’s a bit like the resurgence of Vinyl records; it’s that uncompressed physicality of analogue that is so appealing to people. Raw quality with no filtration or rendering required. 

Social media has also played a huge part in my opinion, particularly Instagram. People are being exposed to analogue images as they track hashtags and learn the names of film stocks, etc. Film has a unique appeal as it’s so real; it’s a physical reaction to light. Personally I find film photographs much more true to life when compared to the oversaturated, over sharpened, generic images you see plastered all over social media. People crave authenticity, not in a bad way.

A film photograph can be seen as more authentic mainly because of the nature of film. You buy a film stock because you want your shot to look a certain way. Instagram and YouTube are full of information these days about how to start shooting film, cameras and processing. For a while maybe it was seen as difficult, and I remember being at college when digital was starting to take over. So many would turn to digital as it seemed easy, but most of those photographers are now shooting film again which I find amusing.

What do you personally love about film photography? Do you work primarily with film or is it something you like to use for specific types of shoots or jobs?

For me, it’s all about the process. I work quite methodically, which means working with film really suits my preferred workflow. Every action has a reason and leads to an outcome. I’m not anti-digital, but I don’t really like the disposable nature of digital. Where I’m shooting digital or film I tend to work in the same way, which is to make every shot count.

I’d say right now my work is 60/40 digital and film, as some jobs and projects necessitate shooting digital, primarily due to the urgency of the output. I’m grateful that my clients are largely open minded about how I work and more often than not, are more than happy for me to shoot on film. 

I primarily shoot 5x4, so I only tend to bring that out for portrait jobs, primarily in the studio, although I will also bring it on location as time and conditions allow. It’s a slow camera to use and a very involved process, which I love, but it does create some restrictions.

You’re very much at the mercy of the available light, which in Sweden, particularly during the winter, isn’t in great abundance. This is why working in the studio is my preference when shooting film, as I have complete control over the lighting so having slow film isn’t so much of an issue.

Photos © Chris Lanaway

Did you start out shooting digitally and then learn film photography later or vice versa?

I started shooting film when I was a kid. My parents would buy us disposable cameras for our summer holidays, so I would run around shooting those like crazy. As I grew up, I really fell in love with the photography and photographers I saw in skateboard mags like Slam, Document, Thrasher and Sidewalk & Transworld. This was in the mid late 90s, so it was all shot on film back then as digital was still in its infancy and not that good, especially when compared to pro-level 35mm and medium format cameras at the time.

I ended up saving up and buying a second hand Pentax MX-30 in 2005. It sucked but I was hooked. I did end up buying a DSLR too a bit later, but most of my work was shot on an old Bronco SQA until I finished university and began working professionally. I was pretty much just shooting live sport so film wasn’t practical at all. My workflow and client base has changed a lot since then, so now I do end up using both mediums quite frequently.

Photos © Chris Lanaway

What about equipment? For instance, where do you buy your film? How or where do you develop your photos? Do you do any digital post processing?

I’ve had a variety of cameras over the years covering most formats. Currently my primary camera is an Intrepid MK4 5x4. With that I’m using a Fujinon 180mm lens, which is beautiful and exceptionally sharp. I also have an Olympus MJU II which is usually on me at most times, and I tend to carry that around with a roll of Portra 160 or Ilford XP2.

When it comes to buying film I tend to get it from two places usually, Team Framkallning and Bruno’s Bildverkstad. Both are in Stockholm, and since I now live in Sweden it’s just convenient for me, as they’re both within walking distance of a studio I use in Stockholm. Söderstudion in Södermalm; it’s the best studio in Stockholm.

Team Framkallning looks after my colour films and also does my flexite scans for any commercial jobs. They do an awesome job in their fully equipped lab. Bruno’s always has a huge selection of film and also all the chemistry. I develop my own black and white film, so I purchase my Ilford HP5 and chemistry for all that from him.

One of the beautiful things about shooting film is the colours and tones you achieve from your desired film stock. I tend not to do much post processing. Once I have scanned my negatives I just do some basic colour correction and sharpening, or sometimes if it’s for a job I might have to do some retouching, but I always try and keep that to a minimum.

Photos © Chris Lanaway

Do you have any advice or tips for photographers who want to experiment with film photography? What’s a good place to start?

The best thing for anyone wanting to experiment with film is to buy a cheap SLR and a load of cheap film. Don’t rush out to buy things like Portra and ProH right away. Head out and shoot, experiment and make notes. Read about film photography and watch some tutorials. Try and understand how film works and its difference from digital, learn the craft.

Just getting out and shooting is the best way to learn, as you learn from your mistakes. I’d also suggest checking out some YouTube channels. Negative Feedback is a good resource for people looking to get into shooting film. Ben Horn’s channel is also really interesting, and lastly Kyle McDougal has some great tutorials about scanning and post processing film.

Photos © Chris Lanaway

Christopher is an award winning and internationally published freelance commercial & portrait photographer best known for his work for revolving around sport and athletes. He works out of Stockholm, Sweden but takes commissions throughout Europe and the UK. You can see more of his work on his website or by following him on Instagram @chrislanaway

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Christopher is an award winning and internationally published freelance commercial & portrait photographer best known for his work for revolving around sport and athletes. He works out of Stockholm, Sweden but takes commissions throughout Europe and the UK. You can see more of his work on his website or by following him on Instagram @chrislanaway.