Is it practical to travel just with film?


This is a bit of a trick question because those of you who usually shoot analogue probably find it practical and better for a number of reasons. If you’re a die-hard digital photographer on the other hand, just thinking of travelling with film can cause a headache.

I am what some call a hybrid photographer, I use the two media on many occasions and although I mainly use digital for commissions, I feel very comfortable using film. Curiously enough, many photographers who use both formats (myself included) tend to take the digital camera along as a safeguard in case the work we produce in analogue gets damaged or does not meet our expectations, and for that “just in case” aspect, we end up shooting work two times. This is curious because if I stop to think about it for a moment, it’s clear that things can go sideways much easier with a digital camera than with an analogue one; batteries, memory cards, hard drives, computer etc. Vs. A couple of button batteries at most.

That said, it still does not seem to be enough to convince most people, there’s the issue of films and X-rays at airports and of course, the elephant in the room; You cannot see what you are doing while you’re doing it.

But what about the advantages?

Man walking back from essaouira port

Before we start with the advantages, let’s talk about the disadvantages for a moment. In my experience, I’ve never had any problems with x-ray’s and I’ve traveled plenty, many times with film. I do have to say though, that I never use film that exceeds 400 ASA and up to 800 ASA, in theory, you will be more or less safe from any strange things happening to your film. Beyond that, and due to greater sensitivity, what 100% analogue photographers do is to ask the airport control for a manual review, meaning that the only issue is needing a little more time to get through security control.

Regarding the disadvantage of not being able to see your photos in the moment, I think that it can be an advantage; not being able to chimp is not only liberating but also allows you to focus more on watching the street and the scenes in front of you without missing a thing! Besides that, since you do not see the results you are less likely to be complacent and stop shooting once you have something interesting.

This last point is more emotional than practical and if you are disciplined, is not entirely valid. In any case, exploring the world with an analogue camera also has its purely practical points, for example when you visit countries where the people are not entirely happy being photographed.

Black and white film, Essaouira

As some of you already know, I travel to Morocco quite a bit, both for photo tours and for other projects. It’s a country that I have fallen in love with, primarily because of its culture and the hospitality that I have experienced time and time again, however, taking photos in Morocco can be a challenge. It does not matter if you use an ostentatious reflex or a small mirrorless, doing street photography makes the Moroccans uncomfortable and they won’t hesitate to let you know. However, when you use an analog camera the thing changes a lot since in the eyes of the subject or subjects, they are no longer being used for journalistic or social media purposes, but rather for artistic purposes, something that most will appreciate (read more on taking pictures in Morocco here)

In this case, travelling with film becomes really practical. However, I think the key lies in a mixture of these reasons and a last one that I find very interesting:

Tino Soriano, a great National Geographic photographer, calls it the latent image. It is the capture of the desired and expected photo that you will not see until it is developed and it is interesting for two reasons. The first is that it’s exciting (at least for me), having to wait to see the results and find out if you’ve got that picture you imagined, and second, the fact that you have to wait a few weeks or days will make editing (choosing) your best work more objective, since in this space of time you will probably have forgotten details such as smells or personal sensations that would otherwise have swayed you into choosing inferior photographs (read more about this in the article: “You are as good as your worst photo”)

So, to answer the initial question of whether it is practical to travel only with film, my answer is yes, it is. With the summer holidays are just around the corner now is a great moment to throw yourself into the deep end, grab a bunch of film and do the experiment of travelling only with film. I’m certain that the results will surprise you.

Woman hanging clothes, Cuba, film photography

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