Why 35mm Film is Perfect for Architectural Photography

Why 35mm Film is Perfect for Architectural Photography

When the pandemic had resulted in so many aspects of life to be put on hold back in 2020, my photographic interests turned from people to architecture.

My partner, Meg, had given me a photo book of Detroit architecture and it really spoke to me.

Some of the initial aspects of architecture that made an impact on me were the facts that they impact everyone on a daily basis, and also the way that each building has unique features depending on the architect and their vision, collaboration(s) and intent.

My education, training and experience had been, and still is, centered on photojournalism and telling stories. When it wasn’t possible to document people like I was used to, though, I turned my storytelling to structures.

Zeeland, Michigan

What I try to do most often, whenever it’s possible, is to document structures in a way where the photographs include people. This seems to be a perfect blend of what fulfills me. One photographer that has been doing this beautifully is Iwan Baan.

His work captures people and structures and they don’t seem posed and contrived, as so many architectural images do.

As I delved into architectural photography I began to see some trends and consistencies in the craft. And, this is where the subjective aspect of photography comes in.

Traverse City, Michigan

Digital photography is, of course, the norm versus the exception these days. In regards to architectural photography, digital photography allows multiple exposures to be utilized to achieve a perfect image where the lighting is ideal.

Final pictures are clean, crisp and virtually perfect in the realm of technicalities.

What I’m finding, though, is that it’s becoming quite tiring and boring for me. What’s important here is that I’m saying, “…for me.” Photography is a personal journey and you should do what makes you happy.

For me, it’s become exhausting to chase whatever new camera comes out every day. It’s become tiring trying to capture the absolutely perfect image with perfect lighting.

Now, there are some photographers who capture architecture with film cameras, and they do it superbly. Rory Gardiner and Simone Bossi are the two photographers who come to mind. Their work is exceptional and they are prominent film photographers.

Denver, Colorado

Walking against the wind and bucking the trends, what has brought me the most enjoyment with photography has been capturing architecture with 35mm film.

I’ll tell you why I feel it’s the perfect architectural tool.

First, I love using film cameras. At they’re most basic level they’re fun to use. I find myself thinking about photographs more intentionally when I use them. Each frame costs money, so the enhanced focus is inevitable.

Also, when I’m using film cameras, I’m not thinking about them becoming obsolete immediately, as is the case during the current times.

Photography is difficult enough, and expensive enough, to think about, without having to worry about those things. Photography should simply be enjoying the moment and capturing images that please you.

Denver, Colorado

Second, and finally, the aesthetic of 35mm film is glorious. When photographing with film, it renders light in such a magnificent way. There are presets that can simulate almost any emulsion and film type out there, but to me it’s never the same as using film.

Medium format can produce some really pleasing results. The pictures have high resolution and are extremely clean. For me, though, that’s the thing: I want the grain. If I wanted clean images, I’d go right back to digital.

Thirty-five millimeter film yields images with such an extraordinary grain, it’s simply gorgeous.

For these reasons, I’ve been feeling like 35mm film is the perfect tool to make, not only pictures, but specifically architectural pictures.

Denver, Colorado

As I said earlier, photography, and the tools we use to practice photography, is super subjective.

It’s important to do what fulfills you and makes you excited to make images the way you want to make images.

That’s the most important thing.

Notes: If you’re looking for information, inspiration and resources about architectural photography, I can’t recommend Architectural Photography Almanac enough.



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