On a recent trip we visited an area near Eminence, Missouri where one of the last groups of wild horses lives. These horses became wild around 100 years ago during the time of the Great Depression in America. (Approx. 1930’s) The story is that the owner couldn’t afford to keep them and simply let them go so they could fend for themselves. There are spots around Eminence where the horses can be seen milling about near a river and in open fields. I never thought wild horses would be interesting photography subjects but they really are magical looking. There’s something oddly different about them that makes them look almost as if they’re from a fantasy movie.
We were actually looking for a place to camp, and while we didn’t find a place to camp, we did find the horses which were so cool to see. Picking my way through brush by a river it really was like being in a fantasy movie as I watched these horses go about their business in the fading light of dusk.
Shooting with film is it’s own special challenge. It takes a lot of “mistakes” to get good with film and I don’t think I have done nearly enough with film to know exactly how it works. I did the best I could though and I think these photos came out well enough to give the fantastical impression that these horses give off.
One important lesson with film is that each film is different. And the meaning behind “different” can be many different things! It’s not just colors and grain that are different but how the film responds to light or the lack thereof. Most films want to be shot in bright light, that’s just how film is. So it’s usually best to overexpose many films by at least 1 stop. And it may be necessary to increase the amount of overexposure as it gets darker. Unfortunately, due to how the chemicals in film work, they don’t always respond linearly to light intensity.
Most film photographers these days are kind of snobby and elitist about the films they use. But in my opinion all film is basically junk compared to digital. It’s the homemade craft store version of a real picture. That doesn’t change the fact that I sometimes like how film photos look, I can and do appreciate how film looks for some uses. In fact, film is slightly better than digital at a couple of things. The #1 thing I like about film compared to digital is how it handles reflections on glass and on water.
The image below shows how film has a wonderful consistent reflection across the surface of the water.
Digital can be weird with reflections. I think it’s a case of digital being too accurate compared to film. Below is a digital version of the above photo:
The main difference I see in the digital image is that the reflections have lost color and become more of a murky green which is the color of the water. The film image has retained the intense blue sky color in the reflections. Certainly the digital image is more color accurate but are the reflections more pleasing in the film image? Maybe it’s too close to call. Maybe it’s just the film’s sensitivity to blue that created that impression. I just know I like how the film reflections look and I notice that with reflections on glass too. There’s something slightly more interesting about reflections shot on film.
It’s just one of those things about film vs digital that I think people kind of forgot about in the mad rush to adopt digital. Digital is amazing but it isn’t always so clear cut as people seem to think. There are cases where film holds its own still.
Just when you think it couldn’t get even more mystic the horse wanders into some purple flowers, taking the magical quality of this scene up another notch. Wild horses eating flowers in a grove of trees at dusk by a river in Eminence, Missouri? Even Hollywood producers would laugh that one off.
The biggest difference in shooting film compared to digital is the mindset and the selectivity. If I was shooting here with just my digital camera I’d come away with hundreds of photos, but with film I have 36 exposures to work with. It imposes a different mindset on the photographer. If you are an old school artist and you believe in things like process then you know that film is superior to digital for art. The reason for a process is that it gives the creator/artist a chance to imbue the work with their own thoughts.
While digital has it’s own process, it doesn’t force as many decisions on the artist as film does. Once something is done in film, it’s done. There’s no going back because there’s no undo button!
Take for instance this accidental double exposure below. This was the next to last photo I took before my film winder got stuck. After finagling with the camera a little I got it to click again but in the process I unknowingly double exposed this shot. It’s really a screwup but it’s still interesting looking:
Opinions on this kind of photography will vary greatly from person to person. Some people love it and think it is mysterious while other people hate it and view it as a big mess with no real purpose that distracts from the meaning in the image. Regardless of your opinion it is something that is unique to film and it’s something that some film photographers over the years have done intentionally to create unique images.
Film is definitely not the medium for perfectionists. Trying to be perfect with film might drive a perfectionist insane. Even though I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to my photos I appreciate the variety and randomness of film. It’s something that I don’t think I ever want to understand though. I have a vague idea about how film works and I’ll stick with that for now. It’s one of the beauties of these old manual cameras and lenses too. Sometimes they mess up and the result is interesting if not entirely purposeful. At the very least working with film gives photographers something to think about that is different from the normal routine of taking digital photos.
The way I look at film is kind of like that quote from Star Trek to “Boldly go where no man has gone before.” With film a photographer kind of has to have that mindset. At some point you just have to throw caution into the wind and just take pictures knowing that you might have to accept a little (or a lot of) trouble along the way.
Even though I enjoy shooting with film I probably won’t make it a major part of my photography. For one, it’s a little too random. Working with film is like working with some kind of dark magic. The minute you think it’s working and you understand it, it’ll blow up in your face. But the worst thing about it is the pricing. Each role of Kodak Ultramax cost me $14.99 at a local Target. Maybe it’s worth it to some but not to me. At those prices I pay for my Canon R5 in just a few weekends of weddings. I did a multi-day Indian wedding once and the film cost for that would have been $4,200 or more. YIKES. Imagine trying to make a profit these days with those kinds of costs. Especially when everybody and their mother is doing “wedding photography” for $500.
Anyway, that’s about it on photographing the mystic horses of Eminence, Missouri. If you get the chance to go there check it out, there’s also some great rivers for canoeing if you’re into that.