How did I end up on the other side of the world, on the trip of a lifetime and shooting it all only on film? This is how it all began.
One day a few months ago, The Travel Project got in touch to ask if I wanted to collaborate on an exciting project that would explore the topic of technology & photography. They were looking for a digital “influencer” and avid traveller to head to Australia, to shoot entirely on film and simple disposable cameras, to see how removing technology (i.e. digital cameras) from the equation changes the experience of interpreting a destination.
Of course I said yes. I’d had some previous experience in film photography, but long ago and only a little amount, so this would be a great opportunity to re-connect with my past and push myself to shoot in another format again.
Who am I? My name is Allan Hinton. Almost four years ago now I quit my 9-5 demanding London office job to pursue other directions in life. I’d spent many envious years looking at those people who were working within their passions, and I needed to take some time away and allow myself a shot at pursuing mine, which were travel and photography, to see where it could lead.
I’ve been on the road & travelling from country to country with my digital camera for quite some time now. I’ve been lugging myself along with my digital camera and about five heavy professional lenses around in my bag for long enough. I was excited to travel with a lighter load.
In preparation for my trip, I had to have a game plan of what film to buy. I had to think about things like what ISO to use (that’s the sensitivity to light of the film), and what the weather conditions were going to be like, as that would change the kind of film I needed to buy. These are things I’d never normally consider given the advancements in digital camera technology; you can just adjust these settings on the fly. I ended up buying the Portra film on a friend’s recommendation – a good beginner and ‘safe’ option for film novices like myself. I bought 6 rolls of film and 3 disposable cameras. The 6 rolls of film would allow for around 15 shots a day. I’d purposely wanted there to be some sort of limit.
The first stop on our Beaches & Reefs trip was the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney. I raced down to the viewing platform and excitedly, and slowly, set up the settings on the camera.
Nothing in the shot was moving. It’s just a view. Nothing could go wrong. But something felt strange and not right. Was it because this was the first shot?
I tried again from a slightly different angle and it still felt odd, but perhaps that’s just how it should feel. There’s no digital view finder or ability to look back at the photos just taken. After a third shot of some colourful flowers I moved on to observe other parts of the park. It was a shot I wouldn’t necessarily have taken on digital but I was really curious to see how the Portra 160 film would make the colours of the blossoming flowers turn out.
When I got back on the coach someone I’d not yet met curiously asked “so did you get any nice photos?”. This made me laugh and it also made me remember how with film we are not going to see the results until a few weeks later. It made me smile. Sometimes as a photographer you don’t really want to show someone a photo directly from your roll before you’ve had time to edit and fine tune. It can also be annoying when people are constantly asking you to “send me the shots!”. Well in this instance there was no choice!
For my first sunrise I wasn’t sure that, without using a tripod, the camera was going to handle the conditions. The sun was behind the Opera House, back lighting it aggressively and so the foreground was dark. Normally in these conditions I could underexpose and then boost the shadows in Photoshop, but not this time! It was such a beautiful sight at that time of the day so I crossed all thumbs and fingers that it would turn out well!
A few stops up the coast and still not feeling fully confident I gallivanted to the most eastern point of Australia for my “money shot” – Byron Bay for sunrise at the lighthouse. After a night of little sleep and an alarm going off before 5am, I caught a taxi to the lighthouse and waited for the sun to rise. I went to shoot and… couldn’t. Ahhh. “What now?!” The film had jammed – I must have put it in wrong somehow! I had no idea what to do in that moment and I didn’t have a spare roll on me. Trying to see the positive, I felt grateful that I still had 10 days to capture shots.
By this stage of the trip I realised how relaxed I was feeling. I started to analyse this and try to interpret why my state of being had changed so much. I realised that with digital photography there is always a lot of instant disappointment and dissatisfaction immediately after taking a shot and seeing that it didn’t quite turn out how you’d imagined.
I also realised I often pressured myself way too much to get “the perfect shot” and was often on edge and high tempo when roaming around scouting out for a photo opportunity. Whether this is a good or bad thing, I enjoyed the more laid back approach I was having with film. I was also really enjoying taking less shots; it was kind of a relief. I tend to over shoot way too much with digital with even huge memory cards getting filled up quickly, and I normally find it such a drag to have to go through hundreds of shots each evening. With film there was none of that; I was able to just be in the moment and enjoy the experiences I was having.
By around day 8/9 and our Whitsundays sailing trip I began to take more spontaneous shots, which made the process even more fun. I knew I had enough roll left to be more playful and experimental and my bond with the group was strong, so I felt like I wanted to document them, and my time with them, more.
Using film cameras made me see things differently. I felt like I was becoming the photojournalist that I had always wanted to be. I was definitely looking at things in a “documentation” way instead of just looking for that one killer shot that I tended to look for when shooting digital. With film, there’s no option to polish up a shot in post-production to make it into that ‘epic’ Insta post. I had to just capture the here and now and capture the scene ahead of me exactly as the camera saw it at that very moment. My film camera is small and light and lives around my neck, so I was able to capture moments within a split second of seeing them.
I think the group also felt less intimidated with a smaller lens in front of them, and that’s maybe why they look so relaxed and natural in all the shots.
It’s like the film lens had some sort of magic, or perhaps in reality people enjoyed being in front of it more than they did a digital camera as they knew they were not going to see the photo immediately.
Even myself. Although I’m not 100% in focus within this self-portrait I took on the cliff edge, my pose was so much more relaxed. I’d taken the time to compose myself and had faith that I could pull this off in just one take. When placed side by side with my all digital shots I really notice the difference. You don’t need 10-20 takes to get that one shot!
As soon as I got back to Sydney at the end of the trip I raced before closing time to Digital Camera Warehouse. I was so excited to see all the photos developed, and I can’t express enough how happy I was (maybe it was partly relief too) seeing the photos of the last two weeks together.
Flicking through the photographs everyone seemed so happy. It was a joy to look back at the photos and simply be reminded what a great time we had. I loved the look and feel and tones of the photos and I loved the fact that the edit was permanent. There was nothing I could do and had no need to spend hours editing them!
Shooting film had made me enjoy travelling in a completely different way. I’d been more relaxed, felt less pressured and felt like I’d freed up time to actually soak up my surroundings. I hadn’t had the need to spend hours and hours after dark in Lightroom playing and editing. All this probably made me a better travel companion too. My fellow travellers were also all excited and seemed more willing to be in a shot.
I have definitely learnt to be more patient and just take a couple of photos rather than clicking away and relying on finding the best shot at a later time. Most importantly though I had fun! After all, what’s the point in photography and travel if you’re not going to enjoy yourself?
So will there be a next time for shooting on film? Abso-bloody-lutely! It’s been such a rewarding experience. I’m definitely going to take my rusty old thing with me on future travels, so watch this space…
Allan Hinton travelled on Contiki’s Beaches & Reefs with Sailing experience in partnership with The Travel Project. Have you had a travel experience that has impacted your life in some way? Or maybe like Allan, you’re enjoying the revival of disposable cameras? Whatever your story may be, we want to here it. Head to our Community Contributor program to find out more.