How To Photograph With Purpose

The smartphone is probably– at this point– the most ubiquitous camera around. In a click or less, virtually anything you can ever want to capture is readily available. I think it’s maybe even so second-hand that for the most part, we’re not even concentrating on what we’re capturing. 

For instance, my roommate has even pointed out to me that whenever I take a photo on my phone I instinctually always take three in a row. Where did that come from? I don’t know! But something must be said about the sheer accessibility of the smartphone that promotes photographic detachment.

Shot By Anna Russian

In dabbling more in film photography, however, I noticed something changed in my approach. Suddenly, I wasn’t instinctually clicking the shutter three times in a row. Suddenly, I didn’t feel the need to capture random meals I had or a bird I saw hundreds of feet away. I became more focused on the subject, the framing, the feeling

It’s not unlike setting your intention in a yoga practice; in yoga, intention means awareness. It’s an internal call to action. What is the point of what you are doing? Who are you doing it for? What do you hope to gain? How will you perceive it later? These are questions I now ask myself as I’m about to take a photo on film. 

Slowly but surely, something more magical than a “perfect” shot occured. I was actually present with myself and the camera. When I’d go in to develop a roll, I was even struck by how I remembered what photographs I took. I remember where I was, who I was with, what I was doing, how I was feeling. It seemed like the meditation of framing the photos left me with a memory imprint. Like each new film roll was a different era in my life. 

Now, in my head, I’m looking at the world with an open mind. Something that looks mundane with a smartphone could be made into something beautiful with the right film exposure. It’s all about perspective. It’s all about intention. 

Shot By Rodra

I’ve been trying my hand at finding the magic in film. In our digital age, there is something about the tangibility of the actual roll that serves itself to interconnection. I’ll be the first to say that film can often be a tedious medium; is the sun not bright enough? Will the photos come out? But not having the immediate gratification has lent itself to a feeling more special. 

This newfound mindfulness in film photography has led me to reconsider the role of smartphone photography in my personal life. In film, I’m more grounded. There’s no instant gratification of seeing a photo. In fact the entire role may not even turn out well (which has happened, unfortunately), but I know that there is some type of pressure that escapes when I’m not worried about trying to get the perfect shot 10 times in a row.

Also, the recent rise of film costs aren’t doing anyone any favors in that regard. Say I decide to buy one roll of Portra and take it to Photodom to process and scan it. The film alone costs $14 and if you chose to process and scan your photos in high resolution, you are looking at $15 not including tax. At the end of the day a singular roll is 80 cents a shot! That’s actually quite expensive so, its important to weigh each frame with a more precise focus. So how can you shoot with intention film photography?

It sounds like a new year’s resolution in a way as it calls for a similar approach to energy now that you have decided to get your life together, but now you are focused on your creative approach.

Focus on what you want to shoot-this depends on the style that you like to shoot in, and keep in mind that it doesn’t necessarily have to be an idea. Perhaps, you would like to have a scavenger hunt with yourself by choosing a focus, like shooting everything red. That’s my favorite color so I’m more inclined to notice it. In doing this, you are training your eyes to see something specific that you really want to shoot.

Shot By Rodra

Predict your shot-this a subtle art in fine tuning your eyes to anticipate action. This gets better with time and practice, especially as you get more familiar with your camera and all the things it can do. As you venture out with a camera, your eyes and instinct will get sharper to observe the world around you. As you become comfortable with this new perspective, you will be able to quietly predict what will happen, based off of of your environment.

Don’t shoot the exact thing twice-This seems like a no brainer but you would be surprised how you will almost unconsciously take the same shot when you have a camera in your hands It’s all about understanding the gravity of film itself. It’s one of those art forms that allows you to slow down and be fully immersed in a moment if only for a split second. Also, film companies have reprioritized their ventures years before the recent resurgence of the medium. So, to keep it real, film is much more rare and costs more that it has ever been before. Therefore, it’s advantageous to stretch your artistic lens as much as possible. Try different angles, use moody or bold lighting, use a flash that you’ve forgotten about, or go to a place you’ve never been before. Try to tackle a different film technique. Be fearless and yet intentional in your photography. And that’s your motto for 2022.

Shot By Bob Greco

Be present. This is much easier said than done. Consider many thoughts are rattling around in your brain. Take note of what is going on in there. Are you nervous about some upcoming bills, or you are unsure of where you are going in your life? Understand what is dominating your brain and the frequency by which thoughts come and go. Then allow photography to become a mediation as you direct that mental energy into your visual sense, so that you can indeed be present. Photography is an art form that challenges you to observe the world around you and to take nothing for granted. Maybe this sounds lofty and even cliche but I promise you it will change how you see things.

Don’t aim for perfection. Perfection don’t exist. Progress is the point. Remember that everything starts small, but with time and practice you become better and better at your craft. Keep going. Don’t be too hard on yourself when you don’t execute the shot the way you wanted. It will get better trust!

Have fun with it! Fun is simply joy in freedom. Don’t ever let photography die by becoming work.

Hope this helps you as you continue to make make magic with your film camera!


Anna Russian
Anna Russian is a writer, artist, and musician. She graduated from Bard College in 2019 with a B.A. in literature and is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

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