What I Learned Switching From Digital to Film when Shooting Band Photography

It seems the norm for photographers to shoot digitally these days and yet some still wonder how they’d fare shooting with film. What if you miss ‘that shot’ changing film or even mess up a whole gig if it all goes wrong? Band photography seems particularly difficult with challenging lighting conditions and fast paced movement to contend with, and you never know when someone’s going to throw themselves off stage, so would you shoot film with all that going on?

Ratos de Porao at Republica Da Musica
Ratos de Parão @ Republica Da Musica using Canon EOS 50E + 50mm 1.8 lens

We conducted this interview with ‘Destructive Girl’ Estefânia Silva, a music writer and photographer who has leapt whole heartedly into this delightful film challenge and here’s what she has to say:

– What camera & film do you use?
I’m now using a Canon EOS 5 and a little Canon SureShot MultiTele. I find that having a simple little point and shoot can be real fun and great for backstage and ambience/audience shots. That’s where I tend to experiment with film. I usually use expired colour film as Polaroid OneFilm and Fuji Superia but I buy every cheap expired roll I find, no matter the brand. As for the concert/bands per se I usually use Trix-X 400 and Ilford HP5: standard but easy to develop myself. Off-work, I keep collecting odd looking cameras like the Yashica Samurai X3.0, Polaroids, Instamatics and my ultimate goal is to get a Pentax 67. That’s my dream camera.

– How long have you been using film?
It has been an on-off love affair… I started with film when I was 13 and a member of the Photography Club in my school but with high-school, work and moving to the capital, maintaining a hobby such as this one was impossible. I decided to give it another try last year and this time for real. I was working as a writer for music websites and we always had a problem with photographers. Few were available to come to the gigs I was reporting and I didn’t own a digital camera so decided to become a photographer myself… and got a cheap Canon EOS 30E.

Bölzer @ Burning Light Fest

Do you shoot with a digital camera too?
Yes, when I’m working for websites or magazines that need the pictures right away I borrow a digital camera. But even when I’m asked to shoot digital, I always take my cameras with me and shoot film. I’m never happy with what comes out of the digital camera. People may think it looks “better”, “cleaner” or “brighter” or whatever, but I need film to feed my artistic vision. I have a signature and I want to keep it.

– Would you ever go back to digital?
I was never with digital in the first place. I never even had one of those digital point and shoot cameras. I had phone cameras, that’s the closest I was to owning a digital camera. But, no, I don’t think so. Unless film comes to full extinction, I’ll always have film and I don’t plan on buying a digital camera. I only shoot digital if I’m posting to Instagram or if I really have to.

Tribulation HP5
Tribulation – using Ilford HP5 film

– What have you learned in the brief time you’ve been shooting film instead of digital?
That time is everything and photography has nothing to do with taking 100 pictures per minute. Sometimes stopping for one minute, eyes on the stage, understanding the band’s movement, the stage lights’ scheme and knowing the songs helps you get THAT picture. My best pictures came from bands I knew well and I think that knowing your subject can be really helpful. And I learned to see the world in black and white as shooting black and white is completely different from shooting colour.

– Do you feel film limits in what you’re able to achieve?
I think film is ideal for what I’m trying to achieve professionally. I’ve tried to emulate the same feeling with digital and it’s never the same, it’s really frustrating. I want to have a signature which, in terms of concert photography, isn’t easy nowadays. Even if I only chose to shoot film, you can see plenty of photographers using filters to emulate the colours and contrast of film photography and I would still be just “another one”. As I’m a Peter Vernon – Charles Peterson –Neal Preston – Ray Stevenson “disciple”, there’s nothing I can’t get from a 35mm film camera. I want grain and imperfections, everything else is momentum, a good eye and luck.

11 paranoias
11 Paranoias @ SWR Barroselas 2015 using Canon EOS 50E + expired “white branded” film 200ASA

– Have you photographed any big bands or celebrities? Will the fact you use film put some off?
It depends on what you think of as being a big band. I only shoot metal, punk and alternative genres so we could say some of the bands I shot were big, in this context. Swans, Sunn O))), Venom,… I’m still a bit apprehensive about what my style would translate to when shooting “stadium bands” like AC/DC or Kiss and I’m afraid the raw, grainy, monochrome look wouldn’t be the best for these bands but… you never know! I really have no idea. I want to believe that people are intelligent and know that be it film or digital, what matters is the picture, not how it was taken.

– Do you have a website?
Yeah, I have a tumblr page. Search for Destructive Girls tumblr or abaddonthirteen.tumblr.com

Grime @ SWR Barroselas 2015

Many thanks to Estefânia Silva for sharing your thoughts with us, we know you’ll love the Pentax 67 when you eventually get one and there’s all that expired medium format film to play with too!

Here are some more of her wonderfully atmospheric images:

Impetuous Ritual Tri-x 400
Impetuous Ritual using Tri-X 400 film
Amplifest 2014
Amplifest 2014
Mantar @ Burning Light Fest
Mantar @ Burning Light Fest
amplifest 2014-2
Amplifest 2014

All images used with explicit permission for the photographer.


2 thoughts on “What I Learned Switching From Digital to Film when Shooting Band Photography

  1. marie June 13, 2016 / 8:49 pm

    great article! when shooting film at concerts, any tips on whether to use flash or not? mostly concerts where the lights are really bright on stage but in the crowd there isn’t much.

    Liked by 1 person

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