3 Things I Learned at Film School - Radian Photography

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3 Things I Learned at Film School

In March of this year, I headed to Utah to visit our film lab, The FIND Lab, and attend the 3-day Film School workshop with the photographer who started the lab, Jonathan Canlas. This was my first in-person workshop experience and I learned a ton and came back so excited to continue growing as a film photographer! Here are a few things I learned in my time at Film School:

There’s no such thing as “good light.”

The thing that attracted me to this specific workshop in the first place is that it wasn’t the type you so commonly see in the industry: a beautiful model, beautiful location, beautiful details, beautiful light…and the resulting portfolio-perfect images that will appear in all of the big blogs and will later trick all of your clients into thinking that their wedding/session will magically look the same. I’m sure you can learn a lot from an experience like that, but it isn’t one I am interested in right now.

Instead, Jon’s description of Film School included the fact that we would be shooting in lighting conditions that were tough and not ideal — i.e. the ones I’m most frustrated by when I shoot film. We shot portraits in a small, poorly lit garage, in the middle of the day with bright sunlight, and long after the sun had gone down at night. We brought our own lights in the form of flashes and strobes and the resulting images were all shot on film (I didn’t even bring a digital camera with me)! The truth is, there definitely is ideal light. I just really like having some techniques in my back pocket when that isn’t available!

film night photoblack and white portrait on film

photo on holga with flash

There is always more to learn.

One of the coolest things I heard at this workshop were Jon Canlas’s plans to learn more! He talked about taking a tintype workshop later this year and it dawned on me that we often glorify people who we think know a lot and are really skilled at what they do. But even those people don’t know everything. The best artists and photographers are constantly learning and growing — the work is never done. This is both terrifying and also really liberating, right?

Aside from getting to know Bertha (my trusty Pentax 645N) even better, I loved being able to learn about other types of kits. For instance, I got Ian a Holga for his birthday last year, but we have never used it! It’s a toy camera, but it shoots medium format film. At Film School, I opted to actually use it with flash to try it out — the photo above was taken with it!

fillm is not dead

black and white portrait on film

jonathan canlas film photography

Sometimes the intended lesson isn’t the actual takeaway.

I think I went to Film School expecting to come back ready to take on the world in a flash-film storm, but that isn’t happening! Not yet, anyway. We’re not investing in a ton of lighting gear right now and our set ups aren’t going to be elaborate ones that allow for Avedon lighting at portrait shoots. We’re still going to look for really wonderful natural light for our photos, but we’re definitely going to experiment more often with some fun film techniques in order to keep growing.

So maybe learning those techniques was the point of Film School, but that’s not really what I came home with. Instead, I returned with a much deeper appreciation for this medium that I’m falling more and more in love with and a desire to continue using and learning it. Being with a small group of people who shared that love and were willing to grow and help me grow was really energizing and not something I experience every day! All of the photos in this post are of other photographers who attended Film School (I know, they look like models, but they weren’t!) and it was so cool to be able to learn from people who are all very talented at their craft and all share a common love for film, even though they photograph very different things. These photographers traveled from all over the country and I was the only one from NC, so it was really fun to see the types of work being produced in different places and I certainly grew in my appreciation for work that doesn’t necessarily look like Radian’s!

Overall, I had an amazing time at Film School. The experience really pushed me and I learned a lot — even beyond film techniques. Do you have other resources you think we should learn from? Leave us a comment below and let us know!

black and white portrait on film

film photo with flash

durham film photographer

black and white portrait on film

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