Anticipation: The Joy of Not Knowing


Viewfinder to the eye, focus while exposing, control the breathing, pray to Cartier-Bresson, release the shutter—that is how I shoot film. Though I use digital for my professional work for many reasons, I still love to shoot film. It's fun, and besides, there is a slight adrenaline rush that comes from not knowing whether or not I got the shot. 

A couple of months back, I borrowed a Leica M7 rangefinder and a 50mm F/1.4 Summilux. The results of my mind's eye were recorded onto Kodak BWCN 400 Film.

When promenading the streets of Manhattan from the South Street Seaport to the north end of Central Park (as I did every weekend), encountering a decisive moment opportunity was akin to finding a rare Poke'mon while playing my Game Boy as a child. And when they'd appear, the world seemed to slow down around me as I manipulated aperture, shutter speed and focusing with total celerity. And in that 1/1000th of a second at F/4, capturing the moment was imperative.

If you're not fast enough, you won't get another chance—it's gone forever and you've failed. And so you lower your camera back down, and keep walking.

But if you capture it on film, there is even more pressure to ensure that you've exposed correctly, your subject is sharp, etc. And you won't know if you nailed it until you develop that roll. Before you do that, you need to finish shooting the roll. So you continue walking, keep your eyes open, and keep hoping that when you next find that special moment, you'll get up close in time to shoot.

Each potential photograph is such a thrill. You keep thinking to yourself, "Did I get the shot? What will it look like? Will it be in focus? Will I be able to scan it and save it in digital?"

An even more intense experience, I find, is shooting with a Lomography Action Snapper and Lomo 35mm ISO 400 Film. Why? It fires four photos onto one frame. The camera does all the work for me. But when a camera chooses settings for me, I get antsy. I need to ensure that I got that shot! With the Lomo cam, it's out of my control.

Recently, I attended a scavenger hunt where I needed to photograph certain objectives with the LC A+. Since there were prizes on the line, it was even more intense. I remember crossing the finish line and waiting for my prints to be developed, hoping that I photographed everything correctly. The anticipation was so intense—maybe that's why the organizers sat us down in some of the most comfortable couches ever while we waited to hear which team won the prize. The thrill of not knowing what was going to come out on the roll of Lomo 800 was killing me because as team leader I had brought friends out with me, hoping that we'd all be able to take some prizes home as a result of the hard work of frantically running around midtown Manhattan within a specified amount of time. In the end, we lost the hunt. But I've never had that much fun shooting in my life.

You'll only find out the secrets hidden on film when the prints emerge from the lab.

Do you remember shooting with film? What was it like for you? Let us know in the comments below.

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I remember it like it was last Sunday.

Wait, it WAS last Sunday.  I found a weird, old camera at a church thrift shop (Haminex Compact A; heard of it?  Me neither).  For $3 the price was right.  Back home, I loaded in some Kodak 400 Max and a battery from my Canonet QL-17 and off I went with my son.

I don't know how it will come out, since I can't get the film developed until this weekend.  But here's hoping!

I love shooting film, especially B&W in my Holga and Diana cameras. Then I go home and develop it! Talk about mystery. There's 2 levels. Did I get it? Did I screw it up in developing it?

Thanks, guys!

Let us know when you have those photos scanned online, we would love to see them.


B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the post on the joys of film. I am also very committed to continuing to shoot film. Why? Well, much as I might wish otherwise, photography is not my day job. Since I do not have clients demanding images for immediate review, for website use, or other uses where digital images hold a decided advantage over film, I can afford to continue shooting film. While developing film is a nerve-wracking process (at least for me), enlarging and printing in a traditional darkroom is where I find a lot of much needed solace and tranquility. This holiday period, I have spent several quality hours in my darkroom (including several this morning) and I plan to return to my trays of smelly chemicals, dim lighting, and trying to imagine what a certain tone in the negative will translate to given my choice of paper and contrast filter, in just a few minutes. Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that for many working pros, digital photography gives them the control and options they need to succeed in their business. But for me, working slowly and contemplatively with my 4x5, 6x6, and even 35mm cameras are a welcome respite from all the techno-babble of my day job. To those wondering what could possibly be appealing about this mysterious substance, join us, you might find something you like, it will connect you to the history (and great practitioners) of the medium, and hopefully more demand will convince the film/chemistry companies it is still a profitable venture.  Old school rules!

Best to All!


Not only do I remember shooting with film, I also remember developing it and what I really remember is the smell of the chemicals as you were developing your photographs. From making a contact sheet, to your final print and the built upanticipation and  excitement of whether or not the print was going to turn out? It was an exciting process that I miss, however, I do like the new technology of digital I like the instantaneous see it right away. Just enjoyed hanging out in the darkroom listening to music too.