Outside the Box: Ellie Kemp

Graduate Trainee Underwriter shares her passion for the art - and science - of film photography.

A couple of years ago I got my first ‘proper’ camera for a tenner from eBay and using YouTube videos, as well as a bit of trial and error, I was able to get it cleaned it up and working again. One of the primary draws of film over digital photography for me is that with old technology you can fix most problems you might encounter with a set of small screwdrivers and a bit of perseverance.

I started from scratch with a camera that was fully manual, as I’m a firm believer that it’s best to understand the basics before getting caught up in the world of expensive (and often unnecessary) camera equipment. It’s almost always a better idea to improve your technique than your equipment. The reason your shot isn’t right isn’t because your camera or lens wasn’t good enough but because you’ve overexposed it or it’s not in focus, which is my personal failing.

With old technology you can fix most problems with a set of small screwdrivers and a bit of perseverance.

Expensive film, however, is my weakness. A roll of good-quality film gives you much more flexibility to take a range of different shots than cheap film, although these do have their merits and there are lots of cult classics. One of the aspects of photography I find most interesting is the chemistry behind developing film. Each type of film needs to be developed differently and you can get various effects by processing them in different ways.

The act of taking photographs using a film camera is, to me, far more interesting. With a digital camera it’s much easier to take loads of pictures, prune the rubbish ones and then use editing software to create the exact outcome you want. Whereas with film photography you’re creating a photo like you would a painting: the scene, the light, the colours. Or lack of, during our fabulously dreary winter. You think more about the photos you take because you don’t want to waste film on images that are boring. It’s also a much more relaxing experience because it makes you consider and refine what you actually want from the image, meaning you don’t spend the whole experience looking down your lens. 

You still never quite know how the final product will come out...It’s this randomness that makes film so appealing.

But, despite this, you still never quite know how the final product will come out. Even though you’ve created a setting you think will lead to a good shot, you only find out if you actually did when you develop the roll. It’s this randomness that makes film so appealing to me, which again you don’t get with digital.

To me, a shot should encapsulate a moment in time. My aim is to capture images that are as close to how I remember them in my mind’s eye in terms of their colour, light and feeling. Ultimately I want to create an archive of images that I can reminisce upon, especially as I have a pretty terrible memory.

With film photography you’re creating a photo like you would a painting: the scene, the light, the colours.

I’ve always lived in cities, so like to take photos of people living their lives [the picture above is one of Ellie's], or, if I’m with friends and family, then catching them in as natural or truthful a way as possible. Trying to find interesting locations to capture is also a great way to get to know the vast and seemingly unending expanse of urban sprawl that is London, which has a setting for any and every project. From the industrial landscape of East London to wildlife on Hampstead Health, you’re never short of subject matter for vibrant and contrasting images. 

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