Thursday, April 19, 2012

GUEST REVIEW: Film is Not Dead – A Digital Photographer’s Guide to Shooting Film by Jonathan Canlas & Kristen Kalp


Although I started shooting film in the early 1980’s, I’m happy the film days are gone. In my mind it is dead, but I realize that many still enjoy the charm of shooting film. In fact, I’ve still got a few rolls on the shelf and occasionally feel the desire to fire off a roll. However, I’ve moved on and embraced digital and love ever second of it.

When one of my partner publishers sent me a copy of Film Is Not Dead: A Digital Photographer's Guide to Shooting Film I thought about just tossing it aside and not doing a review, but then I remembered one of my former Lightroom students Mark Olwick. Mark has always been a film photographer who only dabbled in digital on the side. I figured he was a much more qualified person than me to review this book and offer a fair opinion of it for those who are still enchanted by the charm of film photography.

About Mark Olwick

Mark Olwick is a fine art photographer living in Seattle WA and has been shooting film for more than 40 years.  He specializes in capturing the emotion and dreams of exotic places around the world.  You can view his work at


Being primarily a film photographer, Ron asked me to share my thoughts on Jonathan Canlas’ book “Film is Not Dead”. There’s been a real resurgence of interest in shooting film as many digital photographers attempt to differentiate their look from millions of others.

The book is written from the point of view of a wedding and portrait photographer, of which Jonathan Canlas is an outstanding example. If you’re a digital photographer in that area, this book will definitely speak to your style of photography. Note: Kristen Kalp is listed as a coauthor, but I don’t know what her role was. The book is written with Jonathan’s voice. I’m sure it was a critical role, it’s just not explained in the book.

Here’s an overview of the book, followed by my comments:

Chapter 1: The Reasons

This chapter focuses on the reason he shoots film – and they’re pretty compelling. Not only does it give you a unique look, but it dramatically reduces the time you spend in post-processing. And those are just two of the reasons!

Chapter 2: The Rules

Want to know how to expose and actually take a photo with a film camera? This is it, presented in short, to-the-point fashion. No in-depth theory here – he writes just as if you were standing next to him at one of his workshops telling you what to do and why. I love this writing style. Subjects are exposure (including specific settings for specific films), a gear overview, etc.

Chapter 3: The Cameras

Here Jonathan shares the cameras that he uses along with specific quirks about each model. If you’re looking for a comprehensive guide to all the film cameras out there, this isn’t it. It isn’t really even all the formats. It’s limited to the ones he knows about. It does, however, show you the types of things to look for when choosing a film camera, then leaves it to you to research more alternatives (and I think this is the proper approach)

Chapter 4: The Film

What are the types of film that Jonathan uses to shoot weddings and portraits? They’re covered here, along with why and when he chooses to use each. Tips for each type of film are included as well, including when to push film and latitude of each emulsion (don’t worry, he explains all these terms too). Note that it’s primarily color discussed here. There’s a bit of black & white thrown in, but not to the depth that color is.

Chapter 5: The Exposing

Exposing for film is just plain different than shooting digital, especially print film. Jonathan walks you through common shooting scenarios and gives step-by-step instructions for each. If you don’t have a hand-held meter, you’ll likely want to buy one once you finish this chapter.

Chapter 6: The Backend

You’ve shot your first roll…now what? Covered topics include both labs and developing at home. Each of these are only covered at a superficial level. There are obviously many more labs than the one he recommends and developing your own is a huge topic unto its own, covered by many in-depth books.

Chapter 7: The Personal Projects

Jonathan says that this is his favorite part of the book and you can see why. This is the most important part of any photography. It’s what drives us. He shares some examples of his own projects and you’ll come away inspired by both the stories and photography.

Chapter 8: The Tutorials

How to load film into the cameras that he mentions, plus metering with the hand-held meter. It’s a brief but valuable section, I just wish some of the photos were larger.

Chapter 9: Resources

A list of resources to find the products and services mentioned in the book.


I enjoyed the book. It’s an easy read, written in a very conversational style and a “Just the facts, ma’am” approach. If you’re photographing people, you’ll be up and going in no time. Here are a list of pros and cons:


  • Succinct and to the point
  • Filled with inspiring photography
  • Includes real-world tips and tricks
  • Conversational writing style
  • Any trepidation you had about trying film will be eliminated
  • Great overview of the subject


  • It’s limited to what Jonathan knows best – weddings, portraits and people photography. If you’re looking for landscape advice, you’re out of luck here. How to use films like Fujifilm Velvia 50 (color) or TMAX (black & white) for scenery and landscapes aren’t even mentioned, even though they’re staples in many landscape photographers bags. Many other types of photography are omitted as well.
  • It’s almost entirely about color. Black & white advice is really only limited to shooting ISO 3200 film at the wedding reception.
  • If I was a beginner, some of the subjects left me wanting more info. Of course, as Jonathan says, you can always do a web search for that.
  • Small photos in the tutorial section
  • Limited to the cameras and films that he knows, which isn’t a huge variety.
Bottom Line

If you’re a digital photographer and want to shoot like Jonathan Canlas does, this book will get you headed in that direction. Just remember, there are no magic bullets – Jonathan got to where he is through a lot of hard work and talent as well.

Ordering Info

Click here to order your hard copy of Film Is Not Dead: A Digital Photographer's Guide to Shooting Film. This book is also offered in a Kindle Edition for reading on your Kindle, Android, iPad, etc…


Mark was not paid for this review, but he was allowed to keep a copy of the book in exchange for his time. I may make a commission if you make a purchase using links found in this article.

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