An important lesson in Analog photography: trying out Ilford Delta 3200

The most intimidating thing about film photography and the biggest stumbling block for someone looking at starting the journey, is not being able to see what you’re shooting, as you’re shooting it. But as I’m sure many of you reading this are aware of, shooting on film is all about patience and developing your instinct; two skills that are universal in photography but have been pushed aside in the digital age. Film photography doesn’t just offer a look and feeling in the final product – which is super desirable, but when shooting an image, it forces you into a mindset which without strong discipline, is hard to achieve with a digital camera. That being said, it is only with mistakes, trial and error that we build our skills and this is a perfect example of that.

Many weeks ago, before the great Sydney lockdown, I had the chance to try out a film stock I had never touched before, Ilford Delta 3200. Now if you aren’t familiar with Delta 3200, it is Ilford’s professional, high sensitivity black and white film stock, perfect for low light and night time shoots. What better way to round off a week than by shooting some street photography of Sydney’s (pre-lockdown) bustling night-time atmosphere. My weapon of choice was the Contax G1 with the super sharp and stunning 45mm f/2 Zeiss lens, a camera I had grown comfortable with because of its almost entirely automatic ‘point and shoot’ nature. The Contax G1 is my ol’ reliable; Frame the shot, click, and there you go – a well exposed, precisely focused and super sharp image. When loading the new film, all signs pointed towards getting some fantastic shots. I spent over an hour walking up and down circular quay, outside Central station and down towards Ultimo. I had quite a few unique fleeting opportunities and I was happy that I was able to frame and shoot at almost the perfect times for the images. This was a roll I was super excited to get back.

I sent the roll in for development and scan and then the two day waiting game began. Finally my inbox chimed with that heart warming notification ‘your images are ready for download’. Excitement turned to dread as one by one the images loaded. Black followed by black, followed by more black. It’s a gut wrenching feeling knowing you’ve stuffed up something while shooting, all those moments gone, that time wasted, that film wasted. 

I realised my problem after the fact going over everything I could’ve down wrong. You see as great as automatic assistance is, there is limits and this is one of them. While the Contax G1 has a fantastic automatic exposure metering system, shooting on a film like Delta 3200 really pushes that boundary – its super contrasty nature really crushes the black and whites in the images to great extremes and the result is a the camera capturing the perfect middle ground but the film acting in its own unique way – each different type of film is a new horse to tame and takes experience and patience to master. While a beginner might be put off by this experience, it has only made me more determined to learn to shoot on this film. Remember – Patience and developing your instincts is key, don’t be put off by mistakes like this while learning the world of analog shooting – in the words of Henri Cartier-Bresson and as mentioned before, “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.”.

There were still a couple images I was pleased with the result of, and I can definitely see why its classic ‘film noir’ style is widely loved.