Interview: David Chan

“Once I got the hang of it, it was easy to see why so many photographers are (re)discovering film. The way that light renders on film is simply magic…”

David is an avid film photographer in California. I came across his work shortly after a trip he took to Banff and I was blown away by his work. His panoramic photos made me want an X-Pan (or Fujifilm TX-1), the colors in photos made me want to try Ektar again, and the energy of his work has inspired me to travel and take more photographs.

JM: Thanks so much for doing this.  Your shots in Banff have inspired me to try Ektar again after one failed roll.  I’ve really appreciated all the direction and advice about my trip to Banff and photography in general.

JM: Why do you shoot film?

DC: I took some film and darkroom classes in high school and college, but it wasn’t until about a few years ago that I started seriously pursuing photography as a hobby again after purchasing a Sony a6000 with a 16-50mm kit lens for a trip to Hawaii. I was amazed with the capabilities of that little camera and began to accumulate lenses and accessories for it before completely upgrading to a full-frame Sony system later on.

DC: It was exhausting keeping up with the rapidly evolving technologies after a while, and I was beginning to feel burnt out from spending most of my time in Lightroom, rather than shooting. I must have spent hundreds of hours culling through terabytes of RAW files, watching Youtube tutorials, installing presets, trying to give my images that ineffable “film look”. At the same time, I was seeing more and more photographers that I admired dabble in film, with gorgeous results.

DC: I started looking into film cameras and ended up buying a beautiful silver Olympus OM-2n and a pack of Superia on Amazon. The package arrived minutes before I was set to leave for the airport. I spent the entire flight trying to figure out how to load the film, and not realizing that it needed batteries to operate shutter speeds other than 1/60s. Needless to say that first roll was complete dog s**t!

DC: Once I got the hang of it, it was easy to see why so many photographers are (re)discovering film. The way that light renders on film is simply magic, the tones and colors have a natural richness that is hard to replicate in digital. I find myself being a lot more deliberate and thoughtful with each click, and not having the ability to “chimp” is actually very liberating. Finally, it could be days, weeks, or even months before you see your images. It’s a lot of fun for me to look at those memories again with fresh eyes.

“Sometimes, even those carefully planned shots can turn out like crap, but a random click of the person sitting across from you can blow you away. It’s all part of the fun!”

JM: What is your favorite film?  Camera?

DC: For my favorite film, I’m going to be cliché and say Kodak Portra 400. It’s such a versatile film that works for 90% of situations. Fast enough to use at most lighting, amazing exposure latitude, pleasant grain and tones. It’s the best.

DC: I’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of great cameras to choose from, but if I have to pick a favorite it would probably be my Hasselblad Xpan. It’s a camera that I actually don’t use that often due to its special format and its “slow” lenses, but in the right situation it has produced some of my favorite images.

JM: What proportion of your shots turn out as you hoped (or better)?

DC: I would say about 25%. Being on film and having no way to verify your results, I usually play it safe and take 2-4 frames if it’s something important. Sometimes, even those carefully planned shots can turn out like crap, but a random click of the person sitting across from you can blow you away. It’s all part of the fun!

JM: When do you call a photo ‘finished’?  When it’s printed? posted on IG? scanned?

DC: Well, it’s “finished” as soon as the shutter curtain close, isn’t it? I just hope that I or the lab don’t screw it up after! In all seriousness, I think it really depends on what you are trying to achieve with a particular image. Whether the goal is to post it on social, hang a large framed print on your wall, or email it to your grandma, to me it’s finished once you are satisfied with the result.

JM: Though it’s really tough to choose a favorite photo of yours, I’d have to say it’s one you took at Consolation Lakes (15Sept2018).  What’s the story behind it? Where does it rank for you?

DC: Thank you, it’s one of my favorites from that trip! Such a memorable day. My wife Crystal and I started early in the morning to Moraine Lake with the plan to get some photos and canoe on the lake. As the morning went on, the area became more and more crowded with tourists, waving around their selfie sticks and whatnot. After a while, it was impossible to get any unobstructed shots and we were desperate to get away to somewhere more secluded. We discovered the Consolation Lakes trail and decided to explore despite the large ominous sign that warned of bears!

DC: It was a beautiful trail through the woods that ended with a scramble over some large boulders to get to the lake. My wife being a former gymnast, is much more nimble than I am. I got as far as I am comfortable with while she continued to work her way over the rocks. I had been saving the last frame of Velvia in my Xpan, and decided to use it as she was perched on the large rock in the center. It was one of those rare shots where it turned out even better than planned. I couldn’t be happier with the way it turned out!

JM: What is your favorite shot you’ve ever taken?  What’s the story behind it?

DC: Oh man, that’s a tough one. There are a lot of shots that I am proud of and a few that have received some recognition, but as far as my personal favorite, it would probably be the of Crystal doing her makeup in the mirror while we were in New York. Just a simple, intimate moment captured on black and white film that I hand developed. 

JM: If someone told you they were thinking of getting into film, what would your response/advice be?

DC: Get a full manual camera with a fast prime lens and just shoot, shoot, shoot. Stick with one type of film stock so you can learn the characteristics and have something consistent to measure your progress. Most of all, shoot what you love and have fun!

You can see more of David’s work below.