I want to become a semi-professional/part time photographer eventually, and wanted to know if it is important to have experience in film based photography. Will potential clients/job pass over someone with no experience with film (both shooting and developing)? My dream is to be a part-time National Geographic photographer. Thank you.

  • I vote to close this as opionion-based. I myself had about 200 arguments about whether competence/hands-on-experience in developing film is a must or if it is redundant nowadays, and I think it is an extremely open-ended question.
    – flolilo
    Apr 14, 2018 at 16:56
  • @flolilolilo Actually I have a concrete question in there: Will potential clients/job pass over someone with no experience with film (both shooting and developing)? Someone could provide examples of the affirmative or negative of that question.
    – ITWorker
    Apr 14, 2018 at 16:58
  • 1
    @Alaskaman I would think that NatGeo wouldn't mind hiring a great photographer who has never developed film: Experience is key, everything else entirely depends on variables too broad to grasp in an answer here.
    – flolilo
    Apr 14, 2018 at 17:09
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    @flolilolilo Sorry, for a moment there i thought it was 1999 again. :) In my opinion it is very beneficial for anyone who want to be a pro photographer to have a solid understanding of film. developing with push/pull techniques and how film reacts to light or the lack of it would also inform ones knowledge base on photography in the digital world. Also manual camera operation.
    – Alaska Man
    Apr 14, 2018 at 17:20
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    @Alaskaman You see? I'm with you on this one, though one could argue that a tiny bit of physics and experience would do the same. There's really no right and wrng here, ans that's why I think it is opinion-based.
    – flolilo
    Apr 14, 2018 at 17:30

2 Answers 2


Will potential clients/job pass over someone with no experience with film (both shooting and developing)?

Some might. Some might not. The exact answer is as varied as the number of potential clients/employers. In the case of contract work for clients, it might be as varied as each specific potential job.

You're more likely to be expected to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of darkroom processes and techniques if your potential client/employer still uses film as a photographic medium. If the photographer is expected to do the darkroom work themself, you'll almost certainly need a full portfolio of works you yourself have produced in a darkroom.

You're far less likely to be expected to know much about film if your potential client/employer works only in the realm of digital imaging.

The same is true of physical printing from digital image sources: If your potential client/employer uses physical prints, or even publishes using commercial printing processes, you'll be expected to have at least a rudimentary understanding of how all that works so that the images you provide will be appropriate to the medium in which your work will be presented to the public.

In the year 2018, an understanding of both commercial printing processes, such as those used to print magazines, and digital image distribution requirements are probably more important to most potential employers/corporate clients than anything to do with film and darkrooms.

Not to rain on your parade, but by the time a beginner today gains the skill, knowledge, and experience and has time to build an appropriate portfolio and a reputation at lesser publications in order to be considered by National Geographic, they'll probably be long bankrupt. So will most other print publications, at least as primarily a publisher of print publications.

That's not to say there might not be other entities distributing similar stories and images in the future. But it's highly doubtful it will be via a print magazine. The future seems to be moving in the direction of self produced works by individual photographers who build a small business (small, relative to what a large organization such as Nat Geo once was) around their own work. They market, publish, and find corporate sponsors themselves rather than working for a publishing company that does all of that for them.

The NatGeo thing is just a far out thing. I was more interested in about more realistic clients, such as weddings, local restaurants, etc.

For those types of clients, you'll need to understand about printing from a digital image far more than you will need to know about film and darkrooms. They don't care if you use digital, film, or a pinhole camera. They only care about what you deliver to them at the end of the process. It's up to you to decide on the medium that you use to deliver their images.

In theory you could say, "I'll only deliver digital images to my clients." In practice that doesn't usually work.

When you shoot a wedding and deliver only digital images to your client here's what usually happens:

  • You shoot great images.
  • You process and edit the images to look their best on a large, high quality, well calibrated electronic screen.
  • You deliver the digital images to your client.
  • They look at all of them on their 9" tablet. They don't look near as good on the tablet due to scaling errors, poor calibration, smaller size and resolution, etc.
  • They choose a few to have printed. They select the printer based on local availability and lowest price.
  • They use an app on their tablet to upload the images to the local printer's website for pickup later that day, not realizing that their app is highly compressing/downsizing the images to save bandwidth and time.
  • The prints are produced at the local Walgreens by a high school kid who is more concerned with what is happening on the screen of their smart phone than what is happening on the screen of the minilab they're using to make your prints. The "automatic" correction settings of the minilab will almost certainly make your work look worse, rathrer than better, than your careful edits did.
  • Your client gets their prints and is so unimpressed they don't even bother framing, much less displaying most of them.
  • When their friends are planning a wedding they'll advise them, "I hired your name here because they were supposed to be so good, but the prints I got looked nothing like their sample images! I think the sample images weren't even theirs!"
  • I'm more sanguine as to the future of NatGeo. Whist the circulation has halved in recent times they still sell an astonishing volume and are a long way from bankruptcy. Besides, they long ago realised that the future was not on paper and diversified into digital content and TV, which is reflected in the dropping of the word "Magazine" from their moniker. I'd agree at some point the paper magazine will become unprofitable; nevertheless, I think it's such an integral part of the NatGeo psyche that it'll continue in a limited subsidised form for a long time after that point.
    – mooie
    Apr 16, 2018 at 13:24
  • @mooie They haven't had any salaried "staff photographers" at NatGeo for some time.. The National Geographic Society sold their media arms, including the magazine, TV, and film/video archives, to Rupert Murdoch's Fox media empire back in 2015.
    – Michael C
    Apr 16, 2018 at 19:52

In a word, no: you do not need experience of using film to be a professional photographer, part-time or otherwise. The only considerations a client will care about are: that you produce images they like and that fulfils their brief, and that you do so on time and within budget. As a freelancer, how you achieve those things is generally up to you.

These days, it'd be exceptionally unusual, peculiar even, for a client to insist on you using film. It's never happened to me and I started out professionally when film was still the predominate medium. If it were to happen, you can always politely decline the job, or, better still, recommend someone you know who does work with film. But, I bet you, it'll never be an issue.

That said — and, as others have pointed out — there are advantages in knowing how to use film. I know a number of young professionals who are schooling themselves in analogue processes. None of them are using film on a day-to-day basis for paid work, but they are exploring film when working on personal projects and when awarded residencies and the like. And, there is a market for the work they are producing. For example, the ingenious Kazuma Obara won a first prize in the People category of the World Press Photo competition in 2016 with his experiments using unexposed film he found in Pripyat.

So, whilst film experience isn't a must, it could be advantageous. But, if you're serious about earning a living from photography then there are other things that are initially more important: making sure you can deliver what you promise in all likely conditions is one, and ensuring you have the appropriate business and marketing skills to run a small commercial enterprise is a close second.


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