Ditch Your Digital Camera—Why You Should Shoot Film On Vacation

Even before I picked up a camera a number of years ago, I was traveling as much as my schedule and wallet would allow me. There has always been something that has drawn me to hitting the open road, heading to the airport, or catching a train. When I was young my family moved to England for my father’s job and while living across the pond my family traveled to a number of European countries. I think it was those specific vacations at such a young age when the travel-bug bit me for the first time. As I grew older I still loved to travel, but it wasn’t until I picked up a camera that I really started wanting to travel across the globe as much as possible, this time documenting my travels. I took my digital camera, an assortment of lenses, and countless other photography-related odds and ends with me to St. Louis, Sorrento, Seattle, Vancouver, Venice, South Carolina, Florida, Rome, Philadelphia, and a number of other locations. Although I had an amazing time on all of those trips and took numerous photographs that I enjoy very much, something just didn’t feel right when I was traveling. I didn’t get that same sense of adventure that I once did, I felt like I wasn’t on vacation at all, like it was just another day shooting in Detroit with my friends. Whereas I do love shooting in Detroit with my friends, I feel like shooting at 4am along an ancient Venetian canal with the stars dancing above my head should feel a little special, right?


These photos are from the first roll of film I shot in December of 2016. I used a Canon AE-1 and expired Fuji 400 35mm film.


It wasn’t until I picked up a film camera in the beginning of 2017 that I began to realize that it was my digital camera that was causing these vacations to feel far different from how they once had. I was so focused on getting a perfect shot of everywhere I went that I somehow forgot that I was on vacation and that I was supposed to be enjoying myself. I first had this thought on one particular day while adventuring around Venice in the spring of 2017. We had decided to head to Burano, one of Venice’s most colorful and vibrant islands. I had brought along some color film to shoot in my Canon AE-1, and as I had already visited Burano before I decided that I would ditch the digital camera for the day and focus on shooting some film while adventuring around the island. As I wandered around the radiant island, I snapped photos here and there, had some pizza, and walked through some unique looking storefronts. Although the architecture wasn’t as unique as the main island and the buildings weren’t nearly as magnificent, I had more fun shooting on Burano than most of the rest of my trip to Italy. 


These are a few of the images I took while walking around Burano. I used a Canon AE-1 and some cheap Agfa 400 35mm film.


Although I had the time of my life on the entire trip, that one specific day in Burano stood out to me even after returning to classes a week later. I explained time after time to interested friends and colleagues about my trip, about how my favorite portion was on this tiny island in the Venitian Canal that had hundreds of colorful little homes and cute little shops. I told them about how I had some of the best pizza of my life whilst drinking a Heineken, of course explaining how much better the Dutch beer was in Europe than America, as it skunks on the trip over the Atlantic—you know, all the stupid things Americans say after returning from vacation. After explaining the story of my time on the island so many times, I really started to analyze why I had such a great time there, and I began to realize it was because of my digital camera. During the rest of my time in Italy I was so focused on capturing every single moment, scene, and historic building perfectly I forgot to enjoy myself and truly take in my surroundings. Yes, those photos turned out and I’m quite happy with a number of them, but I truly believe that if I had been shooting film I would have remembered my entire trip as fondly as I remember Burano. 

Now I’m far from saying that you shouldn’t take your digital camera on vacation, that would be simpleminded. There are lots of situations while in a foreign place that facilitate using a digital camera. Whenever I am planning a trip I typically research for hours upon hours different locations that I want to shoot, looking up sunrise and sunset times, and mapping out my attack plan from location to location. For specific places you've traveled thousands of miles to see, use your damn digital camera, get the perfect shot, and show everyone you know when you return. But while walking around the streets of someplace new, instead of focusing on your LCD camera screen, focus on what’s going on around you, what people are doing, how they’re doing it, and try to understand why they’re doing it. You don’t need a perfect photo of the itsy-bitsy alleyway just outside your hotel door. Snap a quick photo with a film camera and be on your way. Whether or not it turns out perfect after you get it back from the darkroom doesn’t really matter, regardless of the quality the image help you remember what it was, why you took it, and your time coming to and from your hotel. Some of my favorite photos I have taken to date were taken whilst just walking around the streets of Venice by myself with some Agfa 400, climbing the cliffs of Anacapri overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Mediterranean with some Portra 400, exploring frigid Philadelphia with some expired Fuji 800, or walking through Toronto’s Chinatown in the rain with my friend Jill with some Ilford XP2 loaded up.


This is a small collection of photos I have shot on film during my travels. 1-Sorrento, Portra 400. 2-Philadelphia, Fuji 800. 3-Chicago, Ilford XP2. 4-Palm Beach, Portra 400. 5-Toronto, Ilford XP2. 6-Sorrento, Kodak Gold 400.


Even as I write this I know I’m going to get some flak for this article. My friends call me a hipster, other photographers think I’m crazy, and my mom thinks I want to be broke forever. To all of those people, maybe even you reading this, I love shooting film and there isn’t anything you can say to change that. Film is beautiful, and it’s damn easy. Load it up, choose a shutter speed, read your light meter, and BLAMO—you’ve got a timeless photograph. When I’m on vacation I don’t want to get caught up looking through my photos to ensure I got something perfect while visiting somewhere that should be taking my breath away. I want to snap a quick photo or two, and enjoy my fucking vacation. Film isn’t making a comeback, it never died in the first place!


Self-portrait shot with my Canon AE-1 & some Fuji 400


Are you interested in getting started shooting film? Worried about costs? When I first got into analog photography I was flat broke, but was able to immerse myself in the hobby without breaking the bank. I wrote an article about how to get into film photography cheaply, check that out here >>>

How To (cheaply) Get Started With 35mm Film in Metro-Detroit

Written by Eric Hergenreder