jonathan yang

Back to the basics with film photography

Around his neck hangs a small, battered Nikon FM-2N, the old vintage kind that nobody seems to own anymore. It’s a well-worn film camera with plenty of stories told and countless moments captured, quite obvious from the scratched edges and the pieces of copper that stick out of its body. But despite all its imperfections, sometimes this small, battered Nikon is all junior Jonathan Yang needs.

“I’ve always been fascinated with photography. I think it’s meditative in a sense. I notice with school, everything’s on the go, I have to make sure I get things done by so-and-so date. But with photography, I feel like the only way you can get good pictures is when you slow down. And that’s pretty important for me, I think, to stay mentally healthy and balanced,” Yang said.

To Yang, the experience of shooting film is just that – an experience. Unlike digital cameras with a seemingly infinite number of shots, film canisters hold a very limited amount of pictures, requiring Yang to have a sense of what he wants to create with each click of the shutter.

“I use [film] because the way digital is designed with the contrast and exposure – there’s a lot of post-processing. But with film, if you want to change the look around, all you really have to do is change films,” Yang said. “I think that it also forces me to shoot more meditatively. I know that a lot of people who shoot digitally, they just shoot a bunch of shots, like prey and spray. With film, since you’re limited to how many films are inside the canister, it’s more meditative and also more of an experience. It’s just more diverse.”

Despite his love for his current hobby, he wasn’t initially this interested in film photography. When Yang first started experimenting with photography back in middle school, he mainly took photos of his friends to document their outings and hadn’t considered shooting film.

“My very first camera was one of those point-and-shoots. Originally, I just took photos of my friends, just to document whenever we hung out,” Yang said. “Back then, I wasn’t really interested in photography, but as I started investing more time into it, I thought it would be kinda cool to publish all my photos on my blog.”

After taking a digital photography course in his freshman year, Yang became more interested in the subject and began following photo blogs. One of his favorite blogs, whose owner uses film, eventually inspired Yang to make the transition to film and invest in a refurbished Nikon FM-2N to take photos for his own blog, fittingly titled “35 mm.”

“I actually took digital photography, which gives a foundation because it deals with isosensitivity and shutter speed, all the basics. I still go to Mr. Vu for advice,” Yang said. “Basically, I followed this blog, and I was wondering how the grain of the picture was so nice, like ‘how do you manage to do that with digital?’ So I messaged [the owner of the blog], and she said that she doesn’t actually shoot in digital, she shoots in film. So I thought that was pretty cool. I didn’t know that [film] still existed. But there’s actually a growing community for film, and I noticed that photography’s shifting back to film now.”

While he is still seen as the designated photographer on outings with his friends, Yang has gradually branched out to experiment more with street photography. Approaching strangers and asking them to photograph them was a nerve-racking prospect at first, but it was a fear that Yang overcame by choosing to photograph posed photos of strangers for his English project.

“I actually went to LA and walked around, asking people if I could take their pictures. I used to be really scared of taking pictures [of strangers]. I thought they were going to like, I don’t know, throw me in a dumpster or something. It was pretty scary, but I honestly don’t really have a problem with it anymore. I realized that people really enjoy getting their photos taken. It’s kinda bizarre, actually. I just learn to be bold,” Yang said. “Street photography is really interesting, because it’s really free form and it doesn’t really conform to a lot of the rules that photography has, like the golden ratio. That’s why I like it. It’s different.”

In time, Yang wants to establish his own distinct style with his photography. But to develop his style, Yang is in the process of experimenting with different forms of photography and covering a broad range of styles.

“You just have to keep your eyes open and be receptive to your environment and try to recognize things. I’m obviously not good at that yet, but I’m working to get there. I’m just trying to find my niche,” Yang said. “I’ve had people compliment me and it feels really nice. But I think it’s good to not get so caught up in that, so that you become lazy. If you let everyone tell you you’re good at something, you kinda lose the drive to improve. So after people tell me I’m getting good at something, I find a flaw or fault so that I don’t get lazy when I’m trying to improve. I still have a long way to go.”

By Alison Chang, Feature editor

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