Zach Heaton is a renowned Kodak Professional full-time film photographer based in Pennsylvania. In a world where post-processing is becoming a larger part of photography, it’s refreshing to see artists who strive to keep a natural feel to their images by using more traditional approaches. I’m excited to share this interview with Zach where you can learn more about his photography and why he prefers photographing with film.
Can you tell us a little about who you are and how you got started with photography?
My life as I knew it was going nowhere and I need some direction fast. I had spent 10 years drinking my life away thinking something was just going to fall out of the sky and get me on track. That’s not how this works, or at least not for me. I was involved in a motorcycle accident a while back and when I came to, I knew I had to change drastically what was happening in my life. That’s when I stumbled into this art.
I guess you could say I was born into photography. My family has been snapping pictures ever since I can remember, so I was destined to pick up a camera at one point or another. My father has been a professional for going on 17 years now and I would say that he was my heaviest influence to jump into the art. One evening I was out shooting with a large group of folks; they, of course, were all shooting digital cameras as well and I decided I didn’t want to blend in with the masses anymore. I wanted to do something else with my photography. I just didn’t know what it was at the time.
You are a Kodak Professional photographer – can you tell us about your journey with film photography and why you choose to use this medium over a DSLR?
I found myself a Pentax K1000 and started shooting 35mm. Didn’t really look back after that, my now fiancée had bought me an “at home darkroom kit” for Christmas one year and that peaked my interest in film. You couldn’t keep me out of the dark. Developing and enlarging just blew my mind right off the bat and I couldn’t get enough.
I’m now working on a new project to push myself just a little more. I am working exclusively for one year on film alone. Gives you the sense of “this is how it used to be done.” Taking away the entire instant gratification that digital gives you was a weird feeling at first but you get into the flow quickly.
What are the biggest differences between photographing film and DSLR?
There’s not much I can say about the difference between digital and film that won’t get me beat up over, all I can say is that I personally have a better connection to my work on film.
I believe there’s more heart that goes into it from beginning to end. That’s developing your own work, not having it sent out for someone else to do half your work. They both have the same concept, frame, focus and adjust your settings. One is digital and one isn’t. One isn’t better than the other, they’re just different and you shoot what you prefer.
How would you describe your photography?
I would describe my photography as real or genuine. I try and get my images to look as close to the scene as I possibly can. I don’t add or take anything out of my scenes. I compose them how I see them and leave them be. The world is beautiful enough without sprucing it up with a little extra saturation.
Where do you find inspiration?
Inspiration for me is found all over the place. Most of it is pulled from other artists. My family is a major inspiration in my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Music helps me out from time to time and I can always find inspiration doing street photography. Something about the randomness of the street. You need to completely change your mind state.
Following up on the previous questions; which photographers have influenced and inspired you in your work?
When I first started photography I knew where I wanted to go with it: Photojournalism. That’s what I wanted to do and Steve McCurry at the time was the inspiration for it. I thought wow this is great, do something you love and travel the world doing it. This guy has it made. But the more I got out shooting the more I decided landscape photography is where it’s at. It doesn’t shoot at you or throw things, you just relax and take it all in.
My father Ed Heaton is probably the biggest influence in my life. He has been a major supporter of mine since the beginning of time and I will always look up to him as a Master of Light. My fiancée Bobbi is forever inspiring me as well, she is also a brilliant artist who is always pushing herself further in life and will continue to be an influential figure in my life.
When I first started shooting film I was working with a lot of Black and White, so naturally, I gravitated towards those types of photographers. The first one to grab my attention was Elliott Erwitt. A genius behind the camera and a master of black and white. Another influential photographer would be Henri Bresson. I believe black and white film photography is an underappreciated art and everyone is looking for that color pop. These two artists really brought it to life.
Recommended Learning: Black & White Photography: A Complete Guide for Nature Photographers
What are your best tips for someone who wants to get started with a film camera?
Tips for a first-time film shooter would be to just go out and shoot. If you aren’t making mistakes then you’re doing something wrong. Stick with 35mm for a little while because most places that still develop, still work with 35mm and it’s easy and inexpensive to find.
Watch others work and read as much as you can about the art. You can’t be afraid to try something new or old depending on how you look at it. Don’t get discharged and don’t compare your work to others. Everyone’s art is different. I started out small and worked my way up. You learn, you grow and you have fun with something you love.
Editors note: You can find more of Zach’s work on his website, Facebook or Instagram