Why This Surf Photographer Ditched Digital and Went Back to Film

For nearly 13 years, photographer Jordan Godly captured his surf photography with a DSLR. But in 2020, that changed and he ditched digital in order to go back to film.

Godly claims that his first encounters with surfing photography came back to him as a teenager, when he experimented with disposable underwater cameras.

“My friend Doug and I would take turns in photographing each other surfing, then in the afternoon, we would hurriedly drive the three hours home to get to the chemist in time to get those pictures developed in one hour,” he tells PetaPixel.

Often, they wouldn’t get there in time and would have to wait a week to get their images back.

Jordan Godly

” “Our photos were so terrible,” he said. “Water droplets all over the lens, crooked and horrible framing, but we didn’t care we were still stoked and better yet we spent zero time behind the computer to try make the pictures better.”

Fast-forward 20 years and Godly says he had been shooting with a DSLR in the water for over a decade when he realized it was starting to feel wrong.

“All of the sudden I had the urge to go back to shooting 35mm film. I felt like digital photography sapped my photography soul, my patience, and turned my brain into a dead zombie… a photography sloth if you will.”

Jordan Godly

So, looking to return to the feeling he had when he was a teenager, in 2020 he made the shift. The first step was picking up an underwater film camera, which for Godly was a Nikonos-III.

“I was walking through my local second-hand/vintage shop when I came across the Nikonos-III. I didn’t know much about the Nikonos series at that time, but I knew it was waterproof. I didn’t even know how to pull the camera apart to check and see if the O-rings were in good condition,” he says.

Jordan Godly

“The Nikonos-III is fully manual in every sense of the word, which forced me to think more. The Nikonos-III is fully manual in every sense of the word. I can now assess distances better and have an idea about exposure metering He decided to try it out and see if film photography was something that he would like to do.

Jordan Godly

“From the first time I took the Nikonos out my photography senses were heightened, my sloth/zombie brain was ticking over, and I was immersed in the process,” he says. I was able to be present and loved it. It was all about anticipating what the moment would bring.

” Shooting film gives me a clear idea of the goals I have for a shoot in the ocean. I know I only have 36 frames to work with, which forces me to be patient and more thoughtful when I take an image.”

He says the process of capturing the images excites him in a way that just isn’t replicated with digital. He says that the difficulty of photography and his work has disappeared. Digital cameras are able to focus quickly, with great accuracy.

Jordan Godly

Jordan Godly

Jordan Godly

“I do feel as if digital photography provided such a great, fast-tracked learning experience. It sped up my development as a photographer and learning how to use the tool,” he says. But I feel it’s time to put aside what I know and slow down. I think film photography makes it easier to enjoy taking photos again Godly states that when he has to slow down and focus on his “photography muscles,” instead of using a trigger finger, while simultaneously thinking about how each image is expensive, it causes him to be more mindful of what each click does. Also, he claims that film photography has allowed him to spend less time editing the images and have more time shooting. To him, that’s more important.

Jordan Godly

Six months after he picked up the Nikonos, he sold it to purchase an underwater housing for his Nikon F100, a camera he bought a few months before he found the Nikonos. For the past year, Godly has shot only on film when he heads out into the surf.

“I went through a phase in digital photography when I was obsessed with high ISO performance and the sharpness of an image. But having tack-sharp images doesn’t make an image good, and I think people forget that. He says that sharp images can only make an image more appealing.

Jordan Godly

Since his switch to film, Godly has managed to place in the prestigious International Photography Awards in 2021 with a jury top-five selection, has been interviewed by Nikon, and even had 35mm film sequence of images published in Surfing World magazine. Although he isn’t done digitally, he says that he loves film and his success makes it impossible to go back.

“Am I done with digital photography? Definitely not, it does have its purpose — especially as a learning tool and for commercial/paid work — but I do feel that film photography will be a staple in my surf photography kit bag going forward.”

For more from Godly make sure to check out his Instagram.

Image credits: Jordan Godly