Film and Digital

Posted on September 19, 2011


I did a blog post like this for a group of fashion related individuals, the Louisville Fashion Network, a few years back. The article was written when I had one year with digital. Since then, I have pretty much shot only digital images.

My passion for a long time was shooting analog film black and white images. I have my own darkroom, and developed almost everything I shot except slides which cost significantly less to have someone else do it. My favorite films were always Ilford films and for color films, the Ektar line and Vericolor line from Kodak and Fuji Reala. Slides were always Fuji – just something that their film offered that others didn’t offer with the exception of Kodak Kodachrome.

I rarely list the staples of the equipment I use for photography. But, very few digital photographers know what it is like to experiment with different films to find out what works and doesn’t work for you. Often, you carried a few different ASAs of film with you depending on the situation, and heaven forbid being at the beginning of a roll of film and having to shoot the rest out before being able to switch to another roll of film. With medium format, some of the cameras would let you switch the back, and large format wasn’t a problem with this. I always had fun working with a new film – seeing how much I could under and over expose it before it lost its image, what the grain was like, and overall how it performed during the shoot, and what needed to be done in a darkroom to stylize the image and make it pop. All photographers stylized their images back then, and that is the magic of photography – testing and trying different things from chemicals to develop to papers to print on the paper. Most consumers settled for the local photo place, and the images didn’t quite look like a “pro”, but the pro would spend a large amount of time figuring out what would give them the image they wanted. I still have notebooks with lots of formulas on printing images to get a specific effect. You learned a lot about chemistry and toxic chemicals – especially when printing selenium prints.

Let’s fast forward to today. Everything I shoot is digital for two reasons: a) the client demands it; or b) it is the cheapest medium out there. With clients demanding faster turn around time, usually the same day for an editable image or the next day for ordering their portraits, film can’t keep up. I no longer process anything but black and white, and I rarely shoot black and white film any more for fun. My wife loves digital because I no longer smell like photographic chemicals after a shoot. Digital is also cheaper – just snap away and you haven’t lost any money in shooting the additional images. If I don’t like the image, no loss. With film, every image you took cost you something in film, developing, and printing. Now, it doesn’t cost a thing for additional images creating two new types of photographers: the machine gun shooter and the chimper. You know the two – one holds the shutter down and hopes to capture the perfect moment; the other takes a picture, doesn’t like it, takes another, and repeats. With no added cost to each image with digital, both aren’t expensive to do. You also see that the newer generation of photographers don’t really understand the process of the older analog films. Instead, it is shoot away and everything is fixed in post production. It doesn’t turn out right, so we edit it to death in post. I no longer spend time testing and getting a set to be just right – a lot of that can be done after the fact in post production work. If something isn’t quite right, you can usually fix it in post. Those images that are dead on and perfect can be made into masterpieces in post. My filter kit that I carry with me has dropped from about 30 filters to 5 filters – most can be done after the shoot in post. There isn’t any worries about pollution when you print something – the digital method is a lot more environmentally friendly.

Which is better? There isn’t one. Each has its own promises and problems. Digital has over taken over analog film photography. I expect the consumer analog film market to disappear within the next 10 years. I also believe that professional photographers will still be out there practicing their analog film craft for years to come. I can’t help but see people like Sally Mann who do everything from scratch in their work, process their own glass plates, and take the time to do their craft living on as a form of art. Those of us who shot the analog film will move entirely into digital (if we haven’t already), and slowly that generation of photographers will go away.

Edit: Nikon announced a new camera with interchangeable lenses that captures both a still images and moving image at the same time called the Nikon J1 and V1. Details are just now being released, and neither are available in stores. DK