Saturday, April 28, 2012

Why film?

I get asked this question all the time. So, why do you shoot film?  Some people think it's old fashioned and unnecessary, other people think it's oh-so-cool and hip of me, and some people just really want to understand what distinguishes film from digital.  For a long time, I just knew film was better and that digital sucks. But that's not really true. Actually, there are plenty of digital photographers whose work I really envy.  There are some things that film really is better for. But the same is true of digital.  It's really just a choice of medium, like a painter might choose oil over acrylic (and may actually use both, depending on the type of painting being done).  I used to shoot digitally and made the full switch to film a few years ago because:

1. I take better photographs when I don't have that little screen to depend on.  When I'm shooting film, I have to really slow down and concentrate on what I'm doing.  I'm more in tune with my surroundings and with my camera.  I have more confidence in what I'm doing and my photos always turn out better for me.  Even though I still do everything fully manually with a digital camera in my hands, somehow I just can't resist looking at that screen and depending on it to tell me I'm doing a good job.  It interferes with my workflow, instead of making it easier.

2.  I don't like working in Photoshop.  I know some photographers who really enjoy the post-production/editing part of photography, often more than they enjoy actually taking photos.  I'm exactly the opposite.  Shooting is the best part of the process for me.  I do of course spend some time fine tuning my images with a bit of color correcting and such.  But, the time I spend in Photoshop is minimal, and that's how I like it.  Film images come out of the camera (or back from the lab) pretty much ready to go.  Digital images require quite a bit more work (work that I don't enjoy).  Here's an example:

These images were taken at the same time and are untouched. The one on the left is digital. The one on the right is 35mm film.  The one on the right still needs a bit of tweaking. But the one on the left is flat and dull. It needs quite a bit more TLC to look really polished.  Lots of photographers are really good at this TLC process and this is the part they enjoy. I'm no good at it and I don't think it's fun. =)

3. Medium format film gets an incredible amount of detail while still looking soft.  The medium format images that are sharply in focus capture so much fine detail because the film itself is larger. But, it's not a harsh, yucky detail that will highlight every single pore or imperfection on someone's face, so that's nice.

4. Film is very forgiving. For one thing, it renders skin tones much more accurately (particularly in fair-skinned people like myself).  You can kind of see in the images above how the bride's skin has a weird red/blue thing going on in the digital photo and in the film image she has a nice warm glow to her (though a bit too yellowy for a final product).  I have a really hard time correcting skin tones with digital images, and it drives me nuts.  Also, film allows a wider margin of error in exposure. Sometimes I'll think a photo was so overexposed it's going to come back from the lab completely beyond saving, and it actually will still look great!  Whites blow out much more easily with digital (but, if you have that screen, you can correct it, obviously).

And that's pretty much it. I like film. I like the way it looks. I like the way I feel when I'm shooting with it. The end. It's not inherently better than digital, and digital certainly has its winning qualities (convenience? cost? hello.).  One thing about the arrival of fancy digital cameras is that because they're so easy to use, anybody with a small bit of cash can buy one and decide that they're a professional photographer. This saturates the market with people who don't really know what they're doing and that undermines the craft, which sucks. But a digital photographer who knows what she's doing is certainly just as legitimate a photographer as a film lady who knows what she's doing.  Anyone who says otherwise is just being snotty. =)

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