The Film Romance

Snow Storm on Velvia by Jay Goodrich

Fir trees are abstracted in layers during a snowstorm in East Vail, Colorado.

My View of Digital

It seems the photography industry is leaving its film roots far behind. Photographers are becoming more and more obsessed with numbers and less obsessed with perfecting their technique and showing the viewer something new. The latest generation of digital cameras are breaking resolution barriers with 50 megapixels in 35mm format and 100 megapixels in medium format respectively. Couple this with sensors having little to no noise present before ISOs of 1600 and occasionally higher, and photography has a quality that is losing a texture and tangibility.

Where will it end? While the numbers of digital photographers are continually rising, there’s a small, but growing group of photographers shooting 35mm film again. The more you shoot digitally, the more reliant you become to the “chimping” mentality of today (both with camera and subject), where all that matters is the histogram. Digital photography is now high frame rates, big files and almost sterile photos. Shoot, verify that your histogram is to the right and move on.

Remembering Film

Compared to digital, film is a labor of love. Opening a plastic canister of Fuji Velvia and loading it into your camera makes you take a moment to think, to focus on the task at hand, and to give yourself a brief interlude. It forces your brain to focus on the the process and be ready to honestly compose an image. There’s no cropping, no chimping, no histogram’s worth of feedback to tell you if you got the shot. Your mindset forced you to keep the number 36 as the most important number out of all the numbers. While ISO (or ASA if you are old enough), f-stop and shutter speed are all important and affect the outcome of the image, but you only got 36 photos before you had to stop for a moment.

There are stalwarts in this digital age though, classic photographers to whom one is the only number they worry about. Photographers like Clyde Butcher who still trek into the wilderness with large format equipment to come away with unbelievably detailed images, processed to evoke an emotional response as prints that are measured in feet adorn gallery walls.

Possibly the most important value that film provides, though, is that it forces us to think about how we use it. To think, to frame, to check exposure and then check them all again before releasing the shutter is becoming a lost art. I am not saying that for some photographers this process still takes only a fraction of a second, but to the majority of the rest of us, running a roll of film through a film body would probably force you to open your eyes and in turn would reinvigorate your creative senses.

Photography is all about perspective, and occasionally shaking up your own perspective as you are in the field might not be the worst thing you could do. So dust off that old film body, check the batteries, grab yourself a roll or three of Velvia (or Sensia if you prefer print) and head outside. Sure it will actually cost a little more out of your pocket, but I am sure that the lessons that you will re-learn, and the skills you will re-awaken will pay off with better photographs.

The Journey Home

From there return back to your digital equipment and try to make your images look like some of those films that you photographed with. You will quickly realize that there is a grittiness and texture to those film images that digital doesn’t give us. Remember the sterile sentence above? Now go process some of your digital photos in a way that is reminiscent of film. Imagine creating a digital image using an ISO of 3200 and then processing that photo to have the look of Fujichrome Velvia? All of a sudden we have brought the concept of craft back into the photography systems of today. And by doing so camera specifications like noise have a lot less relevancy.

Authors’s Note: The photo in this post was taken on Fujichrome Velvia close to twenty years ago.

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