It’s Not Just About the Images!

Film photography is about more than the images, it’s also about the process; that’s why film should be around forever.

Honestly, If all you wanted was to make an image look like it was captured on film, there are plenty of digital tools to do pretty much whatever you want – from adding grain, to just plain making the image look old. A friend at work showed me an app on his phone that took photos and made them look “filmy”, just like you were using an old camera – almost. So, why in the world would I want to take photos with an old, manual exposure, manual focus camera anyway?

Well, let me speak to that… for me (and, I believe for lots of photographers) it’s not only about the end result, it’s also about how you get there. It’s about the process of creating an image. I know art is personal, and different, and that’s all good – so I’m not saying digital photography can’t be art (in the early days of photography, debates took place about whether photography, in general, was art). I think all art takes time, and thought, and energy as part of the creative process. I think all images can be art – digital included. But, working with film is different. It’s a different process that you must go through to create an image. Believe me, I know how much time you can spend in Photoshop or Lightroom with digital images, so I’m not going to say digital is faster than film – in many cases a digital workflow can be a much longer process. But if you learn to photograph with film, I think more time is generally spent on the front end. Film encourages you to spend more time with your subject.

If you learn photography using a digital camera, I think that could tend to make you a bit sloppy on the front end, taking a lot of images very quickly, and thinking you can just fix issues in post processing. That may work sometimes (maybe we have to do that from time to time), but I just think it’s a sloppy way to work – and actually that’s a lot of the way I photograph sports. You have to get as many images as you can, and then you find the best ones to use. When I’m forced to do that, I am glad I’m shooting digital – but it makes me feel more mechanical, and less artistic.

If you learned to photograph on film, I think you will tend to be a little more thoughtful up front. Maybe we should teach students on digital by removing the ability to review images on the camera, so they couldn’t see them until they were on the computer. It’s ok to wait to look at your photographs. Maybe that would be a good way to learn in a digital world, I’m not sure. Maybe, if we learned that way, we would pay more attention to composition and exposure while capturing.

I will say, I appreciate technology like autofocus when shooting sports, but when shooting landscape or architecture I feel more connected to the image when I manually focus – the process of focusing forces me to look at the image through the viewfinder longer. I tend to study it more and see it better. I think that’s actually one of the reasons I loved working with a 4×5 view camera. The large ground glass viewfinder made me feel closer to the image; closer to what I was trying to create. Staring at that glass helped me to visualize what my photograph would look like.

Anyway, that’s a few thoughts I have on why other, non-digital forms of photography are different, and why people choose to use them. Maybe it’s similar to choosing watercolors, or acrylics over oils. One’s not better or worse, but different. The results look different too, and some people specialize in one medium, and some in another. And there are artists that enjoy painting with oils sometimes, and then at other times they work with watercolors. The result is art, even though the medium changes. That’s part of the reason I think film should to be around forever. I think film is a valuable medium, and artists should want to have this medium to use if they so choose.

The image at the top of this post was taken by me, c. 1965, with my Kodak Instamatic camera. It used 126 film in a cartridge, and I probably waited a good long time to get it developed and printed. Part of the fun of waiting to see your photos was that you usually forgot about most of them.

Let me know what you think. I’d love to get some comments on this topic – and let me know if you think it’s foolish to try to preserve the medium of film for future generations. Maybe I’m just an old man trying to cling to the past…