The mysteries of photography reveal themselves equally well in either analog images (like this one) or digital shots.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
THERE ARE NO RATIONALLY DEFENSIBLE “REASONS” TO SHOOT FILM. Every technical argument for abandoning digital and re-embracing analog has been answered, and everything that the film experience delivers, in terms of results, can be duplicated or simulated with greater control, speed and economy in the digital domain.
But here’s the fun part: YOU ALSO DO NOT NEED TO JUSTIFY YOUR DESIRE TO SHOOT FILM. Just admit to yourself that it’s an emotional choice or a matter of nostalgic curiosity. Just getting to this point can be very freeing, since you finally can see the flaws in the most commonly “reasoned” claims made about film, including the following ones, taken verbatim from various film fan sites:
Old Cameras Are Fun To Collect So are stamps, and you don’t have to dust, repair or make additional purchases of supplementary supplies just to own them
Analog Cameras Provide Insight Into How Photos Are Taken So will any camera ever made. Turns out that the mystic secrets of imaging weren’t somehow rendered unknowable once we started storing pictures on pixels.
Film Photography Forces You To Be More Meticulous So does placing limits on settings or shooting conditions on any camera you have. Hell, just shooting in manual is like going to grad school. Just slow down, take your gear off auto, and push yourself.
Developing Photos Can Be A Very Satisfying Experience So can learning to fashion horseshoes or making your own sourdough bread. The unsatisfying part of processing your own shots is measured in costly materials, errors in developing, a messy house (or angry spouse, or both), and the occasional chemical burn.
Film Teaches You A Lot About Light And Color As will any diligent amount of study with nearly any camera. Again, there is nothing exclusively instructional about the film process. The novelty and unpredictability of it can be charming, but only up to a point.
With Film You Never Know What’s In Store For You Meanwhile, you do know that you will pay cash money for every rationed shot you take, good or bad, whereas, once you buy a digital camera, you’re basically shooting unlimited images for free.
Film Photography Can Be Turned Into An Artistic Pursuit As can origami, music, poetry, or even making owl decorations out of jute and driftwood. So?
The Future Of Film Is Uncertain Film is eventually going away, so you’d better shoot some quick, or else you’ll miss out on what all of your other your cool friends are already enjoying without you, because you’ve probably been whiling away your time going through bins in vinyl record stores.
Bottom line: you only need utter one sentence to explain why you shoot film.
Say it with me:
‘Cuz I wanna, that’s why.
Art needs no argument or alibi, merely desire. So make pictures in your own way, just without all the cute rationales. Because rationales and creativity are a bad mix.
By MICHAEL PERKINS
EVER SINCE THE ARRIVAL OF THE DIGITAL DARKROOM and its attendant legion of post-production fixes, the world of photography has been pretty evenly divided into “befores” and “afters”, those who prefer to do most of their picture making in-camera and those who prefer to “fix” things after the shutter clicks. Most amateur photography, in the film era, was heavily weighted in favor of the “befores”, since a lot of traditional touch-up technology was economically beyond the reach of many. In the Photoshop era, however, the economic barrier to post-production was shattered, resulting in a more even balance between the two philosophies.
I really see this quarrel as very sharply defined when it comes to black and white photography, with many shooters making most, if not all of their monochromes from shots that were originally color, then desaturated or otherwise manipulated as an afterthought. I prefer to shoot b&ws in-camera, however, for the very simple reason that it gets you thinking in black and white terms, from lighting to composition. It also allows you to benefit from digital’s immediate feedback/playback strengths to shape your shot in the moment. If you’ve worked in mono for a while, and especially if you’ve ever shot on b&w film stock, you are used to seeing the 50 shades of gray that subtly shape the power of an image. More importantly, you realize that black and white is much more than color with the hues sucked out. It’s not a novelty or a gimmick, but a distinct way of seeing.
When you conceive a shot in color, you are shooting according to what serves color well. That means that not all color shots will translate well into grayscale. Fans of the old Superman tv show will recall that, during the series’ early b&w days, George Reeves’ uniform had to be made in various shades of brown so it would “read” correctly in monochrome to viewers who “knew” the suit was red and blue. Cameramen had to plan what would happen when one set of values was used to suggest another. Tones that give a certain punch to an image may look absolutely dead flat if you simply desaturate for mock-mono from a color shot. And, anyway, there are plenty of ways to pre-program many cameras to adjust the contrast and intensity of a b&w master image, as well as the use of filters (polarizers for instance) that do 90% of the tasks you’d typically try to achieve in Photoshop anyway.
The mid-point compromise would seem to be to take both color and black and white shots of your subjects in-camera, allowing you the option of custom processing at least one image afterward. However, knowing what tonal impact you want before you click the shutter is just easier, and usually more productive. Do your shooting with purpose, on purpose. Making a b&w “version” of a color shot after the fact will likely bake up as half a loaf.