• vinhdoanthoi

Film and Digital Photography, pt. 2

Like I said in the last post, this will essentially be about how film photography fits into my own artistic vision.

I’m going start this off by saying what exactly I did with film photography. I have been photographing with film for about 2 years out of the 2.5-3 years I’ve been in photography. In that time, I’ve developed about 2 complete projects as well as started my current body of work on. All three of those mainly happened on different stocks of black and white negative film. The complete ones are my “Questioning” series about my faith, and the Nomad zine I published in the middle of last year. You‘ll be able to see the third in progress under my Personal Projects page soon. In between that, I explored many, many mini series that seemingly went nowhere. That all resulted in what I estimate to be at least 100 rolls of film, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to count the rolls and see more around 200 rolls shot. And yet, only about maybe 50-60 single photos were actually published. 100 to 200 rolls of film could end up being 2400 to 4800 images (that‘s honestly just a guess because I shot medium format as well as 24 and 36 exposure rolls of 35mm)! Looking back, that might have been a waste of film. But of course, nothing else could have led me to the projects that I’m currently working on, so I suppose it‘s technically a “waste.” What I mean is that there are many rolls of film I shot where the photos taken just didn’t work for anything specific; the photos weren’t used in a workable project. After a while, I obviously saw that. I was in a bit of a creative rut. I was just shooting and shooting, developing and scanning photos that I just didn’t really like. I realized that film was essentially going down the drain, and I also lost my point and shoot camera that was the object of many “wasted” rolls of film. So I got a Canon G11 Powershot, a digital point and shoot. Definitely not a professional camera, but certainly not a camera for all beginners either (It does have some more professional features). It had a lot of limitations: for some reason I couldn’t use the camera’s shutter speed beyond 1/2000, and the lens aperture didn’t close smaller than f/8 and didn’t open wider than f/3.5. The sensor was a product of its time and was tiny, as well as bad low light performer. On paper that is a TERRIBLE spec sheet. To top all of that off, the already somewhat soft lens had a scratch on it that would or wouldn’t appear on the image depending on the lighting. Even with all of those terrible characteristics, looking back, I wish I had acquired that camera wayyyy sooner. Digital photography had reopened a space where I could just shoot and not worry about ANYTHING. I’m a student; while I’m more than willing to invest in film for my passion, it caused me a lot of stress because I was really living paycheck to paycheck, and I could feel the rate at which I shot film (sometimes a few rolls a WEEK) making huge dents in my finances. I was so stressed out. But with digital, it cost literally nothing to make images. So I could photograph anything I wanted to without stressing myself out. And, by doing that I was eventually able to find what I wanted to photograph. That became the projects I’m working on now.

All of this had several important consequences. First of all, it taught me the value of digital photography as a way to explore concepts without wasting film. Read that again. If you’re just trying to figure out what you want to shoot, and money is tight just shoot a digital camera. Don’t feel pressured to stay within film photography just because of film purists who tell you that digital photography is a terrible, offensive medium (that’s kind of what happened to me). I had gotten so engrossed in film photography that I didn’t even consider digital photography unless I was doing portraits for clients. Secondly, it taught me that film had become a crutch and a borderline unhealthy obsession. You can’t just shoot film and think that all of a sudden your photography is going to elevate itself. Be very careful when you hear people say that film photography slows you down; for me it didn’t. While I might have shot a larger final volume of photos on digital, I definitely shot film at an almost digital rate. Picking up that G11 taught me that a real photographer should be able to make meaningful work even with a dinky digital point and shoot from the pre 2010 era. I could finally look at photos from a digital camera and be content with the results. I could see the value of a photo without considering the origin; just considering the image itself.

Finally, this also set a precedent for the projects I’m working on now. It made me consider how maybe I could merge digital and film photography to make a cohesive project. So, I still do shoot film on my favorite cameras; but I don’t just do that. For a majority of the stuff I do, I do it on a digital camera.

I also want to say that this isn’t meant to scare you from film photography. I’m really saying to just keep your options open. And, remember, film photography showed me what I needed and wanted in a camera. Those lessons carried into digital! Instead of considering megapixels or the extremes of a camera’s spec list, I shopped for a more serious digital camera based on design. I looked for a film camera that was more like a film camera with a digital sensor. If you are up to date on the camera industry, you might already figure that this criterion led me straight to the Fujifilm X series.

To summarize this series of articles, the film vs. digital debate is so much more complex than just looking at what either medium has to offer technically speaking, or even in terms of the “feeling” that an image from one medium or the other gives. It’s about what you need to do in order to cultivate your artistic vision. If you need to explore, digital might be better for you. If you’re trying to methodologically create a project, film might be able to provide you with some creative options and resources that digital might not have.

I really hope that this was informative for you and that you got something out of it! Please feel free to leave any thoughts you have in the comments or message me!

In my next post, I will open a general discussion about gear, and maybe talk about GAS.

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