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Yet Another Post About Film | Why film?

I know, this blog is becoming like a stuck record. I’m talking about film. Again. I got some more scans back from the lab, and one thing struck me about one shot in particular, and it’s just how very, very similar it has come out in comparison to the digital version of the shot that I processed using VSCO in Lightroom before I’d seen the film scan. VSCO has been around a while now and it has its sceptics. Admittedly, I may have been a little scathing of it initially. For those who don’t know, VSCO made a set of presets that aim to make a digital photo look like a film photo, and there are presets for the various different types of film. Part of me will always have a little bit of a problem with something that aims to make something look like it was created with something that it wasn’t…to me, it feels like it’s cheating, and I think film is so much more than a ‘look’. Now, I admit, I sometimes use VSCO on my digital images, however for me it’s NOT about trying to emulate film. I use them as if they were any other type of action or preset- because I like the results, and the same as all the other actions and presets I use, I customise and tailor them to get the look I want- I almost never use the default setting. If they weren’t all about emulating the look of film, I would still like them. What I would say though is that whilst I like a variety of the looks that VSCO can produce, I don’t think they all produce results so close to film as the shot I’m talking about here.

And then on Facebook I read a comment by Canadian photographer Gabe McClintock, who photographed Erica and I in the Canadian Rockies last year. He said this:

“for me shooting film is as much about the ‘feeling’ I get while shooting it as it is the look I achieve by using it.”

It struck a chord with me. For me, film is greater than the sum of its parts. Have you ever wondered when you listen to a favourite song and you get to THAT bit you really love, and it just makes you feel…good…what on Earth it is about a seemingly random collection of noises that can actually make you feel something? It seems a little like that with film. I’m reluctant to use a cliche, but ‘film has soul,’ and that’s undeniable. There is something that it captures that speaks to me more on a different level than how a digital image affects me., and that feeling begins (if I’m honest) right from the moment I’m loading film into the camera. I guess there’s more romance in loading film compared to a piece of plastic-encased electronics (i.e. a memory card), and of course the process of taking the photograph itself. Everything seems heightened and more deliberate when you’re using film. I tell myself that I could apply that approach to digital capture too, but I still find myself taking several iterations and variations of the same set-up when using my 5D mkIII, primarily I guess because I can and because it costs nothing. With film, it ain’t cheap, and you really want to get it right second shot, if not the first. And by ‘right’ I mean right composition, right exposure, right moment. There is enormous pressure on photographers these days to get ‘the shot’ almost instantly, and I can’t emphasise enough just how wrong I think that pressure is. Photography is an artform, let’s remember that, and art is not created without thought and the time that requires. Film among other things affords us that time to stop, think, create, and produce something meaningful. I was chatting the other day with fellow photographer Lucy Stendall about how attractive that aspect of film is- the necessity to slow things down and get to the root of what it is you want to create.

Of course, when you get down to it, what we’re also comparing is electronics/digitisation with chemistry. It says something about technology today that I find it easier to accept how an image is created digitally compared to one that’s created my means of a chemical process in a film lab, despite the fact that that’s how it all started?! I suppose many things come full circle…in the music industry, amplification used to be by way of valves, then the transistor was invented and they replaced valves, yet most guitarists nowadays use amps with valves because of the warm sound they produce compared to transistors. The same with the CD…there is definitely a resurgence of vinyl.

So anyway, here is the shot I was talking about. One version was with my Contax 645 and Fuji 400H and no post-processing, the other with my Canon 5D mkIII and post-processed with VSCO. I’m not saying which is which- you tell me what you think?! Gabe guessed correctly firstly time.


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June 20, 2012 - 11:33 am

Jon S6 - I would say, image 1 looks digital!

August 21, 2012 - 2:07 am

Jesse C - Im not sure which is which but I prefer image 1.

October 26, 2013 - 9:52 am

Thijs Vermeer - I think frame 1 is film and the second one digital.
The highlights in frame one are more detailed and less pronounced. Also the colour… frame one lies the emphasis on skin tones, other colours are left the way they are, not emphasized… like in the second (digital frame) where colours are in some way exaggerated so they become slightly reddish, which is typical for a Canon DSLR.
I like the colour and appearance of frame one better, that’s why I stick with film.

October 26, 2013 - 9:55 am

Thijs Vermeer - Although I must say the results are much more similar compared to each other as I’m used to when comparing film and digital!

October 26, 2013 - 10:04 am

Thijs Vermeer - Me again (posted the previous ones too quick)… a problem with my large computer screen… the region on top of my screen is more darkened compared to the bottom half, I should have compared those two side by side, not top and bottom.
More depth of field of the top frame reveals it’s made with a smaller sensor (5D mkIII)… unless a way different f-number is chosen.

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