Film V Digital

A comparative review…..

I have a friend (just the one) – who shoots film almost exclusively.  He says that you can’t get the same quality of image from digital that you can from a film camera.  He insists he’s right – won’t hear a word said against film (and I’m not going to here either).

The thing about this, is that the production of an image, has nothing to do with the medium on which it is taken. It’s a mechanical thing, whichever way you look at it.

There was a time, when I bought, shot, developed and printed from film.  There’s a time now when  I buy cards, shoot, process and print digital images – and the difference is?  I can do it in the daylight, instead of sitting in (what was at the time) a stuffy little built in wardrobe, with the smell of chemicals wafting on the air.

When I did my photography courses at college – one of the first things we did, was go straight back to the lab, and process a film – ahh, you say – nostalgia….. nope – same old darkness (in a larger room to be sure) but with the same chemical smell that lingers long after you get home.

‘But”, my friend argues “we did it all ourselves, all the famous photographers of our time did”… well sorry to disillusion you…… but most of them had assistants, even if they oversaw the whole process.

Think this way as well.  We didn’t make the film, as much as we didn’t make the memory card.  We didn’t make the lens for the camera, or the electronics that are in there today.  Someone somewhere along the line helped us to make that photograph.  If we digital shooters produce a JPG, then the camera has done some editing in advance – if we shoot RAW, then we end up with the equivalent of a negative, to edit as we wish.  I suspect it’s no coincidence that Lightroom has a ‘Develop’ module, or a library for that matter.

What I notice is that my friend does not print his own images, nor does he process his own film, and yet argues that his image making process, is  more ‘pure’ than mine,

As photographers, and creators of images, I don’t think it matters if we leave some things to our virtual assistants – get our images printed elsewhere for example – it is entirely our choice, but if we leave the film to be processed into prints at the time we send it off -then we are leaving the final edit to the chemistry lab operators.

In the end though, it’s our creative vision, and the print, (if we choose to go that far) is our end product.

Put a film print and a digital print side by side, and most times I would defy you to tell which was which !

Feel free to argue the point – I’d be interested…….. 

Insecurity

Being insecure is good for the photographic process.  Usually when you are out and about – you take a picture, and then review it on the back of the camera.  You might then move about a bit, and take another. You might do this a few times, till what you see on the back of the camera accords with your own internal ideas.

You can’t do that when you shoot film of course. You don’t have the benefit of seeing the ‘result’ straight away, and so there’s that element of insecurity because you are not totally sure what you have got ‘in the can’.  You are also limited by the number of pictures you can take.  36 on a roll, or 24, or maybe as few as 8 or 10.

What do we do?  Digitallly, we take lots of images – but which ones do you like the best when you get home, and look at them all together?

I often find that the images I like the best are usually not the ones I thought I was taking at the outset – things move on, even as I shoot, and it might be the 10th image that I take that is the one that I use. The benefit of the digital camera is that you can check as you go – but is this always good for you?

Sometimes I wonder if by virtue of being able to look at the back of the camera all the time, I am just confirming that what I saw was good, or am I merely looking at a preview of my ultimate expectation.

It might be both – because looking at the back of the camera all the time can disrupt the shooting process – causing us to miss things….

When I was working as an agency photographer – most times I didn’t have the opportunity to look and check what was happening on the back of the camera – I just had to keep going, and trust that the settings were the right ones. I learned to adjust as I went, working on the principle that it had to be right first time, as there were no second opportunities.

That was the insecurity which was hanging over my shoulder all the time – it made me work harder, and faster.  If I checked at all, it was briefly.

The best lesson I learned was to reset my camera to a default, at the end of every single shoot.  So the camera sat at ISO 400, f5.6, RAW, and Aperture Priority.  That would get me most times an OK shot – it also meant that if I’d previously been shooting at ISO 12,000 – I wouldn’t be doing that the next day, when the sun came out again.  

It happens to us all, we make mistakes, but resetting the camera can mitigate things.

Why not try this – put some black tape over the screen – and go out and shoot – make yourself a little more insecure – and see what happens….

It’s only pixels……..

Technology Battles

We depend on technology so much these days – far more than when we all shot with analogue cameras.  It puts me in mind of a story I heard, (maybe an urban myth) when a photographer went through airport security in America, (it had to be there) and was asked to turn his camera on, to prove it worked.  He tried to explain that it didn’t ‘turn on’, and ‘no they couldn’t open the back’ – in the end apparently, the security guys opened up the camera to discover that it had film in it.  The young guy hadn’t heard of analogue cameras that didn’t have batteries in.  Whoever heard of a clockwork camera?

So our dependence on technology goes on – in film days, we depended on a different type of technology:-  the camera, the film processor, film dryer, the enlarger, printing developer, fixer, print dryers, special wash, and all the associated gadgets.

We had in our family in film years, any number of cameras, more than one enlarger – a dedicated dark room – a frustrated mother who didn’t want film in the freezer, or chemicals in a fridge. The print dryer was huge, and the print trimmer (which I still have) was big and heavy.  Everything took up a huge amount of room, and everything we did was either in the dark, or under a red light.

What I’m getting at is that although we’ve come a long way, in terms of technology, we still need the same amount of ‘stuff’.  I now have a ‘daylight darkroom’ but still, a dedicated room.  I have cameras, lens, computer, tables, and mounts, and cropping machines – it all takes up space.  I know photographers who have turned outside sheds and garages into dedicated studios.

Then there’s the problem of what to do when something fails.  All cameras fail in the end, I’ve had lens with failed diaphragms, cameras with failed shutters, I’ve dropped lens, and camera together (shattered on some marble) – cable releases fail, and I’ve even lost a tripod.

When the printer fails, (as mine did a month or two back) then that made me start to think about whether I needed a new one or not.  I love to print – I love the sight of a brand new photograph coming slowly out – and then the result is nearly the end of the process.  I can mat and frame, and there it is.  All my own work.  However, the cost of ink nowadays is nearly that of the price of gold!  I can get a lot of prints done if I outsource for the price of a set of 8 inks.

In the days of analogue, if there was no print, there was no image, so now we have to depend on our, or someone elses technology to produce the final (finished?) image.

Technology now is changing and developing so quickly that it’s hard to keep up.  For a long while I didn’t look at what camera manufacturers were doing. I was happy with the gear I had, and saw no reason to change for the sake of it.  Then, when I was offered a trip to Spain 18 months ago, I looked for a small camera to take with me.  This is when I discovered that technology had moved on without me.  The mirrorless camera that I bought then, (the Fuji X-T2) was a revelation.  Beautiful image quality from such a small thing.  I’m more interested now, that I ever was in what is being engineered for photographers of the future.

So what comes out of the camera now, and photoshop? Sometimes it looks nothing like a traditional photograph.  Do we call this something different?  Digital art maybe?

Whatever we choose to call it, and whatever images you produce – it still starts with a camera, and most importantly, the photographer behind it.

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Quicker, Better, Faster??

In the last 8 months I finally succumbed and subscribed to Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom CC – I’d resisted, and resisted till in the end I was backed into a corner.  Two things happened – one piece of software that I had as a plug-in, updated itself, and then refused to work with CS6.  It had gone beyond what CS6 could do.  Secondly, Lighroom did an automatic update, and suddenly the RAW convertor would no longer talk to CS6, and I was left making a DNG file, in addition to the RAW file, and finally then a conversion to JPEG.

Frustrated, I decided to take the plunge and go down the subscription route.  First thing that happened was I got an upgrade to CS6 to the ‘Extended’ version (which sits happily now, doing nothing on my hard drive), the next thing was that LR CC completely overwrote the version of LR6 that I had got already.

In the short term, this isn’t a problem, but if I do decide that the subscription method is not for me, then I’ve no idea if I can recover the version 6 I had before.

I suppose the other issue would be that changes I made in the ‘new’ software won’t be recognised by the old.

Adobe continually tell me that the new software is quicker, better, and faster…..  and as a retired full time photographer, I appreciate the need for speed in processing.  Nowadays though, I can relax and process my images for my use, in my own time.  Which is wonderful.

Is faster necessarily better though?  I’ve spent some time thinking about how I looked at image making in my time with film.  First of all, I was much more careful about what I shot – 36 on a roll – fewer with medium format.  Twin lens Rolliflex – 10 at a time.  Then the film itself.  Dark room, winding the unexposed film onto a reel – dropping something on the floor, and trying to find it again.  Waiting for it to develop – rinse, add fixer, rinse again – fingers crossed, and out it came – and that was just the start….. Check negatives, and look at printing – enlarger, dodge, burn, photo paper – (the sort I saw for sale on ebay a while ago out of its black plastic bag – ouch), and then, the magic of seeing a print magically appear on the paper in the developing tray – fix it, rinse it, dry it…… lets have another look under a light that’s not red………..

Don’t get me wrong, I love the digital darkroom – working in the daylight, and able to walk away for a cup of tea when I want to.  It’s cooler, and I don’t miss the chemical smells.

I love taking time with my images, but that’s not the attitude the advertising bods would have us ache for.  Rush rush rush…. and I see it all the time in on-line images.  Tilted horizons, underexposed, overexposed, burnt out, over processed…..  This is NOT art, this is careless.  More processing does not make for a better photo – whanging up the clarity will never, ever fix a badly composed photograph.

I qualify this by saying that sometimes there is art… and that is very much a personal thing – careful, artistic processing most definitely has its place – but this is by people who genuinely know what they are about.

Begone, you slide whangers – let’s try to tone it down a little – 100% clarity, combined with 100% vibrance really isn’t the way to go……..

 

Martial Arts Viral in Tatton Park

It seems that the world of madness has not departed…… earlier this week, we photographed stills from a movie that was filmed in the Japanese Garden at Tatton Park.  A part of the garden that is generally closed to the public – but was on Monday the scene of a frantic battle as the Ninja Warriors attempted to storm the Shaolin Temple.  The film – directed by Mike Le Han, and choreographed by Master Chen, was fully costumed and the martial artists were stunningly athletic. The day ended on rather a wet note, when one of the team was actually thrown into the lake purposefully whilst fighting on the bridge… thanks go to Mike Le Han, for all his hard work on the day.  It was a great shoot.

The rest of the images from the day can be found by clicking HERE

Can Air Travel Damage Your DSLR ?

This is something that’s being discussed all over the web at the moment – following a presentation by Rob Hummel at Cine Gear Expo 2011.  In his talk, he states that when cameras are transported by air, at over 20,000 feet, gamma rays (harmless to us) can damage the sensor, causing dead pixels to appear.  Most of the information I’m referring to happens about 8 minutes in.

The whole thing though is a great explanation of how your camera sensor works, and how it compares to the way film is manufactured, and remains sensitive to the different colours  of light.  Watch, learn, and make your own decision….