The title of this article may sound a bit retro. Let me clear the air confusion around it lest you might think that I am getting into yet another clichéd comparison between film and digital photography. I am not and the reason is both have their advantages and disadvantages, much like any other comparable technologies from two different times.
Digital is to film what film was to tin-type probably 60 years ago. The two were decades ahead of the prevalent technologies of their times. But they both popularized and promulgated the art and science of photography. In that sense they are both great innovations. It is but natural that there is a common over pouring of grief at the death of an older technology. At the same time the newer technology is openly embraced. People are fickle in general! Photographers are no different.
So why am I writing about shooting with film? Haven’t we have already buried that chapter long ago? No, we didn’t. There is still a good presence of film photography and there is a dedicated fraternity who shoot with film, because they think it is the purest form of trade.
For those beginning their career in this decade this might seem like opting to send snail mails instead of emails. Why shoot with something where you can’t review your work instantly? – That might be a good counter argument. The answer is – because it keeps you on your toes. Because, if you can review your work instantly you are likely to be lazy. You’ll spray more and pray more and not pay attention to the basics of what makes a good image.
Thus, this very long prelude was necessary, because I needed to make the point why film photography is still relevant in this world of digital photography. Film is the best way when you need someone to understand the basics of photography, to appreciate them and master them before moving on to digital. Just like learning how to drive a stick-shift before moving on to an automatic vehicle, this is a necessary step.
It helps one to learn the basics of a good image – exposure, composition, capturing the moment
The biggest drawback of shooting with film is that you cannot review your work the very next moment after having taken an image. As I already deliberated in the earlier paragraph, that can be a challenge and an opportunity at the same time. Photographers take one two or even five exposures before they ever get the exposure value correct. They can afford to because memory doesn’t cost anything. They can simply delete the photos they didn’t get right later on in Lightroom.
A photographer, who was brought up on film, on the other hand, didn’t have that luxury. So, he will tend to use methods like the sunny 16 rule or the zone system for getting the exposure correct. Instead of relying on the built-in light meter of a digital camera he would prefer a hand-held (external) light meter.
Composition is yet another aspect that digital photographers don’t pay attention to in order to get it right in camera. The idea, often, is to use the crop tool in Lightroom or Photoshop and cut the photo to size. Film photographers on the other prefer to get the composition right in the image for obvious reasons.
Film is inspirational
If for nothing else, film is a purer form of photography. A photographer is more actively involved in the whole process of making an image see the light of day. You have to load the film on to your camera, expose them, unwind and unpack, develop and print them. It is a whole lot more work than simply shooting and copying them to your computer. Even digital photographer’s looking for inspiration to keep shooting sometimes prefer to switch to film. Additionally, there is something called the ‘film look’ in photography. Though there are clever plugins that can mimic this effect in Photoshop, the originality of shooting in film is far more satisfying.
You don’t have to switch to film permanently. But it does make sense to keep your old film camera and a few rolls of film in hand. Just in case you ever experience the dreaded photographer’s block.