3. November, 2016
Few weeks ago I spent a couple of days at the Tampere Camera Fair in Finland. I had an exhibition there and gave a lecture on how I use film in my work and free time. This year was the premiere of the Fair, continuing to be an annual event in the future.
It was super nice to meet other photography enthusiasts and feel amazed on their knowledge in some techniques. Also the spirit between the people was super polite and respectful. I got so many new ideas what I would like to do and try and finally I will get to learn the wet plate photography (maybe end of this month)! Something that has been on my bucket list for several years now.
There are several lists on internet on “film vs. digital”, but here’s one more, my input on highlighting the benefits of film photography.
• MagnumPhotos hosted few workshops in London earlier this year. One lecturer was Murray Ballard who talked about his book The Prospect of Immortality. I think it’s one of the best books published in several years. It’s about deep freezing people or/and their pets in case it is possible to bring them back to life in the future. He started the project in 2006 and finished 2015. So it took 9 years and you can feel it. Maybe that is one of the reasons the book is so great. He shot everything on large format camera and that gives a nice feeling to the pictures.
How is this related to shooting on film? It’s about the continuity of film as I don’t know how many digital cameras will be working after 5 years. Of course you can re-buy the same brand camera but I think with film you can get better continuity plus of course the special look of the large format. If you buy few packs of sheet film and store in your freezer, you will survive quite a long time with those. I have one own project that started in 2015 that I’m shooting on medium format Kodak Portra 400. I think there are few rolls in the world of the film so I think that I will be dead before the film will run out.
• Have you ever given a thought on why the Rolling Stones music sounds so unique? It’s out of tune and wobbly. But why? Usually the drummer keeps a rhythm but in the Stones it’s the leading guitar, and the drummer and bass are following what Keith is playing. That is key to their unique sound. There is always danger present that it will break down. You don’t have to like the band but if you put the Gimme Shelter (Spotify / Youtube ) song on and listen to it, you will understand this. Also the female vocalist is mind blowing and how her voice is breaking. I think shooting film gives you the same danger and vibration. To me digital is informatics and film gets in your feelings.
• Before digital revolution all photographers had their own unique look. They had their secret way to the get the specific tones; for example under expose the film by three stops and in the processing push by two stops, plus some additional darkroom techniques. That was how they shot their work and you always recognized whose picture you were looking at. With digital photography all looks and styles became possible and you could do everything. You can easily get lost, not developing your own style. It doesn’t mean that you couldn’t do anything but one style, but I think every photographer should aim to develop unique and easily identified style. Style, that some clients will purely hire you for.
If you look at portraits by Annie Leibovitz for example they all have muted colours and deep blacks. That happens with underexposure and in a darkroom/scanning open image as much as you can. That’s the way to create the style.
• Film teaches you… because accidents happen or you can shoot with expired film, cross process it and see what happens. Or sometimes lab will mess up your films and you will find new tones, technique or completely new idea for your next shoot.
• Shooting on film will slow you down and restrict. Unless you are a millionaire you don’t usually have hundred rolls of film. You have to think with every shot “is this a good one?” and it’s very educating not to take every picture if you know it can be better.
Especially if you shoot landscapes, the waiting part in this hectic world might be the best part of your day.
I think you can compare that to meditation because you will just clear your mind and focus on one thing.
• The previous thought on constantly evaluating if the shoot is good enough to “waste film”, is also valid when shooting digital. You don’t have to check your camera screen all the time to check if you’ve “got it”. You will feel it when you have it.
• Selecting final frames is fast. When I shot editorial for Image Magazine I shot only one or two sheets of Impossible instant film for one outfit. We had eleven outfits and I shot only 24 films. Whilst still shooting, the shot instant films are developing already and you can do the selection easily on the same day. With digital I usually shoot 20-150 frames of one outfit… and browsing those frames will take several hours. Basically you lose some money when shooting on film but at the same time you save money in time. You don’t spend time selecting the final ones from 1500 frames and after that spend time on thinking toning, and other editing. Of course you spend some time with your scanner but my scanning process is so automatic that it won’t take much time. Plus I can simultaneously watch some cat videos from Youtube.
• Grain makes the tone gradients look uniform and I think especially skin texture looks super nice on film. When shooting digital, you might sometimes get strange double depth of field on head close ups. I don’t know why this happens, but I guess it’s about how skin reflects the light, low pass filters, how sensor RGB colours are arranged, firmware, software etc. Film grain makes skin look one natural surface and not plastic like in digital.
• “You can fix it in the post!” I hate that sentence… Even the best make-up artists and stylists can get lazy at shoots trying to wiggle their way out with that phrase. Of course there is always something you have to fix but there is so much what you can do whilst shooting. My theory is that if you use 15min more time on set, you can save about 60min in Photoshop. Especially with instant film, that is the final product, and you can’t retouch it.
• Analog cameras melt the ice.
If i go to shoot a portrait with my 8×10 camera, people will start asking me different things about it and I don’t need to invent a subject to discuss. Cameras by themself will melt the ice… and all professionals know how nice that is…
• You have more peace when shooting on film. For example at a fashion shoot you are shooting tethered on your laptop and other group will shout comments about the pics with usually 30sec delay. That creates too many interruptions between you and the model/s. In a film shoot, other crew members are following over your shoulder and give comments in real time and react in real time – eg. fix the hair, makeup. Photographer gets more peace and control over his work.
Of course you can black out your screen while shooting but I don’t know why that is so hard.
• You follow your heart, brains, ass, instinct etc. and not your screen. Again, you can black out it or even tape it but again I still don’t know why it’s so hard.
• Film teaches you the “correct exposure“. You can’t open shadows in the postproduction 3 stops or save highlights etc. You have to make the picture like you want it.
• Sometimes a cheap expired film and a cheap photo lab might be the answer. For example if you are looking for some special feeling for the picture like I did with Iisa.
It was shot on an expired 35mm Fuji Superia 400 and the lens was 40mm Summicron. It is from a portrait session for a magazine and the original what I gave them was 13x18cm prints from automatic lab. I love how the skin colour is neutral but example the jackets yellow is bit muted and hued. Also the type of flare was a surprise to me.
When you scan a 13x18cm print and the final print is 24x30cm, you will get a nice soft look with some sharpness; enough details but much more feeling.
• Large format gives you different perspective to observe the world. I usually say that if you have a house with a view with small window it’s 35mm and with a big window it’s 8×10”. Also the pictures are more three dimensional when you shoot bigger format than 35mm. If you think that 98% (my guess) of professional pictures are made with 35mm cameras you will stand out in a crowd if you shoot on bigger format. The mass won’t recognize it but you and other pro’s will do.
So basically I use film when I know exactly the look I’m after, when I know the project will take years, the final image isn’t based on post processing, when it makes the process faster or it upgrades the project on another level. Nevertheless I shoot a lot in digital and I love photography in all its forms. It doesn’t matter whether you are using your mobile or the most expensive camera – only the end result matters.
So that’s my 10 cents on that subject. See you in Tampere in 2017 and let’s savor the analog photography.
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