Kodak emerged from bankruptcy last week. A good time to ask why film still holds its magic over photographers like myself and continues to attract new users.
This is my own idiosyncratic view of photography and not a rehash of the digital versus film debate. Digital technology has been a great liberator of photography making it easier not only to take photos but also to share them over the web. Digital photography has also reduced the cost and simplified the process. For those that want their photography quick and easy, digital photography is the perfect tool. So what is the attraction of film?
Some photographers choose film for technical reasons, for others it is that film offers a different experience of photography. Technically film can out perform digital in many ways especially when using medium and large format films. Even so this comes at a price, which is the cost of film and processing together with a slower workflow. For the film photographer the quality of the final image is worth the extra cost and effort.
I fall into the camp where the attraction of using film is mainly due to the experience of the process. To a large extent this is about the feel and method of using my film cameras and light meter. Digital can be too direct; no sooner have I taken a photo than it appears on the screen, I know exactly what I have. When using a film camera my photography changes, the image I am trying to make is more in my head than in the camera. It will often be a few days or more before I see the actual photographs I have taken. This is when I discover if my skill was sufficient to complete the task and whether I have succeeded in creating the image I saw in my imagination.
Another attraction of film is the various formats that are available and the actual shape and size of the image that the camera produces. Looking at my photographs on this page you can see that it ranges from the square format of 6x6cm to the long thin rectangle of a 35mm panoramic image. Yes, you can crop photos in the darkroom or on the computer but it is not the same as composing a photograph with a camera.
Photography for me is a participation activity and the more it engages me, the more I enjoy it. This though is dependant on the subject matter that I am photographing. There are times when I prefer to use a digital camera such as when using flash and especially in a one of a kind situation when the reassurance of seeing the images there and then is a blessing.
By contrast film can still offer surprises, at times I only have a general idea of how the photograph is going to turn out. An example of this is the photo of Hannafore Promenade above. It was taken after sunset under a dull, cloudy and darkening sky. The apparent brightness comes from the ninety-second exposure. My intention was to blur the waves – and in that I succeeded, though the blue cast was a surprise. It is due to the coolness of the light and a technical thing called reciprocity failure that occurs with long exposures.
Another attraction is that while the range of films available has diminished over the last decade, what has survived includes some of the best films ever made. Couple this with the availability of good quality pre-used film cameras and equipment at very reasonable prices and it is understandable why film is still attracting new users.
My final example of the attraction of film is that it is a tactile experience, you can touch it. Hold the negative up to the light and see this magically reversed image imprinted on it. With experience you can even judge the range of tones and the density of the image. A nice feeling when you see you’ve got the exposure spot on and informative when you haven’t.
Last year I discovered the marvels of one of Kodak’s latest and best films, Portra 400. It is an ideal film to use in a hybrid workflow – that is scanning the negative to prepare it for printing using software such as Photoshop rather than using optical printing. It has become one of my favourite films and is one reason amongst many that I am pleased by the news of Kodak’s survival.
What do you think? Do you still enjoy using film? If so why?
Tell us in the comments below!