Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Film vs. Digital

It's that age old question - out with the old and in with the new? Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Here's a fun fact: Before I ever picked up a digital camera, I was first taught in the art of fauxtography on a vintage 35mm Canon. The one course I took in college on the craft was strictly a film photography course and we even had to develop our own film in a dark room. The kind of burning and dodging I learned then was the primitive version of the burning and dodging I now do in Photoshop.

I loved film photography. There's a certain je ne sais quas about film photos that you just don't get with digital. Film is more unpredictable, less precise, less controlled. You have to be more careful and selective when shooting film because you only have so many shots per roll of film and film, my friends, ain't cheap. Digital allows you the freedom to shoot a bazillion times and it only costs you the one time fee of the actual camera and memory cards. Digital gives you clearer, sharper images and if you're really into the shooting, digital allows significantly more control over your shot and its outcome.

So why did I switch to digital if I loved film so much? Cost. That was the #1 reason. One roll of film has around 24 exposures and one roll of film costs about about $5 plus another $10 to develop each roll. So if I go out and shoot three rolls in one day, that's going to cost me roughly $45 for just 72 photos. When you're a fresh out of college, broke-ass young adult, $45 isn't the kind of money you throw around on something like photography. So I switched to digital and have almost exclusively shot that since.

A couple of months ago an artist friend of mine, Robert Brandenburg, sent me a big camera bag stuffed full with vintage 35mm film equipment. A Pentax Spotmatic, three different lenses, a bunch of filters and more. I was a bit overwhelmed by the collection that I just put it in storage and out of my mind. Until recently.

My Dad and I decided to go an epic road trip this spring and last week we went from Albuquerque to Las Vegas, following along Route 66, and I decided that such an adventure required different types of photography. I knew I was going to bring my Nikon D7000 for those intense, colorful, saturated photos of the Grand Canyon and the Petrified Forest and I decided to bring the Pentax because Route 66 screams 1970s to me and I needed to bring a 1970s camera.

The results of my photographic adventures have left me utterly torn. How could I possibly have forgotten how amazing film photography is? It's not great for those sweeping, epic shots because nothing compares to Nikon's DSLRs for those, but holy crap. For the weird, quirky, bizarre, or "everyday" photos? The Pentax blew my Nikon out of the water.

For your consideration:

The top photo is from the Pentax and the bottom photo is from the Nikon. Exact same subject, different angles, but completely, insanely different moods and outcomes. When I popped the Nikon version into Photoshop I struggled and struggled because I just couldn't get the mood across that I wanted. I finally landed on this one and was satisfied with it. Until today when I got my 35mm prints back and saw that shot (the one on top). The photo you see there is 100% untouched my Photoshop and it captured the EXACT mood and feeling I wanted to achieve with the digital one. 

While I think digital photos are fantastic and I love them and I will still use them for all of my YA-inspired photos because that's what they require, I think the 35mm film is just far and away a better option for your every day, "life according to ____" photos. What you see is what you get when it comes to film photography and that it how I see life. 

When I take digital photos and manipulate them in Photoshop, that's not how I see life. That's me creating a fantasy out of reality. That's what my Young Adults photo series is about. It's about fantasy vs. reality. But it's never, "Oh this is what it's like to see things through Margot's eyes." Does that make sense? 

So what has this format experiment taught me? Well, for one, it's always good to mix your mediums up. For two years now all I've taken photos of are stylized, conceptual shots from my young adults series. I lost inspiration and interest in taking "every day" photos and I think, and I hope, that my swapping my digital for my film camera will reinvigorate my love for just taking pictures and not always "creating art." Know what I mean? I love both and I will continue to do both, so all this hopefully means is that you might be seeing more from me (at least over on my Flickr page) and you might be seeing more and more every day shots. 

I hope you're ready. 


  1. Love love love your thoughts on digital vs. traditional photography. I too am a sucker for the film process -- especially developing myself in darkrooms!! -- but it just doesn't make financial sense. (Nor are there a lot of darkrooms where you can do the work yourself.)

    I'd love to see more every day shots. Really, I'd love to just see more of anything from you, because your photography is always so interesting. :)

  2. This makes me want to dig out my old film camera :-) I had no formal training in photography but I worked at photo-labs all through high school and college. I was working there as digital started to show up. It is funny to think back on how we couldn't imagine a digital taking the quality of a film camera. Those days are long past but totally agree with you that sometimes film gets the aura better. I remember the debate between slide film vs. 35mm, haha. I think you say it best...it's best to keep an arsenal of methods for your artwork. great post! I love seeing the difference between mediums.