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Why I shoot film | Personal

Gabby jumping on a hotel bed

by Keith 

It’s funny how things run in cycles. All things get old but the good things age well and come back (if they ever really left). For obvious reasons I will apply this thinking to my love of photography in general and film in particular (and those beautifully crafted machines that expose it called cameras). 

In 2001 I decided to start shooting digitally for weddings since I saw the writing on the wall. I knew this digital thing was going to be for real. I started adding it into weddings along side film and started building a digital wedding portfolio. 

Eventually when I met with potential clients, digital was my only offering. I had a hard time convincing people back then that digital would hold up as well as film and look as good as film. I told clients that they would like digital as much, showing them prints made from both digital and film and they couldn’t tell the difference. I worked hard to make that happen. 

I rode an early wave of digital success while trying hard to make it look like film. I did this for years. I bought newer and better cameras that could do more things (most of which I didn’t care if they could do) and bought newer and better software to add the film look. In the mean time, film grew more exotic to the masses and photographers sprang forth that did amazing work and had never actually touched a roll of film. Many talked about film though as if it were a magic substance that made everything turn into art (it’s not). They did all they could to make their digital files look like film types that they had never seen (difficult if you think about it).

I love film. Is it perfect? No. That’s one reason I like film more than digital. Is it harder to use than digital? Yes. That’s another reason. Do I know what I’ve got when the shutter fires? Yes and no. Digital gives instant feedback while film requires that I know what I’m doing at all times, that knowing is more of an intuitive feel. That is yet another reason. 

Digital, when done right looks bad to me. It looks too perfect. Plasticky and too smooth for a lack of a more eloquent description. To combat this I have gone to varying lengths to add elements to the files (sad that that’s what they are) to make them appear to have the same natural imperfections and unique characteristics as film. The irony here is that I’m adding these imperfections digitally, which means I can recreate them exactly from frame to frame if I want. That is the opposite of what I love about film. Digital works and can look good but it stings my creative soul every time with a feel of cheating.

Let me be clear, the only thing that really matters in the end is the image that you get. How you get it is personal and shouldn’t be questioned as long as it speaks to you (and says something nice of course). Images I capture on film speak to my soul. These images require no effort to make them look as if they were made using film. 

Film is tangible and not subject to the whims and twists of technology. Less wasted effort where creative energy could be applied to something else makes me a happy photographer.

 

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