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On Film & Digital Photography (Part I)

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I have always loved the work of skilled film photographers. In fact, almost every photo book I owned are from film photographers. How can I not be seduced by the colours of Kodachrome and the moody overtones of Tri-X? When you study books like Josef Koudelka's "Exiles" or Alex Webb's "The Suffering of Light", there is a really strong case for film.

I never understood why some digital photographers scoff at film photographers. Saying things like "Film is dead". They are still selling it. Some films are coming back. New ones are being created. The prices are going up for a reason.The aesthetics of film is a different realm from digital but the fundamentals are the same. If anything, an image is an image regardless of the medium.

More importantly, it is the meaning of the image to the photographer and its graphical significance. The way digital photographers process their image is really important. Too much and it can be overdone. Too little and it will be sterile. Film remove this headache and provides more consistency.

Likewise, there are film photographers using film as a form of credibility. Again, more about the medium than the image. Saying things like "Digital is cold and soulless". I have seen plenty of the same from film photographers. No attention to anything at all. Maybe they may want to take a look at David Alan Harvey's "Based on a True Story". Everything in that book was shot on digital. Or David Gaberle's "Metropolight". There is more than to a photograph than just its aesthetics.

Ironically, they are probably of the same type. Just with different mediums. The only thing that matters is your work in the end.

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START WITH DIGITAL, MASTER WITH FILM

I don't believe shooting film helps a budding photographer to be better. If anything, I think one should take advantage and shoot in digital first in this day and age. Focus on photography first, not the medium. This, however, only applies to those taking their work seriously though, not the gear hobbyist.

The whole concept of "how every shot will cost you when using film will make you think more" is true. But I also think in order to be good in photography, you need to make a lot of bad photographs. And the cost of film today will deter a lot of people from getting better when you just getting started (unless you are loaded).

Using a digital camera, you can set everything as you were shooting a film camera and make all the same mistakes you want. Be disciplined and do not be tempted to change the settings. Focus more on composition/gestures/emotions as well as finding your obsessions. Once you are confident and consistently getting the results you want and know what you really want to shoot, you can start shooting with film.

Make sure you do your research on shooting the type of film too because every film behaves differently. For example, negative films like Portra 400 are better at recovering highlights than shadows. Overexposing negatives will give you a different look too. Slide films like Velvia 50 have a very limited dynamic range, so you need to be accurate with your exposure as they have very little latitude.

Your understanding of the exposure triangle from your digital photography training will benefit you immensely and save you a lot of money from those under/over exposed shots on film.

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SAME SIDE OF THE COIN

One should always shoot digital the way you shoot with film as well (exposure settings aside). Be more conservative and don't overshoot just because you have a 32gb sd card (unless you are shooting sports/wildlife/children or something of that nature).

Don't be confused with working the scene from overshooting. To work scene means you are playing with different possible composition outcomes within the frame to get an image you want. This doesn't happen to me often actually. But when it does, I'll squeeze every drop from the scene. To overshoot means to simply spray and pray, hoping for an image you like, not the one you intended.

I use a simple and natural method to prevent overshooting with digital.

For every shot that I have failed to live up to my expectation (when I review it at home), I'll remind myself of the failure I am and question why did I press the shutter in the first place.

I set unrealistic targets for myself. I am a natural pessimist so I use it to my advantage. Be the harshest critic to yourself. Be kind with other's work but the worst with yours. After three years, I'm shooting much less on my walks and getting a higher rate of photographs that speak to me. If you have to work the scene though, shoot away. Film or Digital.

Despite clearly preferring the look of film, I never really gotten serious about it. I have shot a few frames of Tri-X and Cinestill 800T from my younger brother's Nikon FM2 for fun but all of my own work, I'm purely digital.

The reason? I'll continue next week.

Sebastian Chin