I get asked often about my photography and the differences between film Vs digital, so in this blog post, I want to share more about these two mediums of choice and bring some clarity.
You may (or not) recall a time before cellphones, online shopping, and digital cameras when to shoot any photographs, you had to purchase rolls of film from the store.
Each roll only allowed a very limited amount of captures, and I can still hear all those wives yelling at their husbands (or viceversa), parents scolding their children, and friends yelling at other friends, for taking that photo while one blinked, or wasn’t ready for the photo, etc.
I probably belong to the last generation of kids that had the fortune to experience photography on film only, growing up. I believe I was around 14 years old when digital cameras came about (and that was revolutionary).
Don’t know why I am doing this to myself but here is proof 🙂
As you can see this photo was taken with a disposable Kodak film camera – No, I am neither one of the tall girls, and no, I am not the one in the back (wow, how old do you think I am?!). I am, obviously (LOL) the one that already displayed a great sense of style and fashion! -.
Look how cute and happy that little girl was to be on a fun day trip with mom, her two big sisters, and dad (who is taking the photo). This image has a pure vintage taste and encapsulates that period of time so energetically and romantically-nostalgic at the same time.
Isn’t it beautiful?! Also, can you see what I was talking about? You couldn’t check your photographs after taking them, and if one of the subjects wasn’t ready for the snap too bad. (LOL see big sister on the right). You had to bring the rolls of film to the photo lab and wait for them to develop. So the whole time you had to trust your instinct and technical knowledge/skills, that you composed a semi-alright frame, exposing it correctly and in focus.
When I was old enough to make photography my profession, digital cameras were already the medium of choice for many, many photographers as that invention revolutionized the industry, giving the ability to shoot thousands of frames, check the result immediately and save them on multiple devices digitally (virtually giving photographs a never-aging look).
The old Fine Art craftmanship of photography was lost.
Not for long. Other photographers, and I with them, have chosen to pursue the romantic, painterly and timeless quality of film photography.
So, many couples inquire to work with me because they love that aesthetic, whether they may or may not know what they’re drawn to is the beautiful film.
However, even if I am a pure romantic at heart, I am not hopelessly dedicated to pursuing film photography only. We have seen some of the impediments that film photography gives to photographers, but also nowadays, with the scarcity of materials, the cost of film rolls has become exorbitant. I produce images as an artist, making educated choices, for which medium to use and taking advantage of their best qualities in favor of creating masterful images.
Film will always be my first choice but digital is agile and helps in certain situations like very low light conditions to stay quick without having to use the tripod as a crutch, or when it is important to capture a fast pace situation.
Let’s take a look at the main benefits of film Vs digital photography.
I have touched on this earlier, and I have already explained the timeless feel of film Vs digital photography but let’s take a closer look at one more aspect of timelessness that differentiates film photography from digital photography.
Just like clothing and fashion styles, trends come and go in wedding photography too. Nowadays, especially with so much access to new technologies and more affordable prices (even in the pro-market), buying a new digital camera can feel very exciting and give the impression of owning a new and powerful tool to create better images with. However, very much like most technological items, they depreciate in value from the minute you purchase them. Film cameras, instead, every year, appreciate in value and so do film rolls. The opportunity of investing in that beautiful tangible medium that is film, makes for priceless photographs that you can proudly consider like the best investment for your wedding memories to keepsake. Given, also, the not so common ability and skillfulness to shoot film (film photographers are rare and good ones are even rarer), the choice makes for even more valuable photographs.
I love the term “painterly”, it just perfectly describes the aesthetic of film. Granted that photography means “painted with light”, it’s appropriate and truly translates visually the idea of a painter, creating art with his brushes dipped in light. The ability to execute an artistic project, from the creation of a concept, going through the creative choices to practically create the piece, to its final delivery method, is called Fine Art. Like so, film photography is considered the same, because in comparison with digital photography, it requires more experience, knowledge, and for the photographer to make creative choices when using the medium, without relying on the many automatisms that a digital camera offers. Not saying that exclusively digital photographers rely on automatic settings alone, it is understood that a digital medium offers a variety of possibilities that facilitate the job, making the process less purposeful, artistic, and more automated instead.
Film is the best choice for the way it captures colors, for example, “skin tones” always look creamy, warm, and soft, almost glowing. Thanks to the incredible tonal range of film, colors are melting together in delicious eye candy, while digital is instead programmed to “read” light through a sensor and reproduce an image more or less adjacent to reality but nevertheless a reproduction.
If you are a lover of visual arts, then you will probably remember the pictorial “Impressionism” aesthetic, and that is what film reminds me of exactly.
Film has unparallel depth and a vibrancy that is hardly replicable, even with lots of editing on digitally shot photographs. As a matter of fact, film requires little if no editing at all after is developed (when shot properly). Colors are pastel-ly and dreamy giving to my photographs that feel you can appreciate in the famous work of French painters Manet, Cezanne, Caillebotte, and Renoir.
As explained earlier, each roll of film allows a very limited amount of captures, and each capture, for a film photographer, costs literal money. Therefore, you can only expect photographs composed carefully and artistically, with intentionality and purpose. The slower and more deliberate quality of film makes a film photograph much more valuable and so the work of its creator. There is no re-do, there’s no digital LCD monitor to check if the photograph turned out properly. You-must-know-your-art.
One of my favorite qualities of film is its tonal range which simplistically is the capability of the medium to capture shades of tones, colors. Digital being a reproduction of light created by a sensor trying to give our eyes the illusion of captured reality, lacks greatly in tonal range, and when it is hard for the medium to read the information and translate it into a digital file properly, you start noticing lots of gray entering the image with an evident pixelation. For example in lighting conditions where there’s a strong difference between areas that are very bright and areas that are very dark (in sunlight for example), a film capture retains much more detail, with softer shadows and less blown-out highlights.
Now that we have taken a dive into the benefits of film vs digital photography let’s deep our toes in the opposite: the benefits of shooting digital vs film.
I used this term before to describe the capability of a digital camera to capture fast pace moments, and that is because, literally, a digital camera can photograph dozens of frames per second. It seems logical then, that especially during live events (like weddings), it is smart to take advantage of this key feature during certain times that can not go uncaptured.
Film has one major drawback, and that is it requires a tripod or a flash to be photographed if there are low light conditions. The use of flash, in my opinion, disrupts that beautiful natural look of film, and the tripod slows down your work a lot. Alternatively, you can shoot black and white film but with digital, you can capture both color and black/white photos at a fast pace even in low light.
This may not apply to all film cameras, but when shooting with one of the best (Contax 645 medium format), which are not produced anymore (and you can only take very good care for, with lots of maintenance and TLC), it is best to photograph almost exclusively in manual focus to avoid burning the sensor connecting the shutter button to the coil that “commands” the lens focus.
Granted that you need a very good eye, the little glass view-finder available on these cameras isn’t the sharpest (they’re vintage pieces!!), so you get the difficulty. I personally don’t mind a little blurry photograph, it adds to that true film look of the good old Fine Art age and I find that sometimes “imperfect” images, capture instead the true essence of a moment, its emotions, and that fleeting instantaneous glimpse you can only freeze through photography.
One last difference between film vs digital photography is in the ability of the cameras of creating backups. Each film camera can only host one film roll at a time, therefore what’s shot on it exists only in one copy. With digital cameras instead, you have the ability to capture the same image on two different memory cards simultaneously.
Essentially, by shooting film and digital on our couples’ wedding day, we are creating three backups of their images, ensuring that their priceless memories are safe and beautiful.
Finally, in my personal and professional opinion, it all boils down to making the best-educated choices regardless of the medium used, making sure to be the one determining the outcome of my work, and not leaving it in the “hands” of the medium itself. This is why, in all of our client’s galleries, it is pretty much impossible to spot the difference despite the fact that each collection is made of both digital and film images.
Take a look at this gorgeous pre-wedding session at Malibu Rocky Oaks