Why Film Photography?

WHAT IS “DIGITAL”?

After shooting digital architecture, landscapes, portraits and wildlife photography for several years, making heavy use of digital editing software, virtually no color of my pictures was unchanged, the brightness was altered, the sharpness turned up, sizes cropped and rotated from 42.3 Megapixels to about 20 Megapixels, and so on. After having done this as a hobby for a while, it dawned on me, that this is not photography at all, and should not be referred to as “photography”. This is where it became clear to me that striving to become a “digital artist” was not for me at all.

You can see the example image below what I mean by “digital artist”, This image required a significant crop first, because the 210mm lens was about 150mm too short. Since the RAW image started at 42.3 megapixel, this was no issue, 20 megapixels left. Then, I had to pull the shadows, and severely reduce the highlights. So far so good. This is referred to as “dodging” and “burning” in film photography. But then… Increase sharpness, adjust brightness of the blues, greens and reds, decrease overall saturation, create an edit layer and select just the eyes with a brush, increase sharpness of the eyes, create another layer, select the background and smooth it out, for even a less noisy and smoother bokeh, then adjust the white balance to take out a bit of the green and yellows, and so on. In other words, the image gets to a point where the “photographing” “photographer” has virtually nothing to do with the final image. With just about the right “digital” skills, taking the original image is actually not even necessary (a “photographing” “photography” “photographer” is not even required for a “digital” “painting”…) This is where I concluded that most of “digital photography” has really nothing to do with the original capturing of light, but is more so nested in spending an enormous amount of time in front of a computer screen, which happened to be exactly why I started photography in the first place, to get away from a computer screen!

Camera: Sony Alpha 99 Mark II Lens: Minolta Maxxum 70-210mm F4 Beercan
This is not “Photography Art” – This is “Digital Art”. Camera: Minolta Alpha 99 Mark II (ILCA-99M2) Lens: Minolta Maxxum 70-210mm F4. Edited in Capture One Pro. (Ringtailed Lemur)

WHAT IS PHOTOGRAPHY?

My interpretation of photography is the art of choosing a target, establishing a composition, while considering the available light, and doing so without any comfort that the photograph can be cropped, rotated, white balance adjusted, and/or sharpened in the future. Measuring the subject’s distance, measuring the brightest point in the composition (which should ideally not exceed 2 stops above the subject) and measuring the darkest spot other than the (near) black points (which should ideally not exceed 2 stops below the subject). This is where all your time goes, and where I really want it to go: “photographing” “photography” as a “photographer”. Most film photographers, like me, send their chemical, mechanical, physical and tangible results to a trusted lab for processing the film in the appropriate chemicals, such as E-6 or C-41 to mention a few. Then scanning the negatives or positives, to get a good look at each, and selecting the few “winners” to get mounted as slides, and/or transferred with light onto real photo paper, using an enlarger. This is not for everyone, there are obviously very few photographers left today, compared to digital artists.

Below you can see a sample, which is perhaps not “the greatest photograph”, but even so, this average photograph, captured on Kodak Ektachrome Slide Film is more alive and has more character than the “digital” image above. You may judgementally judge this opinion, but before you label it so, find an old film camera, order a few rolls of film, and start finding out for yourself what photography really used to be all about. I conclude that one should not mix digital artistry, with photography, they are essencially and consequently two completely different forms of “art”, with little, or virtually nothing in common. Both arts produce pleasing and unpleasing results, this is virtually the only thing they have in common.

"People are taking more pictures now than ever before, billions of them, but there are no slides, no prints. Just data. Electronic dust. Years from now when they dig us up there won't be any pictures to find, no record of who we were or how we lived." - Ed Harris quote from the movie: Kodachrome.
This photograph was captured on Kodak Ektachrome ASA / ISO 100 35mm Film. Camera: Minolta Maxxum STsi / Minolta Maxxum 70-210mm F4.0
Iguana – Kodak Ektachrome ASA / ISO 100 35mm Slide Film. Camera: Minolta Maxxum STsi / Minolta Maxxum 70-210mm F4.0

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