FILM OR DIGITAL?
This is the question for the ages. Over the past five or so years, there has been a huge resurgence of film shooters in the market, and I think that freaking rocks. Not because I think film is better than digital, but because I love variety. I applaud people using whatever medium they adore the most to create things they’re proud of and that others can enjoy. My suggestion for all of you is to not feel locked down to one or the other. The truth is that film and digital are both awesome, and if we learn a bit about them both, we can use each of them to benefit our shoots in different ways.
When shot well, film is just gorgeous. Everybody knows it and almost everybody loves it, but is that enough? Should we just learn that little fact and move on? Film deserves much more than we give it credit for. In conveying certain moods, film can give your images that little something that digital just can’t. For example, if you are looking for a serene, intimate mood, film can take you there. Film tends to be a bit softer and less “glossy” or “polished” than digital which is why it lends itself so beautifully to those more subtle, calm moments. In addition to being a bit softer, film also has natural flaws (light leaks, scratches, dust, grain, etc), and that texture can also play into that less polished look. Lastly (and arguably most important) is the feeling of nostalgia that film can bring out in a viewer. Most of us grew up in the film age. We grew up in a time where not everybody and their sister had a digital camera. This means that when we look through our old vacation photos or family photo albums, we’re most likely looking at film. We’re seeing on film our favorite memories of mom and dad, that summer when we learned how to swim, or a shot of us and our best friends before we hit middle school. Because of this, the tones that we see in film subconsciously make us feel nostalgic because we’re so used to seeing it in association with our old family and vacation photos. This can be a huge asset to bring into a shoot if that’s the emotional response that you want your viewer to feel. In a nutshell, film is my go-to when I am looking for a bit more of a calm or nostalgic image.
I shoot digitally for 90% of my work. I’m a huge fan of experimenting, and sometimes the immediate feedback that digital can give me is a crucial part of that. Other than the more obvious aspects (no film/processing costs, instant feedback, etc), digital can be a huge asset to a shoot. If you are looking for something a bit more polished or at least the option to keep it polished or add in the imperfections later, digital may be your tool of choice. From a technical standpoint, shooting digitally will open up more possibilities for low light shooting, shooting faster, and will give you a bit more latitude in post with color adjustments. Digital is also a bit
more forgiving with underexposed images (as long as you’re shooting RAW, which you should be), since it retains details in the shadows better than film does. If the mood calls for it, I’ll actually shoot a stop or two underexposed on purpose and push it back up in post to introduce a bit of subtle grit to an image. I use the Canon 5D III for many reasons including the full frame sensor. DSLR’s have two different types of sensors, one is a “full frame sensor” and the other is a “crop sensor.” The crop sensor means that the actual sensor that the image is being recorded on is smaller. That turns a 35mm lens into the equivalent of a 50mm(ish) lens. The reason that this matters to me, is that a full frame sensor allows me to be closer to my subject (which means the depth of field is shallower because the closer you are to your subject, the shallower the focal plane will be) while still capturing a good bit of space around them. This means I can shoot a wider shot, with a shallower depth of field on a full frame sensor than I could with a crop sensor.
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When I was in college, I had a friend who was a professional photographer. The first time I went to her home, I walked in to find stunning photographs of her children on the walls.
There was a huge canvas in their living room and a creative photo display in the main hallway. I remember being so moved by the beauty of those images, thinking to myself, “I want to create images like this!” I bought myself a DSLR as a graduation present, learned photography from online courses and started my photography business about a year later.