Digital Film Filters: Thoughts

There’s one question that I get asked almost every day across various forums, through email, on social media, etc. I don’t blame people for asking me but I figured I’d do a blog post on it because, well, because I think this topic deserves a longer answer than what I’ve been giving.

“So what do you think about digital film filters?” 

Well, first I gotta explain to some people what they are……Over the past two years or so digital film filters have made a pretty big impact on how people edit in the photography world. If you aren’t familiar, digital film filters are simply Photoshop presets that make your digital files look like they were taken with a film camera. Many of them render a pretty legitimate rendition and to the naked eye (well, to the eye of someone who doesn’t do this for a living) you’d have a hard time telling it was ever a digital photo to begin with. The feel and “look” of film has become extremely popular especially with the hipster Lomography trend as well as the Polaroid resurgence. I see them used a lot in wedding and lifestyle sessions as well.

There are many kinds, the most popular being VSCO Cam , short for Visual Supply Company. They sell Photoshop presets that come in packages and each package has filters that match popular films such as Fuji Superia, Kodak Portra, T-Max, Tri-X, Velvia, etc. There are hundreds. Slap one of these babies on your digital file and boom – surely you MUST have taken that with a camera from the 1970’s. Let’s see some examples……

Here's a photo of performer Serana Rose at the Baltimore Tattoo Convention this year. This photo is straight from the camera, a 5D Mark III

Here’s a photo of performer Serana Rose at the Baltimore Tattoo Convention this year. This photo is straight from the camera, a 5D Mark III

With the Kodak E100G preset.

With the Kodak E100G preset.

With the T-Max 3200 preset

With the T-Max 3200 preset

With the Fuji Velvia 100 preset

With the Fuji Velvia 100 preset

With the Agfa Scala 200 preset

With the Agfa Scala 200 preset

With the Kodak Portra 800 preset

With the Kodak Portra 800 preset

Whew! Ok, so each photo has the preset listed underneath it. The presets have a pretty spot on rendition for some films, others not so much. I think the Kodak Portra (last one) is pretty dead on as well as the T-Max 3200. I tried to give you a pretty good visual of what film filters do to an original digital image.

Now what do I think?

Well, to start off, a lot of dedicated film photographers, otherwise known as purists, will argue with you that digital film filters cheapen the craft and that it’s completely cheating not to mention contributing to the decline of film as a medium. I most definitely agree with that to an extent. Unfortunately, people would much rather spend $100 on each box of PS presets than to constantly pay for film to be processed and scanned. I totally get it, film is really expensive these days. A roll of Portra at your local shop can run you up to $11 and around $8 per roll online. Processing costs another $8 and a high resolution scan (assuming you don’t own one) will cost you another $11, give or take a few bucks. Right there we are looking at around $26 to get it processed locally. ONE ROLL. Now, there are lots of places to send it out for cheaper, I believe The Darkroom does it all for $10 but even still, that plus the cost of a roll of Portra puts you at around $20. I can see the appeal of a one time purchase for the presets. Despite all this hate towards technology, film filters and the use of them have actually peaked the public’s interest in using REAL film contrary to popular belief.

“So then why would we even bother to shoot film if this give us similar results and costs less?” MY FAVORITE QUESTION.

There is nothing better to learn photography on than a FILM CAMERA. I repeat, NOTHING. Shooting on an actual film camera isn’t always about the outcome, it’s about being in the moment. With a film camera, there’s no back to look at, there’s no preview, you waste less time fooling with settings and more time just shooting and composing. People will argue that learning on a digital is better because you see your mistakes as you make them….not so, there’s nothing that will break bad habits or rectify your problems faster than blowing an entire roll. I guarantee if you mess up a whole roll trying something out you’ll get it right the second time around.

Shooting film will slow you down, something that’s important in our society nowadays. You don’t always need instant gratification and that’s what I feel happens when you use film filters. While they liven up flat digital files, they also take away from some quality time with the craft you love most. Quality over quantity.

Personally, if I had a paying assignment I WILL use film filters – more profit for me, less turnaround time, more shots, and more control to give the client exactly what they want. If it’s a shoot for fun, I will ALWAYS use actual film because I believe that you can never simulate it completely and it’s a look I am not willing to part with.  I guess you could say I’m Switzerland in this.

Check out this list of reasons to still shoot film.

What are your thoughts? I’m so torn between all of the possible variables that I’m sure I’ll read this later and add many more thoughts. I’d like it to be a discussion!

 

 

22 thoughts on “Digital Film Filters: Thoughts

  1. I’m 100% the same…I shoot digital for paid work, film for my own projects. I love that with shooting film I stay in the moment and don’t feel the need to review my shots. Not to mention that film cameras have a wonderful look and feel about them…cameras built to last with metal and leather, not plastic. Shoot with a Rolleiflex once and tell me it’s not addictive.

    • Oh yes definitely. Especially a Rolleiflex with slide film. Glad you agree! I’ve dropped my A-1 tons of times, left it in the heat, left it in the cold, still works like a gem.

      I adore film but I can definitely see the appeal of people using digital film presets to emulate the look for paid work. I don’t look down on people for doing so and it makes me angry how people always try to force others to be in one category or the other. I love both film and digital and any artistic change to either is a welcome thing for me.

  2. I agree with you on just about every point you hit. My thoughts on digital are this, the digital negative (.dng or equivalent) NEEDS processing. Both pre and post. The best part about film is that it needs little to no processing, you get the “preset” built right into the chemical base. Digital however needs a lot of work to be ready before it’s done. For instance, with my landscape work on digital I spend up to 2 hours on one photo sometimes bringing the levels where I need them to be. Using a preset is just the beginning. The preset must be tweaked (usually a lot since they’re often not good), and then dodging/burning + levels in raw, then export to photoshop for multiple layers of curves, exposure, desaturation, and shadow/highlight color adjustment. The AWESOME thing about digital is that when you’re done (or at least when I’m done) you’ve basically made a film preset that is your own. I highly frown on SOOC digital shots, it’s a big “fuck you” to creativity and basically screams “I don’t care” all over the photo.

    I think a big part of film is the process, both before and after. I don’t shoot enough of it or have the space to justify developing it myself, but if I did I would probably appreciate it even more than I do (I love my Leica!)

    Nice blog post!

    • Thanks! And yep, I think it’s funny how people argue that they don’t have the time or patience to shoot film and wait for it to be processed but end up spending so much time on editing digital files to get it to look like film! If cost wasn’t an issue I would just always shoot film – it’s a give take either way. I don’t have the space to develop myself either, nor the time, but that won’t stop me. I hope you keep shooting film and shoot more of it – I loved your slide film work 🙂

      • I’m really behind! I have 10-12 slide rolls to get developed. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I’ve spent a lot of time learning the Leica and I get a bigger bang for the buck VS 120 so I’ve been shooting it much more. I really need to get out the 6×7 more often and crank out some Velvia 50. Fall is coming!!!

      • Kaitlin, come on! Let’s be honest, cost isn’t the only issue. There is a convenience and less of a need for deliberation with shooting digitally, as well as, of course, speed. If someone gave you $100 worth of film and chemicals a month, I don’t think you’d shoot film for assignments because the work required to turn it around in the same time would require a major rework of your methods. Cost really shouldn’t be an issue if you’re getting paid what you’re worth as a photographer. Cost has very little to do with my challenges as a paid film shooter. Paid photographers used to be kept in film and fast, high quality processing by their publishers. A large part of the problem is that digital cameras have cheapened the work of the photographer and so we are typically not paid as much/given the same benefits as we used to be and rapid processing services obviously are no longer available. This is a result of business saying no to film because non-photographers, and some photographers apparently, think the results are equal due to articles like this.

        And you do have space. You have a kitchen or a bathroom. You have running water and electricity. This is more than what film shooters have had in remote places/situations across the world throughout history.

        My point is that, you are kind of making excuses for the times you’re not shooting film but in all reality, you could if you were committed to doing so.

        Art is most well regarded when decisions are made that ignore practical inconveniences in favor of concept, not when it is a result of practical inconveniences. This is just compromise and is common.

        I totally get why one would choose NOT to shoot film for the work that you do, but please, let’s be honest about the reasons for it and please, consider that digital can stand on its own just fine without dressing it up to look like something it’s not!

      • Btw, do some research on Bill Cunningham. He shot film for fashion editorials in NYC up until a year or so ago. And I hear that the reason he stopped was that he was pressured to do so by the NY Times, not out of choice or necessity.

  3. My biggest beef: People who use presets *don not bother to change anything for the specific image*. Instagram is more forgiving because, well, Instagram, Plugins like Nik and Lightroom presets themselves are easy ways to crank out “color”, but when you have the same exact color set on each photo….laaazy.

    (I’ll add I was my own victim of this when I was starting out. I’ve mostly grown out of my lazy ways. Mostly… )

  4. My bottom line about digital film forgery is that it is a practice and concept that is insulting to both film and digital media as well as the photographers who champion each.

    What good is digital if it is used merely to replicate an old technology? Where is the innovation one would expect to come with all the technical and practical advantages of digital? This lack of pushing boundaries, testing new limits and being stuck ATTEMPTING to repeat what has already been done, to me, is infinitely depressing and the total opposite of creativity. It’s simply not utilizing the medium one is choosing and lends weight to the notion that digital photographers gave up on film over matters of convenience and commerce as oppose to a leap in ability, understanding or aesthetic advance.

    Furthermore, this practice is contributing to a massively confused culture of observers. Am I looking at film or am I looking at digital? What is the value of shooting on real film if digital can deliver the perceived “same results”? For me, as an avid paid film photographer, the difference is in the approach to the image and the handling/care of it in post. Shooting on film is not only about the “end result”, it’s about the deliberation required to pack the right films in your bag, know that you’re about to run out of film and be prepared to reload during an important moment, how to deal with these sorts of issues during a shoot and improve your watchfulness and workflow as a result. There is much more commitment involved in shooting on film because changing course from what was done in camera can be much more challenging and time consuming. All these disciplines and how they communicate to the audience through a film image are completely neglected, forgotten about (if ever realised from the start) and lost when digital shooters make film forgeries.

    Finally, none of this garbage actually looks like “film”. Anyone who actually shoots film regularly knows and understands why. Film is an organic medium. It reacts to different lighting situations differently. The white balance is built in. You can’t shoot Fuji Velvia 100 indoors and get the colours that you got above. It’s balanced for sunlight and would be more dramatically orange than this. Maybe if you took a photo outdoors and then threw this preset on the photo, it might look more like what the creators were going for. But that’s the thing, film does not carry the same look regardless of the light. It reacts differently every time. That is one of the things that makes it so unique and enjoyable as well as complicated to learn. Next, you’ll notice the flame in these photos does not change in detail. This is ridiculous. Slide films have less exposure latitude and perform more like digital sensors than print films. If you took this photo with a print film such as the Tmax or particularly the Portra, you’d see much more detail in the flame than you can get with digital. Why? Because these films have more upper end exposure latitude and digital has more lower end latitude.

    And then are we talking 35mm or 120 versions of these films, because each have a totally different look at different sizes!

    These fundamental concepts are completely ignored.

    And this does not even begin to touch upon the lack of organic grain or contrast in that Tmax 3200, which I used to shoot all the time before Kodak stopped making it since people collectively thought that instead of paying $7 for a roll of real film, they could get the same results by faking it.

    Which brings me to my next to last point.

    YOU ARE KILLING FILM when you buy this garbage. The money and time wasted on this cheap fake junk could be spent buying, supporting and learning about REAL FILM. At some point, you are going to be emulating something that doesn’t even exist anymore and nobody can remember because NOBODY WILL MAKE IT ANYMORE thanks to photographers like yourselves for MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT and placing superficial cosmetics, business and trends above preserving your personal as well as the viewing public’s experience of film photography.

    Speaking of the viewing public, you are lying to them. Digital film is deceptive and confusing to people who don’t know any better. For me, as a photojournalist, photography is about telling the truth, rendering real life and sharing moments with people. Not deliberately lying to them for nothing more than cosmetic concerns. This is ANTI-photojournalism.

    All this being said, there are numerous films that are no longer made and if one wants to enjoy them again, maybe emulating them through digital is one way to do it. But in all reality, shooting on a klunky plastic digital SLR and throwing a Kodachrome filter on an image on a screen is NOTHING like stretching a leader of real Kodachrome across the inside of a hand-built brass Nikon F or Leica M and taking only 24 or 36 photos between which, mechanically winding and moving each spend frame to safety and finally looking at that beautiful bright, vibrantly coloured slide in the light of day with your naked eyes, confronting a real and tangible thing that was with you on the day of the shoot. There’s nothing like it. Certainly not this.

    • Awesome reply…sorta kinda reminds me of Jerry Macguires mission statement…

      I’ve tried some of the digital film presets and in the end felt that they didn’t really look like the film so I don’t use them anymore…for me shooting film is more about the process than the end result.

      Sitting down at my pc for 3 straight days post processing after shooting a wedding is painful. Developing film in my laundry is enjoyable.

      Nothing beats developing film and holding the film up to the light to see what you’ve got. That’s something that digital will never replace.

    • Alrighty…Addressing a handful of things here.

      “Many of them render a pretty legitimate rendition and to the naked eye (well, to the eye of someone who doesn’t do this for a living)…. ” I stated this above because obviously to people like us who shoot film on a regular basis we can tell that a digital film filter isn’t a real film scan. The issue of me confusing the two shouldn’t really be a topic of conversation because, well, I don’t.

      Johnny, I have a few things to say about this particular paragraph…..
      “YOU ARE KILLING FILM when you buy this garbage. The money and time wasted on this cheap fake junk could be spent buying, supporting and learning about REAL FILM. At some point, you are going to be emulating something that doesn’t even exist anymore and nobody can remember because NOBODY WILL MAKE IT ANYMORE thanks to photographers like yourselves for MISSING THE ENTIRE POINT and placing superficial cosmetics, business and trends above preserving your personal as well as the viewing public’s experience of film photography…….Speaking of the viewing public, you are lying to them. Digital film is deceptive and confusing to people who don’t know any better. For me, as a photojournalist, photography is about telling the truth, rendering real life and sharing moments with people. Not deliberately lying to them for nothing more than cosmetic concerns. This is ANTI-photojournalism.”

      The decline of film happened LONG before this type of digital technology was introduced. It began to happen when consumer digital cameras hit shelves and people who shot photos for the hell of it found it to be cheaper to never have to buy film or pay for processing. I really don’t think that this type of digital editing has anything on real film and if I did then I wouldn’t even bother with film. People like this “film” look even though it may not entirely be “film”. People today seem to associate low contrast, certain colors, and grain with film so any image that has those factors must be “film”. The word itself has become an aesthetic, that can be synonymous with the real thing or it may not be. Now, I know that there’s a lot more to actual film but to people who just like to create various ways of editing may not know. If anything, a lot of people who have seen digital photos with film filters on them have sought out to start shooting REAL film because these filters fall short of achieving that and those who like the look, who REALLY like it, will strive to achieve the best results possible and you can only get those through shooting REAL film. ANYTHING with a filter is “anti-photojournalism” as it isn’t typically allowed in the newsroom. Nothing more than simple contrast/exposure/levels edits are allowed.

      As for lying to people – there are far worse things in digital technology than film filters that do that. Take a look at any magazine, portrait session, etc. Most are Photoshopped and edited. I HARDLY would consider using a film filter some devious act like lying to people – it’s simply a way of editing photos.

      “My point is that, you are kind of making excuses for the times you’re not shooting film but in all reality, you could if you were committed to doing so.”

      I don’t shoot film for work because of my fast turnaround deadline. Also, to address my commitment to shooting film – I am in graduate school full time now, I work full time and my weekends are packed with features assignment work. Even if I could develop my own stuff I wouldn’t have the time to – I barely even have the time to schedule film shoots for fun. So “excuses” they may be but it’s my life and not everyone has endless amounts of time (or money) to shoot film constantly and process it themselves.

      I feel like it’s still obvious it’s a digital photograph and NOT a film photo when digital filters are used. It’s plain as day, so I’m not quite sure where all the bitterness is coming from. It’s simply an editing preference some people have. I can rarely use this anyways because I do photojournalism for work – no filters allowed there -and when I shoot for fun I shoot real film (as stated above).

      I’m having trouble understanding the bitterness. If you don’t like it, don’t use them. Like I said, it’s obvious it’s not real film (and nothing but itself can really emulate it) so what’s the problem?

      If it wasn’t called a “film” preset but a “something else” preset would we be having this issue? If it’s only what’s in a name then the anger towards it might need to be toned down – no one is saying that this is replacing film because clearly it is not.

      • Kaitlin, I want to start out by apologizing if any of my comments feel like personal attacks or come off as being more angry and bitter than you know me to be. I have a way of writing strong opinions in such a way that I think people get an unintended tone out of my words when not conversing directly. Please understand that I am merely trying to express an idea that has hard edges and I don’t mean to make you feel outside those edges but in order to convey the idea, the boundaries are necessary.

        Here we go…

        “The issue of me confusing the two shouldn’t really be a topic of conversation because, well, I don’t.”

        I’m sorry if I didn’t make myself clear but I wasn’t directing my point about confusing film and digital towards you specifically, but pointing out that this method is confusing for any audience. I also believe it’s confusing for photographers who don’t know film that well and don’t understand the points I’ve made. Photography generally meant to be spread so I feel that all one is doing by editing like this is spreading confusion.

        I can tell you, the difference in look between real and fake film is far from obvious to laypeople. They see film forgery and either think it’s film or know it’s a fake because they assume everyone is shooting digital and faking film. Therefore when they see your real film photos, they will likely believe they are merely another Instagram forgery instead of appreciating the effort you took.

        “The decline of film happened LONG before this type of digital technology was introduced”

        This is false. People have been trying to mimic film with digital since the advent of digital, film has historically been the yardstick by which quality digital has been measured and has therefore been copying since Day One. These effects have only become popular to the consumer in the last couple years. I’ve seen this kind of software personally since the late 1990’s when people were dissatisfied with their early 2-5 megapixel digitals.

        “I really don’t think that this type of digital editing has anything on real film and if I did then I wouldn’t even bother with film.”

        That is the outlook of the film/digital shooter, but the digital-only shooter DOES have the outlook of not bothering with film, instead believing that these filters have effectively replaced it. To me, since this method really doesn’t have anything on film, as you say, then by logic, it is useless, not useful and as I said, an insult to both mediums. So I have to ask, why are you using it if you don’t think it does what it’s supposed to do?

        “If anything, a lot of people who have seen digital photos with film filters on them have sought out to start shooting REAL film because these filters fall short of achieving that and those who like the look, who REALLY like it, will strive to achieve the best results possible and you can only get those through shooting REAL film.”

        I would like to hope these effects are inspiring them to discover or rediscovery film but to me, the more effective way to promote film would be to take compelling photos with real film to begin with and make it clear to people what you are using. In this way, you are not promoting the ghost of an idea, you’re being authentic and honest to yourself and your audience AND, you’re supporting the film industry.

        “As for lying to people – there are far worse things in digital technology than film filters that do that. Take a look at any magazine, portrait session, etc. Most are Photoshopped and edited. I HARDLY would consider using a film filter some devious act like lying to people – it’s simply a way of editing photos”

        It’s very difficult for me to hear a photojournalist state that editing and lying are two distinctly different things or that this is only a “lesser evil” and so it should therefore fly. By using these filters you are, in the most basic terms, trying to make an image look like it was shot on something that it was not. How can you not see this as being deceitful to your audience? This is the exact reason why this type of editing is anti-photojournalism as you echo. This is a cosmetic misrepresentation of the photographer’s perspective. The entire purpose of these filters is to lie to the audience, conversely, you certainly couldn’t claim that they are honest in anyway.

        “I am in graduate school full time now, I work full time and my weekends are packed with features assignment work. Even if I could develop my own stuff I wouldn’t have the time to – I barely even have the time to schedule film shoots for fun. So “excuses” they may be but it’s my life and not everyone has endless amounts of time (or money) to shoot film constantly and process it themselves.”

        Please don’t take my words as a personal attack, I totally respect your work and where you’re at. Commitment is not a black and white thing, it is certainly a thing measured, if it can be measured, in degrees. I don’t mean to accuse you of not being committed to film but in any matter where an easier/faster course is chosen over a more arduous one, commitment is what is in question. I don’t judge anyone for not shooting film in situations or for work that they feel it is more appropriate to shoot digital in. However, I do want to make it clear that I don’t think it’s utterly impossible and to point out that very few people who do actively shoot film have endless amounts of time or money. I don’t want to belabor this point though because, again, I’m not accusing you of anything personally and don’t want you to feel like I am. The point, for me, is that the solution to a tight schedule and tight budget still does not justify faking film, it only justifies shooting digital.

        “I feel like it’s still obvious it’s a digital photograph and NOT a film photo when digital filters are used. It’s plain as day, so I’m not quite sure where all the bitterness is coming from.”

        If it is plain as day, then why do people make or use it? Why The bitterness is coming from the hard fact that each time someone buys these presets, they could have bought more film, learned more, experienced more and given more film images to the world. But they chose to negate all of that for something superficial and inadequate.

        “It’s simply an editing preference some people have.”

        You could say that about anything, that doesn’t legitimize or justify any practice.

        “I’m having trouble understanding the bitterness. If you don’t like it, don’t use them. Like I said, it’s obvious it’s not real film (and nothing but itself can really emulate it) so what’s the problem?”

        I think that I’ve expressed what the problem is in explicit detail.

        “If it wasn’t called a “film” preset but a “something else” preset would we be having this issue? If it’s only what’s in a name then the anger towards it might need to be toned down – no one is saying that this is replacing film because clearly it is not.”

        Kaitlin, you have repeated that this is not replacing film but you have not provided any evidence that it’s not. The evidence is all around us. How many people do you know have shot their own film in the last year and how many people do you know who have added one of these effects to their digital images because they like the look of film but don’t want to be bothered with the inconvenience? If digital is not replacing film, why did Kodak file for bankruptcy?

        You yourself said that if paid, you would use a filter instead of real film, so right there, you yourself are saying that you are replacing film with digital. You didn’t say that if a client asked for the film look, you’d shoot on film, you said you’d choose to make more money and improve your turnaround by shooting digital. That is that much less money Kodak’s pocket and that much more you will have to pay for your Portra when you can find time to do a fun shoot on film.

  5. I suppose the real question you should ask yourself is, if these filters were named after anything other than film, like the instagram filters, would you be having this quandary? A post-processing look is just a look, it doesn’t really matter the genesis of the image. The value in shooting film is in the decisions you make based on the limitations of the medium and the way those decisions shape the final image and the telling of the narrative. Everything else is just window dressing.

    • Agree. A look is a look no matter how you achieve it. Film filters will never look like real film but it does embody it a bit, at least I think so depending upon which one you use. People have their preferences, that won’t change.

    • I often consider this as well. If the businesses that sell these presets called them “film inspired” or something with clearer, more accurate, less manipulative language, I’d probably have much less of a problem with them. Some of the marketing around these, as well as the way some users discuss them, you wouldn’t even know if they’re actually talking about film or not. Another pet peeve of mine is using the words “film” and “filmmaker” to describe digital videography. Similar deliberate mishandling of language and deception of the audience.

  6. Let’s be real for one second. To respond to Johnny’s comments, even shooting film is lying to anyone. It’s not actually how he scene is in real life, it’s how the chemicals in the base react to the light. So what’s the difference? When photographers started using 35mm back in the day it was perceived to be “ruining” photography and cheating it for professionals, so I say again, what is the difference? Digital is beyond boring right out of box, any manipulation at the end of the day is how you want to tell the story. Just like film does in it’s own way. They’re just two different means to two ends. End of story.

    • Kevin, you are discussing the difference (or lack of difference) between film and digital and the validity of images made by each. I agree with you on that front.

      What we are discussing here is not digital vs.film but fake film vs. real film I don’t think it’s a valid/artistic/professional workflow to use one technology to fake the look of another, particularly given that both technologies are still available and one is under serious threat by the other as a result of the forgeries becoming more common than the originals.

      Your approach is casual and liberal, but to me, that is not an opinion, it’s a way of removing yourself from the responsibility of having one.

  7. I’d like to see the blog post updated with examples of images shot with film and digital in the same conditions, because I’ve seen tons of different looks from a single film. I think that would be a better comparison, fun topic and always interesting to read the varied opinions. I have to admit I 100% disagree with your comment that there is nothing better to learn photography with than a film camera. There is no logic stream I can follow here, but again these are just opinions and we can disagree. There are tons of fantastic photographers out there that haven’t bothered to touch a film camera and tons of craptastic film photographers. In fact, I often feel in the online communities there are a lot of super technically knowledgeable photographers who shoot film, develop and print and yet cannot make a single (to me) interesting composition. And I see people rock compositions with iPhones and have certainly followed people on instagram who don’t even shoot film or digital cameras. It would be interesting to conduct a poll to see how many people use film filters to simulate film or use it as a digital after effect? I mean, I’ve never completed a photoshoot with the intention of going home and adding a Portra 400 filter to the images. Yet, I certainly have toyed around with the filters, it never changed my film purchasing habits.

    • “I have to admit I 100% disagree with your comment that there is nothing better to learn photography with than a film camera.”

      The thing about learning to do anything is that nobody knows who learns best in what way until AFTER they’ve already learned something. Some people may require a step of using a fully automated camera as a beginning photographer so that they can start to think about composition etc without their head getting confused with a lot of technical bs.

      Personally, I struggled in my first photography class because I felt overwhelmed with technical aspects that choked my creativity. However, once, I simply followed the given instructions and attempted to take a creative shot, everything felt like it came together and I was hooked. This approach probably worked on me because I was in college for film and all my core courses were art-oriented. So I didn’t need to do composition projects with a p&s and call it a photography class because I was simultaneously studying in a dedicated graphic design course etc.

      You never know which is the best way for you until you have that a-ha moment though. In my viewpoint, over the years of learning photography and watching/helping others with it, I feel that the medium is fairly irrelevant to learning basic photography but shooting 100% manual is where the real learning takes place.

      Even if one takes an art course and studies photographic composition with a p&s or iPhone, it’s not until one uses a fully manual camera that I think everything starts working in synergy and one starts to become a photographer per se.

      And the problem with digital for this is that there is of course no such thing as a fully manual digital camera that does not offer full auto mode too (unless you can drop 10k on a Leica). So the temptation to avoid manual and confusion of what full manual even means/is sets in. It may sound crazy to a photographer but many new shooters don’t even know what elements constitute “full manual”. There is also a fear of shooting in full manual mode as a new shooter. While someone may be reading about shutter and aperture, when push comes to shove, most people, I find, are so scared of “missing the shot” that they just sit on various auto settings as a default way of shooting and consequently, they never learn to be confident in themselves or their understanding/ability.

      Then there’s the fact that one has to pay extra for a prime lens. Canon doesn’t even appear to make an affordable 35mm prime for the student and learning on a zoom, particularly a variable aperture zoom, is terrible for understanding how depth of field works in my opinion, since it’s always changing.

      Also, with digital, one has to consider white balance. Shooting in full manual on a film camera is less complicated than shooting in full manual on a digital for this reason. Don’t think manual white balance is important? Try explaining it to someone who’s been shooting it in auto for a few years.

      Certainly a determined person will simply overcome these issues but they are issues that need to be overcome.

      There is no longer a such thing as a “proper student camera”, only cameras for everybody. The flip side of course is that with film, as everyone well cite, you have to spend a lot of money and time on processing and printing the film.

      The way that I recommend people start with film is by just learning the camera first and having a lab process and print/scan for them but this is even becoming a problem with the lack of labs everywhere. The other problem, that I also shared when starting to learn on film, was the sort of fear of shooting. Since most students/kids don’t have a lot of money to burn, film seems formidably expensive. Each mistake literally costs you. And you see these people who only shoot a roll or two of 24 exposure every month or so expecting to actually learn anything about film or photography like this. It wasn’t until I began shooting film with similar “reckless abandon” that one does with digital that I REALLY began to understand things as well as, of course shoot different options of the same scene for myself from which to choose. I feel that many film shooters also only take a shot once or twice without bracketing or recomposing and just accept what they get. While the deliberation before the shot is critical, you can’t know 100% how something is going to look to you later and giving yourself options is so valuable.

      As you point out Michael, a number of film “photographers” turn out to be little more than gearheads with cameras. They are just obsessed with processes and appear to care little about the results. Yet at the same time, I feel like it’s also very easy to find “artists” whose minds are so wide open that they cannot be bothered with the small amount of discipline that is required to take some photos on a K1000 instead of an iPhone. I feel that I’m a little bit of both personalities and that using a fully manual camera tempers my artistic liberal(lazy)ness while also satisfying my gearhead nature. When full manual is just an option, I find it is seldom the choice.

      So film or digital has its challenges for the student. Digital is not just automatically superior because you can see the results instantly and all settings data is recorded with the image, although this is of major help!

      As to how this topic relates to this article, well, I feel that it touches on if people approach things with dedication to what is “proper” or if they feel that everything can be excused in art, even when decisions are made out of the sake of convenience over artistic integrity. This summarizes my view of film fakery and this conflict is often the conflict of the student too, will you read the whole book and think about it or will you read the Cliff’s Notes just so you can pass the test? The question arises, how much do YOU want to learn? Do you want to learn chemistry, software, optics, mechanics? These are all things that CAN be learned along with photography but don’t necessarily have to be and of course there are degrees of each. And what IS knowing photography and being a photographer? Is it nothing more than regularly making compelling images or is it also knowing the seemingly ancillary aforementioned topics? Does it matter if one doesn’t understand bokeh or how to to create a shallow DoF if people like the images one makes anyway? Does it matter if an image was actually shot on film or if film was just imitated with an app?

      To me, as a photographer, everything counts and while I have my limits and persuasion of interests, I want to learn and try everything that I can! I don’t want to limit myself to what is convenient. But maybe I will limit myself to what I believe to be honest and useful to people.

  8. When I first started shooting digitally I spent a lot of time in photoshop editing my images to look like film. If you know how to shoot, you can do great work with a digital camera, and it’s EASY. The main difference for me is the process. Shooting digitally became very monotonous very quickly. All of my images looked the same and I always felt the same way while taking them (bored). It didn’t matter what picture profiles I used, I always seemed to feel that something was missing. This is essentially why I quit shooting digitally and now only shoot film. It’s the organic quality of film that I find so appealing.The lush creamy colors, the contrast, the grain, the sharpness – even the dull washed out tones or color shifted hues of expired film that is SO popular nowadays – none of these things can be perfectly emulated in photoshop, because they aren’t consistent i.e. there are a trillion variables. Film simply looks better and it’s more fun to shoot (for me).

    Honestly I think people who use film plugins for their digital photo work are lazy and unambitious. Harsh maybe, but seriously, it’s stupid to use one medium to imitate another when the other still exists and is readily available (not to mention inexpensive),

    If you like the ‘look’ of film you should shoot film. You don’t have to shoot portra 160 all the time. I have 4 SLRs and lenses, a scanner, and probably an eight month supply of film and I don’t think I’ve spent more than $600. Seriously, you can get film gear for cheap nowadays, and if your work is good enough you can sell it and make all of the digital shooters jealous!

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