Somewhere Between Digital and Film

My first experience with photography was at one of my older brother’s soccer games when I was a little boy. My mother was taking pictures with a point-and-shoot rangefinder camera and occasionally gave me a turn to take a shot. I remember my excitement to peer through the tiny viewfinder and press the shutter button, followed by the satisfying click and whir of the film automatically advancing to the next frame.

That initial excitement of taking a picture was no match compared to when my mother brought home prints from the developed roll. The pictures I took were often slightly blurry or out of focus, but I didn’t mind. I was simply thrilled to see the images I had taken.

Fast forward to today and my picture taking has matured. The Canon DSLRs are my cameras of choice and I am extremely mindful of maintaining sharp focus and a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur. After taking a shot I spare a quick glance at the histogram on the LCD screen to check for clipped blacks or blinking highlights. If the exposure is off, I delete the image, adjust settings and fire again, sometimes bracketing for difficult scenes. No more waiting to see how my pictures turned out.

The ease and flexibility provided by a digital workflow cannot be denied. A digital camera allows me to see a photo immediately, reducing the guesswork involved in taking the perfect picture; I can fire off hundreds of shots on a single memory card without worrying about running out of exposures on a roll and effortlessly delete the ones I don’t like.

Developing digital photos is merely a matter of plugging the SD card into my computer and processing them in Lightroom or Photoshop, a far cry from spending hours in a darkroom, surrounded by pungent chemical trays. Even so, no imaging software can compare to the moment a picture develops from a blank sheet of paper before your eyes.

Despite the convenience of digital photography, the patience and care necessary for working with film first brought me to love the art of picture taking. I owe my attention to detail and eye for composition to working with film; knowing every shot costs me a handful of cents makes me much more careful about releasing the shutter.

Even now my favorite camera to take portraits with is an old Pentax with a manual advance. There is a quality and imperfection of film that digital photos cannot quite match. I love having developed negatives as a tangible result of going somewhere and seeing something worth capturing.

Camera technology has progressed, but the art of photography remains unchanged. Taking a beautiful photo starts with good composition and requires skillful development, be it digital or film. I advocate for novices to begin shooting with film to learn the principles of exposure, but it is helpful to use a digital camera to practice composition since it removes the exposure count limit. Both have their pros and cons; neither is better than the other. However, the inherent need for attention to detail in film photography is still required in a digital workflow.

Designer and developer who occasionally writes.