Sunday, April 9, 2017

Why I'm Still Embroiled in the Film vs. Digital Debate

My journey as a photographer consists of a long series of starts and stops, with important lessons learned at each stage. Rather than a learning curve, I've experienced a learning staircase. And an irregular one at that.

Phase One: Subject Matter

I hit this phase when I was about ten years old. I became obsessed with taking my little 35mm point and shoot camera with me everywhere and taking pictures of the oddest things. I remember my mom fussing at me because I was wasting film, but in my mind I was creating art. Pretty crappy art, if I'm honest, but we've gotta start somewhere.

My only concern at this stage was what I was photographing. I didn't think about camera angles or lighting or any of that. That stage would come later.

Phase Two: Color

This phase hit when I was in high school. I still had that same point and shoot camera, but I decided I was going to get more sophisticated with my photography. So I loaded a roll of black and white film into my camera, and I was off to the races.

This roll of film was going to revolutionize my photography. My pictures were going to look just like those old pictures I had seen of my grandparents when they were young. They were going to look like the headshots of famous actors from the thirties and forties.

Of course, my pictures didn't look like that. I still had a lot to learn before I could really take a picture that looked just like I wanted it to.

Phase Three: Composition

This phase came in college. I wasn't majoring in photography, but I was still interested, and an awareness of composition was a huge leap for me. I finally realized the importance of camera angles. I realized that pictures of people look better if you get closer to them. I began to understand the rule of thirds.

It was at this time that my parents bought me my first SLR, a Minolta Maxxum QTsi. Now I had a zoom lens! Perfect timing, considering the learning curve (learning step?) I was on. If I couldn't stand as close to my subject as I wanted, I could zoom in. Yay!

Phase Four: Studio Lighting

This occurred right after college, and grew out of the composition phase. Every time I took pictures of people, I wanted to play around with posing them. This led to an interest in portraiture.

To take portraits, I needed studio lighting, so I bought a Novatron Fun Kit, which is one of the cheapest lighting sets you can find. I also had to have a new camera, because I discovered that my entry-level SLR did not have enough manual controls to be used with studio lighting.

My upgraded camera was a Minolta Maxxum 5. I stayed with Minolta for the obvious reason. Lens compatibility. I didn't know at the time that Minolta would be going out of business in just a few short years, which meant I was basically digging myself into a hole with my brand loyalty.

Phase Five: Natural Lighting

This is where I am now. After struggling for a few years after college to get a portrait business off the ground, I gradually gave up on the idea and my cameras have sat idle ever since. But now the interest has been renewed, and what I'm suddenly noticing is sunlight. This started a couple of years ago when I wanted to take a new profile picture for my Facebook page, so I dragged my husband out of the house at seven in the morning to take backlit images of me at sunrise. Here's one picture that resulted from that venture:


My profile picture on this page is another.

That was it. I was in love. Backlighting, or at the least diffused side lighting, was the key to a beautiful photo. Since that picture was taken, I've designed three book covers, two of which required a photograph. Here are the results of that:



The top photo was just a landscape, and I knew I was going to be heavily manipulating the colors, so lighting was not a huge issue, but the bottom photo required a little more care. Yes, it's another backlit shot taken at sunrise. And I think I can safely say that once you've experienced lying on your belly in dewy grass on the side of the road at 7:30 in the morning taking a picture of a hat, you can officially call yourself a photographer. Congratulations! You've arrived.

Phase Six: Media

All of the above photos were taken on my Minolta Maxxum 5 on Fujicolor Superia 400 speed film. That's right, I'm still shooting film, and I'm not even using a professional grade. I'm buying the stuff from Walmart of all places. But I'm gradually becoming aware of the importance of professional film if you want to take a professional photo. I'm considering playing around with some different types.

So Why Film?

Why film indeed? Okay, so if we're talking making a movie, I can see a lot of reasons for continuing to use film. Not that I think it's of superior quality to digital. Today's digital cameras are actually surpassing film when it comes to that. But film does have a distinctive look, and if you like that look and you've got the money, why not use film to shoot your movie?

Still photography is a different story. Especially if you want to get into the portrait business, there are very few good reasons to continue to use film. Black and white photography, used primarily for artistic purposes and not so much commercial, is a different story. But color portraits? Yeah...you seriously need a digital camera.

And yet I'm still using film. Why? It really boils down to one fundamental reason. Cameras are expensive. The DSLR I want costs around $1500 dollars, and I just don't have that much money to drop on something that is, at the moment, only a hobby. Yes, I know that continuing to use film accrues its own expenses, which means that if I do get into professional portraiture, a digital camera will basically pay for itself in a couple of years. It's still a lot of money for me to spend all at once. And because my old camera is a Minolta, I won't even be able to use my lenses without an adapter.

Ah, the joys of pursuing our passions. I'm still not sure where this is going, but for now I'm stuck doing things the old-fashioned way. Which is okay for what I'm doing now, but if I decide to move forward with this, I've got some major decisions to make.  



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