I recently got my film Leica MP serviced at Steve’s Camera in Culver City, LA (highly recommended). I have also been focusing on shooting digital (on a Ricoh GR II) for the last 2-3 months. Before that, I was focusing primarily on film for the last 2-3 years.
What did I learn from my 2-3 years of shooting film? How awesome digital photography is— and how empowering digital technology is. Of course, film is equally empowering. Film has taught me patience, hard work, perseverance, technical mastery, and inner-calm and peace.
So what do I love about digital photography? Let me count the ways:
1. The ability to quickly share
First of all, shooting film has helped me appreciate digital technology even more. Most young people nowadays have grown up with digital cameras, or smartphones. I remember when I was a kid and when I went on a field trip, I would just get 1 disposable camera with 36 exposures. I had to make every shot count. I had to notice where the light was pointing from (to not get people backlit), I had to know when to use a flash, and I had to know how to frame properly.
I remember when the first digital cameras first came out, how we were able to instantly see the results of our photo. That was magic and revolutionary to me. Before, we had to wait several days before getting our photos back.
Not only that, but digital photography has made it so much easier to share images. In the past, you would probably get 2 4×6 prints made from a roll of film, and share it with a few friends and family afterwards. Now, we can instantly message and send our photos to our loved ones, which will bring them joy and happiness. I do feel that photography is important as a social glue— it helps us relive our precious memories, to share that joy with others, and to bring us closer together.
2. The ability to travel lightly
What I also love about digital photography after shooting film for so long is how much easier it is to pack light, to store things, and to be nimble. With film, technically the film is more “safe” and robust than digital archives. 35mm film stored in a box will last longer than any digital file on a hard drive. But at the same time, when I traveled last summer through Europe, I had a 100 rolls of black and white Tri-X film. That added a lot of weight and bulk to my travels. Now going to Vietnam/France for 2 years, I have two 128gb cards (each which can store 4,000+ RAW files), and a small flash hard drive in-case I run out of space on my laptop.
Traveling light is key to any successful traveler. The lighter and the more nimble you are, the more you can enjoy your travels, and the more you can enjoy life.
In the past, I used to optimize my travel to be prepared for any contingency. Nowadays, I try to optimize to travel as light as possible. And even though I may not have all my things with me, it forces me to be more creative. If I don’t have a spare video camera, I can always use my smartphone or even the video function on my Ricoh GR. If I don’t have an item, I can always buy it overseas as well.
3. Easy (and free) ways to backup images
Nowadays with services like Google Photos, you can store unlimited JPEG images to the cloud for free. I know I won’t go back and look at all those images from the past, but it gives me a strange peace of mind (knowing that all the photos exist somewhere).
4. Reaching a global audience
Also digital photography (and digital images) allow your images to be spread to millions (or even billions) of people around the globe. Imagine being a photographer even 20 years ago — the main people to see your photos would just be a small group of friends or family. Now, the sky is the limit.
5. Utilizing the best technology we have
Another big thought occurred to me: the photographers from the past didn’t shoot film because they romanticized it. Rather, they were using the best technology available to them at the time. Many photographers in the past decided to shoot color slide film, because it produced the best colors. Many shot large-format or medium-format, because they craved the additional detail, and they were using the best technology available to them.
Why I love film, yet am moving away from it
I think there are still many good reasons to shoot film. I find shooting film more therapeutic, more enjoyable in terms of the slow process, the grain and aesthetic of the images, and the peace-of-mind that comes from the fact that your camera won’t be outdated every 2 years or so.
However at the end of the day, I think I am less interested in the artistry behind photography. I am more interested in the sociological aspects of it— how I can use a camera to better connect with strangers, or how I can produce images that inspire other people. I still prefer the look of my film photos, but I think I am becoming more pragmatic with digital — and using the best technology I can.
Analog + Digital = Life
I feel that for many photographers, it isn’t whether to shoot film or digital. It is shooting both— and how to use both differently in the context of their lives.
The best analogy is writing digitally versus with paper. I prefer digital writing for blogging, but I prefer to write longhand on letters for birthday cards or thank you notes. I prefer to store information on Evernote, but I prefer to write meditations and diary entries in a paper journal. I like the convenience of Skype calls, but prefer the intimacy of in-person communication.
Looking (digitally) forward
I think moving forward, I’m going to focus on shooting more digitally. I hope to learn more about practical workflow, editing techniques, post-processing, and producing new presets which give a lovely aesthetic to digital images.
I still think film photos look better than digital photos— but why? Can we create digital photos that have a nicer aesthetic? VSCO and a lot of other companies are doing a good job, as well as Fujifilm (creating film simulation JPEG presets). I hope to aid in that effort.
Because shooting film is still a very niche thing that can only be done with people with lots of free time, disposable income (to purchase and develop/scan film), or people with more technical skills. Most of photographers are shooting digitally, and I want to help empower the largest number of photographers as possible.
Anyways, at the end of the day— I just love photography. I love making images, analyzing images, and looking at my own images (as well as those of others). I love how photography helps me be more creative, to see the world with more appreciation, and helps me find beauty in the mundane.
I love street photography because it forces me to get out of the house, walk around, and interact with others. It helps me become more confident, less fearful, and more creatively bold.
I’m still trying to figure out what photography means to me, and the best way to do it. Thank you always for being a part of this journey with me, I will continue to share my findings with you.