I like both film and digital photography and welcome both. But, why is it that film aesthetically looks better than digital photos? My theory: it has to do with the randomness of the grain structure of film, the imperfect colors, and the random “beautiful mistakes” that happen when shooting film, as well as the organic nature of film.


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Stochastic Resonance

Kyoto, 2015. Trix pushed to 1600

I think with film, the reason why it looks better is that the photos are rougher and have more texture. Digital photos tend to look too clean, unless you apply some gritty presets or filters to your digital RAW files.

Prague, 2015. Shot on Kodak trix pushed to 1600 with yellow filter.

Stochastic Resonance: concept is asking some noise and randomness/chaos will improve the signal of something! For example, adding random white noise to a phone call improves our audible hearing.

Leica flash selfie
Selfie with film Leica and trix pushed to 1600

From the Wikipedia page, an interesting thing about stochastic resonance and image processing:

A related phenomenon is dithering applied to analog signals before analog-to-digital conversion. Stochastic resonance can be used to measure transmittance amplitudes below an instrument’s detection limit. If Gaussian noise is added to a subthreshold (i.e., immeasurable) signal, then it can be brought into a detectable region. After detection, the noise is removed. A fourfold improvement in the detection limit can be obtained.

Kodak Portra 400, 35mm.

And seeing the study, the abstract is:

We use stochastic resonance to measure weak transmittance amplitudes that are below the instrumental detection limit. Gaussian noise is added to the subthreshold (chopped) transmittance signal () before detection by a crossing detector that uses a dc reference signal >0. Without noise, no measurement is possible because ()<. A fourfold improvement has been obtained in the detection limit, permitting the measurement of amplitudes that are as small as 0.25


Stochastic Resonance makes film photos look better!

Marseille, 2013. Kodak Portra 400, 35mm format.

My theory:

Film photos also exhibit “stochastic resonance” by adding random film grain to our photos, which improves the aesthetic rendering of the picture!

Aesthetics are personal to you

Photo of me by John Golden, shot on 35mm color film. 2009– color tones on skin look awesome.

I’ve experimented a lot over the years, and of course the philosophy of aesthetics is that it ultimately comes down to you. Aesthetics is all personally subjective.

Hanoi, 2016 / shot digital RICOH GR II. I still like the way the photo looks.

For example, I’ve shot on a smartphone vs medium format film, and actually preferred the phone photos processed in VSCO A6 preset.

Digital medium format also looks very good to my eyes. I’m a huge fan of the PENTAX 645Z.

So once again, ERIC KIM’S opinion is that film looks better than digital photos, but this is my subjective view. You must discover and master your own aesthetics for yourself!

Some film photos:


RICOHMAFIA

I ultimately think film will always aesthetically look better than digital. But, I’ve been able to make my digital RAW photos look pretty similar to film! For example, ERIC KIM MONOCHROME preset on RICOH GR II raw files look great. See more in my street photography starter kit >

Some of my favorite digital Ricoh GR II photos:


Personal photography on film

When I photographed my grandfather’s funeral, I shot it on monochrome film, and I am glad I did. The photos still look beautiful to me:

I visited his grave and shot in digital monochrome, but didn’t have the same aesthetic and feel to me:

Also, I find shooting your loved ones on film is more meaningful, because every click is worth something — we shoot more conscientiously and with more appreciation, like these timeless photos of my umma:


Experiments with film

Leica MP and 35mm f/2 Summicron + SF 20 flash
Leica MP and 35mm f/2 Summicron + SF 20 flash
Tattoo Girl dancing berkeley flash Portra
Flash portra 400

Shooting with a flash saturates the colors and looks way better with color film!

Philly. Portra 400 and flash. Red hair against green background.

Street portrait with flash. Green shirt, makeup, and blue sky pops out at night.

No flash

Without flash. Portra 400

With flash

With flash. Portra 400

More flash shots:

Red hair, greenbackground. Philly, with flash. 2013, Kodak Portra 400
Red hair, greenbackground. Philly, with flash. 2013, Kodak Portra 400
Eric Rivera, street portrait with cigar. 1 meters, with flash, Leica M6, Kodak Portra 400, 35mm lens
Eric Rivera, street portrait with cigar. 1 meters, with flash, Leica M6, Kodak Portra 400, 35mm lens

Under exposed flash (flash power wasn’t strong enough):

Woman in London on cell phone, and juxtaposition of poster banging against window in background.
Woman in London on cell phone, and juxtaposition of poster banging against window in background. Leica, flash, and 35mm f/2 lens

Long range flash:

Man looking at his phone. London, 2014. Portra 400 + flash
Man looking at his phone. London, 2014. Portra 400 + flash
Shot in a restaurant with flash in Michigan, Lansing.
Shot in a restaurant with flash in Michigan, Lansing.

Flash through a mirror:

Suit Istanbul, 2013
Portra 400 and flash

Close range flash with black and white trix film:

Tokyo, 2011. Film Leica M6, flash, f16
Flash on trix 400 pushed to 1600

Flash glare (I like it):

America-flash-erickim

Selfie and flash:

cindy wedding dress look back eric kim self portrait flash trix kodak leica mp 35mm


Conclusion: Cultivate your own taste

tucson-contact-jpeg red lady hair
People think this picture is a candid photo. It is not. Portra 400. See photos with flash and without flash.

With digital, use presets or make presets which suit your own taste.

eric kim melbourne benjamin thompson
ERIC KIM x LEICA MP + 35mm Summicron ASPH + SF 20 flash + HENRI NECK STRAP

Film is generally easier for me: I shoot it, get the lab to scan and process it for me, and then move on.

But ultimately experiment for yourself, and discover what brings you joy in your photography!

JUST SHOOT IT.
ERIC


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Film Photography Articles

FILM PHOTOGRAPHY by ERIC KIM

Contax T3 x FILM

If you’re interested in learning how to shoot film, start with this guide:

  1. FILM PHOTOGRAPHY TIPS by ERIC KIM
  2. Film Street Photography Manual
  3. Introduction to Shooting Film in Street Photography
  4. What I Learned Shooting 100 Rolls of Black and White Film
  5. What I Learned Processing 164 Rolls of Film After Waiting a Year
  6. My Experiences Shooting Medium-Format Film in Street Photography
  7. A Guide on How to Shoot Street Photography on a Film Leica (or Rangefinder)
  8. Why Digital Is Dead For Me In Street Photography
  9. Video: Why I’m Switching Back to Black and White Film for Street Photography
  10. The Zen of Shooting Film Photography

Videos: How to Shoot Film

Photo by Josh White

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