Lomo In-Depth: A Higher Chance of Being a Better Photographer With Film?

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For 2016’s Film Photography Day, Lomography’s bringing a very familiar yet delicate topic back from the grave — attempting to give a fresher insight about film’s advantages and the place of digital medium in a photographer’s growth.

A Genealogy of Masters and Icons: Art History vs. Technology

It is easy to base the advantages of film photography to one’s progress by simply looking back in history, applying the whole back to basics concept. Even without photography fathers like Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot, there is an exhaustive laundry list of film photographers who became masters of the medium. In no particular order, the 20th century has Ansel Adams, Eadweard Muybridge, August Sander, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Cindy Sherman, Diane Arbus, Robert Capa, Garry Winogrand, Irving Penn, Robert Mapplethorpe, Steve McCurry, Robert Frank, Man Ray… The list goes on.

Jackson Lake in foreground, with Teton Range in background, view looking southwest from north end of the lake by Ansel Adams

These master photographers managed to take photography into a different level without the help of digital camera or post-process software advantages — and that’s one point most film enthusiasts raise. It is through these masters that film photographers take inspiration to stick to analogue. It is no question that mastering film photography is a way of mastering photography itself.

However, it is unfair to say that contemporary photographers who use digital cameras won’t define the 21st century the same way the masters did for the 20th. After all, the 21st century is still very young.

Digital photographer Chris Knight writes in Fstoppers that the whole ‘film is better than digital’ debate is old as he retraced art history’s reputation to be stubborn when it comes to anything new:

Photography, and more specifically digital photography, is a medium that is still relatively new – as are the things that have been learned from it. Artists have been painting horses for at least thousands of years. It wasn’t until 1878 that – because of photography – we found out that for certain that a horse ran with four feet extended and off the ground. They had been painted differently all this time. And so, photography, although a troublesome and somewhat annoying child, eventually paid back to the medium that (sort of) birthed it.

Film vs. Digital: The Unending Rivalry

Instead of looking back, compare the digital and analogue media instead and how they both fit in the present time. Many photographers are using digital, and since the advent of social media and camera phones, many can claim themselves as photographers. With the sphere getting wider and more photographs being taken each day, those who strive to be masters are compelled to reach out to the almost-forgotten medium, film.

Many cite that film photography tremendously helps the photographer’s growth. UK-based photographer Sam Cornwell writes 12 hefty, non-technical reasons why film is better than digital, even quoting Dean of the School at International Center of Photography, Fred Ritchin:

Digital photography is as far removed from traditional photography as the horse and cart is from the automobile.

Credits: panelomo & ollivincent

The advantages and disadvantages were also laid out. PetaPixel lists the pros and cons of both, with the conclusion of digital upping analogue photography apart from the medium format camera’s unbeatable resolution:

The digital revolution has caught up to film in many regards, killing many of the arguments for film being better than its technological counterpart. However, the most notable reason to shoot analog may be the resolution obtained from medium format cameras. Not all explanations can be laid within technical comparisons though. Many will argue that shooting analog is a more personal and enjoyable experience – that decision, is completely up to you.

Apart from ease-of-use, cost and ability to repair mistakes, very few is written about digital better than film from the non-technical sense.

Contemporary Photographers Speak Out: The Best Teacher and Genre-Appropriating

Interestingly and ironically, despite the fact that most photographers claim film as the best way to master photography, there are few who think the tables are turned.

Digital and film photographer Dan K., in Japan Camera Hunter, writes about his personal consensus and admits his bias for film. “I would recommend a digital camera used with manual control to anyone seeking to progress to intermediate grade photography, even over a film camera. I see film as an advanced level of photography, an artistic medium and a passion.”

While it is given that both film and digital photography have their own pros and cons equally, what probably matters most is what sort of photographer or what kind of photography the person is pursuing for him to be able to recognize which suits him best. Perhaps, those who seek for perfect and accurately the ‘same’ photographs should use digital — maybe in documentary, military or trick photography.

Meanwhile, the fast-paced and challenging standards in street photography today seems to have a bias for film.

Photographs of Eric Kim from Flickr Commons

Street photographer Eric Kim, who used to shoot in digital, claims that 'digital is dead in street photography'. One of the most important points he raises is that “film helps me focus on my photography, not gear.”

Karl Edwards is also a street photographer, and says in Streetshootr:

Film, for me, is tangible and real. You can pick it up and hold it.. Giving the negative a direct connection subject that modern digital sensors do not share. Digital photography is always an interpretation of the data as seen by a computerized system.

Dave of Shoot Tokyo emphasizes film photography’s aid in terms of skills progress. “With film I stay focused on taking pictures. There is no image for me to look at and see if I got it correct. I have to trust my knowledge and my equipment.”

Credits: ohellable

However, this cannot be said the same for all photographic genres. According to The Telegraph, film photographers in fashion are quickly embracing digital.

Though, there is that one who goes against the grain, who really believes film photography is the gateway to mastery. Famous fashion photographer Norman Jean Roy claims that ‘digital ruined fashion photography’ in his interview from New York Magazine’s The Cut:

“When you shoot film, you don’t have the luxury of seeing every single image coming out. And because of that, you stay very focused. Everything [becomes] hyperreal, so when you get it, you get it another time, and another time after that just to make sure you got it. As a result, you have a much better version of, I think, the moment. That’s much more real, honest, and broken, too… With digital photography, it’s very easy to perfect the image. You kill the image when you perfect it. You basically suck the life out of it.”


Film or digital — which do you think is the best way to master the art of photography? Drop us a comment below!

2016-04-12 #lifestyle #analogue-photography #film-photography #film-photography-day #film-photography-day-2016 #filmphotographyday2016

6 Comments

  1. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    I agree about this and the debate between digital and film should not focus on the technical performance. We all here use a digital process to scan and upload our pictures...
    It's really more about what you do and express with the medium you use. At the beginning of photography in the 19th century, the debate between painting and photography was heavy as there was a concurrence to represent reality (that was exclusively covered by painting before) and thus the painting evolved to something different (impressionism, cubism, modern art...).
    It's a kind of similar situation today: digital technology has brought the photographic medium to everyone, everybody can now take picture of everything, be it with a smartphone or a heavy digital camera...
    So, if we want to consider photgraphy as an art the important thing is not to be able to take a picture of everything with a kind of technical perfection that a software can easily achieve (to be close to the reality) but how we look at things surrounding us and express something very personal from our mind and want to share this emotion with a "viewer" who can be touched by this personal vision/emotion as he comes to feel something similar by looking at the picture (or not...)
    Digital allows hundred of millions of people in the world to take pictureswhich are technically correct (color, contrast, etc...) where analog needs some skills to get to the same result.
    Yet, if you want to create art, be it with digital or film, you need to look at things, you need to feel things, and you need to translate these in a photo using a medium.
    In this sense, shooting pictures and looking at things isn't exactly the same process. Most of the people do the first, artists do the 2nd...
    I don't have any digital camera (besides my iPhone that I don't consider, in fact, as a "camera", but as an useful image notebook...) and I don't feel tempted by digital because film has something more emotional, personal and strong for me. It's the medium and process that fits to what I want to look at and show to others. Digital is just not my language, but I can admire the work of great artists who use this medium at it's best.

  2. vicuna
    vicuna ·

    and to conclude this mini essay, a quote from Charlie Chaplin in the final speech from "The great dictator" : "We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity"

  3. disdis
    disdis ·

    I agree with you @vicuna

  4. shokijay
    shokijay ·

    I was bought up with film, I trained and worked as an industrial photographer. But I can't honestly, deep down say that film is better than digital. To me, image making is the only thing that matters, even though I may be alone in liking my results. Live and let live, enjoy yourselves 😄

  5. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    Digital is too perfect to represent an imperfect world

  6. oriolphotography
    oriolphotography ·

    I rediscovered film just one year ago, and since then I have much more keepers than before. I recently took my digital camera for convenience, and I had the impression to deal with a computer. For me there is no doubt of the superiority of film: take a look at Flickr or Tumblr, look at the most successful digital photographers and 90% of them are messing with presets of VSCO and other film simulators to replicate the look of film. I still have not seen a single film photographer trying to emulate the look of digital...

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