Why Every Digital Photographer Should Also Shoot on Film

The disposability of digital imagery created a significant shift in the world of photography. As film stock gave way to megapixels, we changed the way that we shoot, and this insightful video from Jamie Windsor offers a few suggestions as to why it’s nice to go back in time every now and then.

It strikes me as strange that with all of the Lightroom presets and color profiles available, there’s still a certain look and feel to images shot on film that digital images often lack. It’s probably psychosomatic, part of some yearning for a time when petrol was full of lead and shooting photographs meant waiting for a week before ripping a small parcel out of your postman’s hands. In this thought-provoking video, Windsor comes up with some excellent points that, nostalgia aside, makes me want to dig out my rather battered Canon EOS 5 (that’s the Canon EOS A2 to those the other side of the pond) and see if I can track down some rolls of Ilford XP2.

Windsor’s first point is probably the most fascinating: color negative film is still miles ahead of 35mm digital sensors in terms of dynamic range, a fact that seems bizarre given the rate at which technology has developed over the last couple of decades.

If you think that Windsor is right with his list, or if you think he’s missing something crucial, leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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EL PIC's picture

I would rather be Digital that Swings ..

Timothy Turner's picture

I have read many comentaries on how digital makes us lazy, it does not have to be that way, I use manual mode most of the time and I apply the rules I learned from my film days, there have been times when I would take nearly 100 photos on a photoshoot and also days when I have taken less than 10. It depends on how you apply what you have learned.

Michael Holst's picture

"the rules I learned from my film days"

I think that's part of the point here. You learned these things on film. Others might see value in that same experience. I don't think that shooting on film is the only way to achieve this but it's certainly a good way to make sure you get it.

Christian Lainesse's picture

To fully appreciate film photography, you should also learn how to print in a darkroom:
1) Dynamic range argument: with film, it works better with dodging and burning an actual print (in my opinion).
2) You can also do this with digital, if you discipline yourself.
3) You can also do this with digital, if you discipline yourself.
4) You can avoid this problem by just not chimping (discipline yourself).
5) Cheap camera, but lenses *can* still be expensive (note that L lens on his 35£ camera). You will also need to consider the cost of processing your negatives (or positives if using slide film), cost of gear to digitize the negatives or if you go all out, everything associated with a dark room (rental cost or actually buying all the darkroom equipment you need).

Michael Holst's picture

"if you discipline yourself"

One sure fire way to force that discipline is to shoot film. It also brings an appreciation for how far we've come with digital. I shoot both (more film than digital) and each makes me better at using the other.

Tony Clark's picture

I think that shooting E-6 film is a better test of your skills. The latitude is much more precise and I found the colors to be more pleasing.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Chrome is by far the best school.

Jared Wolfe's picture

100% agree with this. It really forces you to understand the dynamic range of your scene and plan out how deep your shadows can be to still get detail and how bright your highlights can be before blowing out. You really have to previsualize and understand you meter. No cranking up the shadow detail in post. I only shoot E-6 film when I do bother to shoot film.

Yavor Kapitanov's picture

I like Jamie and his videos, but... regarding shooting in film...

Michael Jin's picture

As a person who spent the vast majority of his working life as a lab technicians developing and printing rolls of film, I think it's rather amusing how we tend to look back on those old days with rose-colored glasses and fail to realize how wastefully and mindlessly people photographed even while paying for every single shot (along with a 4x6 print of it). I love to shoot film, but it is not a panacea to carelessness in photography-particularly the 35mm variety.

If you REALLY want to explore film and feel the weight of every exposure on your wallet, get yourself a 4x5 or 8x10 camera and shoot slide film through it. Between the complexity of the process required with large format cameras and the cost of both purchasing and developing slide film at that size being insane these days, you'll find yourself slowing down a lot more. Then again, you'll lose the hipster "shoot from the hip" nonsense so yeah...

Michael Holst's picture

I would LOVE to get my hands on 8x10! If you have any suggestions on where to start I'm all ears. It's kinda intimidating.

Timothy Turner's picture

Try www.keh.com they are in Smyrna Ga. they sell only used equipment, you can get good quality equipment for low prices, they also stand behind what they sell, and offer excellent service

Reginald Walton's picture

I'll just stick with digital.

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Younger people wanting to shoot film to me is inspiring. But more than inspiring to me it kind of celebrates the end of a jpg capture dominance chapter. It's about time!

Timothy Turner's picture

So what's wrong with jpg, I happen to like jpg

Daniel Medley's picture

There is no more rational reason to shoot film in the 21st century than there is to use a horse and buggy for a daily commuter. Sure, you can be attracted to the novelty, and I get that. But lots of things that we want/like to don't need to make sense. It sure doesn't mean that every digital photographer "should" shoot film.

No-one sleeps on straw or travel by ox cart anymore, nor do we hunt woolly mammoths or bash our wives over the head with a club and drag her into our caves. Film is great if you have lots of money to waste and like to live in the past; the rest of us mere mortals go where progress leads us. This is the digital age. We hope you enjoy the ride.
You may now proceed to discipline me for my lack of education.

Will Murray's picture

We are hunting elephants to extinction, and violence against women is still a thing. Possibly poor examples on your part.

Yavor Kapitanov's picture

His example are pretty good. Please don't blow out this out of context because this is what you're trying to do...

Will Murray's picture

His examples are garbage; however, I have to remember that you people are photographers, as opposed to logicians.

Yavor Kapitanov's picture

Here you go Sir...

Will Murray's picture

Yeah, I'm desperate for attention from a bunch of ... well, you people.


Yavor Kapitanov's picture

You are destroyed.

Will Murray's picture

At this point, I have no idea what sort of victory you think you have obtained.

But sure, if it makes you feel better about your tiny penis, and the fact you are not as professionally successful as you dreamed, and the fact you are a poor photographer; I am destroyed.

Yavor Kapitanov's picture

Thank you for acknowledging, so we don't waste time anymore.

Jamie Windsor's picture

I was just suggesting this as an exercise in photographic discipline. But it's worth knowing that most of the major fashion brands (high-street shop etc) have a film-only policy for their photographers at the moment. There are legitimate reasons why at least having experience shooting film is a good career move for photographers.

Dan Howell's picture

sorry, but NO. I find that a MORE forward thinking view of acquiring, maintaining, expanding skills would be to shoot greater and deeper into the medium that you ultimately intend to work. I would not encourage emerging professionals to distract themselves from producing more work to learn film technique/workflow rather than investing in creating more and better images to further their career.

The dynamic range of color negative film is a red herring. While the film medium can be measured in numbers, those numbers fall aside when it comes to application. Short of a professional/master level color printer, the dynamic range held in the film is going to be clipped when scanned for reproduction, especially for web display -- which, in reality, is the most common current and future display of images professionally. And it's not like professional commercial, editoral, fashion, advertising photographers were shooting on color negative back in the day. They shot transparency virtually across the board.

While you can cherry pick a quality or a perceived advantage to one film or another, professional level cameras and sensors do a fair approximation of all films. For the most part, the perceived feature or characteristic of one film over another where in their failures to render a consistent neutral/natural look, not because of film's strength and fidelity.

Shoot more. Put money into production of more and better shots. Don't distract yourself with the esoteric emotions of film capture.

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