As one of our site's regular film shooters, I naturally tend to post a lot of articles on the subject. Without fail, I'll get a few comments to the effect of digital being so much better than film or vice-versa. I've always laughed off such remarks, but since they keep on coming I figured I'd address them. Maybe the mediums have more in common than some would like to admit.
First of All, the Big Question: Why?
When the subject of shooting film comes up, usually the first thing people want to know is, "why?" Why on earth would I take the time to shoot film when digital is so much more convenient? The answer: because I like it. That's a thoroughly unsatisfying answer, but hear me out.
I got into photography many moons ago because it was fun. I walked around with a 35mm Nikon, pointed my lens at something, pressed the button, and a few days later I got an envelope full of 4x6 photographs. It was like Christmas morning opening those envelopes. Most of the shots were pure drivel, but occasionally I was surprised. I actually made something worth looking at. That sense of anticipation is a big part of what drew me to photography, and it's a big part of the draw for me today. When I scan my negatives and I can see the image materializing on the screen, it's like opening up those envelopes back in the day. When I'm shooting digitally and the images are right there in front of me, it's super convenient, but that part of the "magic" is gone. But, to be honest, when I'm shooting headshots I'm not there to feel "magic." I'm there to do a job and do it well. Film doesn't make sense in that situation, but if I'm shooting for myself, why not go for something that I find fun?
The process of shooting film, now developing it myself, and scanning the images makes me feel good. Period.
Okay Then, but Isn't It Digital If You're Scanning It?
Yes! And this is the dirty secret that most film photographers won't admit to: If you're shooting film and scanning your negatives or slides, part of your process is digital. If you're working purely in analog, more power to you. But for most of us who shoot film, at least some part of our process juts into the digital world. Does that make it less pure? My answer to that is also easy: I don't care.
I don't shoot to make "purists" happy. I don't shoot because I see the need to wave a flag in the air and declare my allegiance to Camp Digital or Camp Film. I shoot to make myself and my clients happy. What do I use to make my images? Tools. Cameras, film, lighting, memory cards, scanners...they're all tools. The only thing that I'm changing in my process is how the image is acquired. I use an analog process (when I'm shooting film) to create my base image. The rest is done digitally. I'm not going put on a beret and claim that film is so pure and then send my film off to a lab where someone else makes my image look good. Hell, if anything I'd say the image is more pure coming from the guy who shoots digitally and works on the photo from start to finish on his own computer. Outsourcing your film to a lab that does the digital work for you doesn't make you an artist. That said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with sending your film to a lab. Far from it! But film photographers shouldn't claim superiority when they're really not getting their hands dirty.
But Shouldn't You Use the Best Tool Available? Film Is Obsolete!
Is film archaic? Yes. Obsolete? Absolutely not. I think a lot of people assume that photography is a zero sum game. Because digital is the 800 pound gorilla, there's no room for film anymore. It's as if there are only X amount of pictures to be taken and film can't possibly compete in a digital realm. We've set up a competition that doesn't exist. There is no Film vs Digital. There are only photographers who take photographs. When digital painting arrived, did painting on canvas go away? No. When motorized boats came along, did rowboats cease to be used? Nope. Did everyone go out and shoot their horses when cars came along? Maybe? Well, you get the idea. People still paint because they love painting. People go for a leisurely row on the pond because it makes them feel good. People ride horses because... well I don't know. Ask Alex Cooke.
I know it makes trolls feel good to knock others for their choice, be it either film or digital. But I just don't think it's a productive argument. There are things that either medium does better than the other. When I'm shooting commercially and I have an art director over my shoulder, you're damn right I'm shooting digitally. The day goes smoother, more efficiently, and communication between the higher ups and myself is cleaner when I'm tethered to a computer. If I'm shooting for myself, I'm usually shooting film, mostly for the reasons I mentioned above, but also because I like larger formats and I can't afford a true medium format digital back. And large format? Forget about it. Nothing digital comes close to that feel. But the beauty of not feeling tied to either medium is that I don't feel obligated to a "team." Why not just have tools in the tool bag that are appropriate for a given situation? Just do what makes you happy and forget about the labels. The more open you are the art form and all if its facets, the more well rounded you will become.
We are here to make photographs, not wave flags.