Why Film is Better Than Digital

What is the purest form of photography? It is the capturing of light.The photographers’ job is to freeze a moment in time because it will never be seen again. Film photography is a more pure, natural and raw form of capturing those moments. 

Film is a better medium for art photography because it is a more tactile technique.The entire process of capturing and developing a film photo is a chemical reaction not a computer equation. When a digital sensor captures light it has to make it into ones or zeros so you always have a definitive value. Film, on the other hand, uses chemical reactions, a natural process. This differential is basically unnoticeable now because of the advancement of technology, however, there is a quality with film that theoretically will never be reached with digital. This makes film photography a better medium than digital.

Film is often harder to use and takes more technical skill, and so the artist becomes more knowledgeable and skilled and becomes a better photographer. Because they are doing everything themselves, they know exactly what’s going on. They develop a more thorough understanding of light and optics. They have to figure out how everything works, manually metering light and adjusting the variables accordingly: aperture, shutter-speed, ISO.

Film photographers touch every element of the photo. For example, when the camera has light leaks, the film will be exposed to small amounts of light over time. This is visible when the film is developed. The photographer, therefore, gains a stronger understanding and learns from mistakes. There’s a tangible consequence to this error. The inaccuracies and quirks can even contribute to the uniqueness of the photo. Film is a great way to learn about photography whereas the digital camera does everything for you automatically. 

The experience of the film photographer is more engaging. It’s about slowing down and not about the immediacy of checking results directly. With film, the photos are not seen right away, but the photographer has to wait until they are developed, printed or scanned. They spend more time setting up the shot, adjusting variables and looking at each individual frame. They think carefully about the artistic elements of composition, subject, colour, light, etc., and have to take more time to make each decision. All of this gives you a more intimate relationship with each photo you take. For myself, if you show me any photo I’ve take on film I can almost always recall the experience of that photo, where it was and why I took it. I cannot say the same for the digital photos I’ve taken.

One could say that film photography is very expensive and inefficient. The cost to purchase and process film doesn’t seem logical to some. Each photo costs money, however, the photographer makes significant other gains. The experience is priceless. For anyone starting out in photography or for someone wanting to make photography a career, they’ll learn far more about the art and technical elements from shooting film, making them a much more successful professional. 

The purpose of an artistic photographer is not to take the most accurate representation of a subject but rather to create an interpretation of a moment in time. The process is part of the artistic experience. You choose film because you like the look of it and that adds value to the experience. What kind of experience do you want from your photography.

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