So, I am finally getting around to writing down my thoughts about film emulation and digital photography and shooting film. It seems to me that the latest trend, fad, movement (or whatever you want to call it) in photography at the moment is the emulation of the look of film. There are many great blog posts out there most of which I think I’ve read, probably between 12 and 2am! So I thought I’d throw my 2pence out there for what it’s worth….Everyone seems to be doing it currently and so there are an increasing number of companies and individuals offering film emulation presets or software for digital photographers. Two of the biggest players are The Visual Supply Co and Replichrome from the Totally Rad stables of Doug Boutwell.
I have been using Totally Rad actions and Rad Lab for around 3 years and think it’s brilliant for its simplicity and customization. However, for around the past 2 years, I was trying to produce my own presets and actions that would mimic the look of film. Now, sorry ’bout this, but I feel a tangent coming on…..I need to do some explaining I think….
I want to get a couple of things off my chest first of all…
1. Using film emulation presets or software does NOT make your/ my images better.
2. Using film emulation presets or software does NOT make you/ me a better photographer.
3. Using film emulation presets or software does NOT make your/ my images better. (did I say that already??)
There, I’ve said it. Breathe out and….relax!
I can’t speak for anyone else, so for me at least, there is one reason for emulating film, and that is I like the look, simple as that! It’s not magic or secret, it’s just personal. As an artist, I like the way film looks, that’s it. Now I can remember as a kid sending off rolls of films to labs in the land of Far Far Away and waiting for Royal Mail to bring me back the results and, usually, a free film, yay! That continued for many years…in fact, I can remember shooting a wedding, maybe 25+ years ago, and the groom’s dad (I think it was) gave me 6 rolls of 36 exposure Kodak colour 100…after the wedding, I simply handed him the exposed film and thought job done! Can you imagine today getting a couple of CF or SD cards off a client and just giving them the full cards back afterwards? No, nor can I!!
As it turned out, the bride and groom wrote to me later, thanking me for the photographs and how much they loved them, phew! Was that the abandon and confidence of youth I often wonder…anyway, back to the story!
I thought to my self, why am I spending so much time, effort and money on emulating film, when I could just get some and shoot it, duh! So, that’s what I did. I went to eBay and bought a Nikon F4 which was like new and as heavy as small car. I then splashed out on a Mamiya 645AFDII medium format with 35 and 80mm lenses. Boom. I love shooting film for 2 reasons ONLY:
1. I love how it looks.
2. I love the way is makes me to shoot.This has been a big deal for me.
I have to make sure of my craft…exposure, composition, light and timing. All must be considered to make the most of each frame. Of course, I could apply this to my DSLRs but the fact is, shooting on them is free so there just isn’t that same restriction. This is a good thing. It’s not the film that is making me improve my craft, but the process, the actual mechanics of a shot that make me more considered, more constrained yet also more creative. But wait, what’s this, film is actually very expensive. working out at over £1 per exposure, so back to the need to make my digital files look like film for my bank account’s sake if nothing else! Doug Boutwell made an excellent point on his blog about Replichrome, that in many ways, film emulation is pointless due to the analogue nature of film, every roll is different anyway.
The best analogy of this for me is the difference between records and CDs. I used to work in a Hifi shop selling brands likeLinn, Naim and other high end stuff when CDs came out. What were they trying to do? Give us a similar experience as a black plastic album but in a neater, more convenient package. (sound familiar?!!) In the shop, we went to great lengths to demonstrate to people that, actually, records sounded better, warmer, more involving and somehow more satisfying than a shiny silver CD. Now as time went on, the manufacturers got better and better at getting the most out of CDs, and their boasted improvement was continually, “it’s sounds more like vinyl”! So, WHY NOT JUST MAKE AND SELL VINYL THEN IF IT’S BETTER???!!!! Because, as consumers, we generally don’t get what we want, but what THEY want us to have, but that is another story, an entirely different kettle of fish (whatever that means) which I am putting down. Walking away, Retiring to a safe distance……This, to me, is exactly parallel to photography. Yes, digital is more convenient, faster, easier and more manageable than film, but that doesn’t mean it’s better. Neither does the fact that film is slower, more expensive and less convenient make film better. Which is “better” is the wrong point/ question/ thought. More accurate is, which do you prefer. What pushes you. Which gets you out of your comfort zone and makes you work harder? Digital, great, shoot that. Film, awesome, shoot film. Just don’t assume that shooting one or the other makes you better, it doesn’t. More work, more practice, more experience, more vision, more inspiration and more perspiration will improve you as a photographer more than the medium you use. Having better paints and brushes doesn’t make you a better painter, it just helps you express yourself more efficiently. That’s different.
You know, I love Pink Floyd, and enjoy listening to them on a CD, or in the car, or on my daughters’ Barbie stereo! The medium is less important than the artistic intention of the created piece. So, sorry, back to the point…
“Creativity isn’t a gift or a talent. It is a friend who stops by when you are hard at work. Don’t wait for inspiration, It comes while one is working.” – Matisse…nailed it.
Now, while I had a good go at my own presets, I still wasn’t really getting to where I wanted to be. Then, and I can’t remember quite how, I came across VSCO and their “Gold Standard of Film Emulation”. At that time, there was only one pack available so I decided to look into it. I read their stuff on their site and seemed to connect with their thought process and their ethic straight away. I wavered around for a couple of days while looking at examples of the presets on line and trying to understand how they were working. Like most photographers, I guessed at least, I was drawn to the fact that they seemed to have put so much time and effort into their product, down to each one going to the depth of the camera calibration to build the preset on. This is impressive. I was beginning to use the presets almost exclusively on my images and was really loving the results. In time, they released Packs 2, 3 and most recently 4. They have an amazing loyalty scheme, so as each pack came out, it didn’t seem like much of a cost to add the newer packs. And I loved them. But, there was a growing, if very small, niggle, itch whatever. The fact that my preset pane on the left of Lightroom was starting to look as long as my little boy’s Christmas list! Then came Replichrome. It’s not better than VSCO, it’s not worse, it is though, wait for it…..fanfare please… DIFFERENT! Which is great. The images in this blog may have been shot either digitally and then processed with VSCO, Replichrome, or shot on film for real. And do you know what, I love them all. None are better than others because of the medium, but some may have a better composition, exposure, moment or story.
And that is NOTHING to do with whether it’s film or digital. It is everything to do with me. Me the photographer. Me the artist. Me. No one and nothing else. The camera is my tool, to get better with it, I have to use it more and more and more.
That’s it. nothing else..if you want to have your say, please feel free to join in the debate….