Spend enough time with film photographers in the digital age, and you will inevitably hear someone say, “I shoot film to slow down” or “I shoot film because it encourages me to stop and think before I take a picture”. I call this assertion “film pace”, and it is usually untrue.
The excuse that shooting film leads photographers to become more deliberate about their work is an unnecessary qualification for using an analog format over a digital one. Certainly, there are things about the process of shooting digitally or with film that are idiosyncratic to either approach (ie. loading film cartridges or LCD image review), but the differences are usually to do with what comes before or after taking the picture.
During the exposure, digital almost exactly emulates the film camera experience because digital cameras were designed with a film heritage in mind. Digital photography does not have to function in this way, and it is almost certain that, at some distant future point, digital photography will not function in this way. For now though, you still usually bring the camera up to your face, compose your shot, and trigger the shutter in much the same way when using a digital SLR as a traditional film SLR. So why does this equivocation of “film pace” exist?
As the Founder and Director of an organization for photographers with hundreds of members, I see photographers who routinely shoot many more images than they need, and it is true that some of those images lack the standard trifecta of good photography (proper exposure, proper focus, proper composition). The film photographer, who is limited in frames because of what they can carry or afford to process, views the photographer who shoots this way (creating thousands of images to pull out the best) as an affront, but it should be noted that nothing about the format requires the digital photographer to work in this way, or conversely, that nothing about the format requires the film photographer to shoot less (unless you want to count the likely technological advantage of frame rate in the digital cameras).
In fact, in the film-only days, some photographers (sports, wildlife, news, etc.) shot with much the same mentality as this digital example. What’s more, there are modern digital photographers who shoot just as deliberately and restrictively as their film counterparts. The truth is, if you want to force yourself to shoot more slowly and deliberately, you must condition yourself to do so whether or not you use film.
I think that the reason why film photographers feel that distinctions between formats must be pointed out is because there are so many more obstacles to shooting film than there are to shooting digitally, just as there are so many more obstacles to shooting with a DSLR than there are to shooting with a smartphone, though in both cases, this is much more about technology aligning with the shortening attention span of consumers than about inherently better or worse ways to make a photograph. Still, with film, you are conducting a chemical process mechanically with your hands (if you see everything through to the print), which is perhaps a further leap than the gap separating digital platforms.
As someone who shoots both digitally and with film, I see advantages to both. For me, digital is the more convenient format that offers both laser accuracy (in terms of reproduction and color) and extreme manipulation (Photoshop), whereas with film, I value the process and slight unpredictability. Though, with either format, I do shoot at the same slow and deliberate pace.
How about all of you; do you value film or digital above the other? If so, why (though, if you say that film forces you to slow down, I might find you where you live…)?
All images shot at Fort Bellefontaine in North St. Louis County. This, the first U.S. Military fort west of the Mississippi, harbored Lewis and Clark upon return from their westward exploration in 1806. Though the stone structures appear very old, they are not a part of the original Fort. The walls and stairs were built as a Works Progress Administration project, and were designed for recreation, not defense.