doug menuez 2.0: go fast, don’t crash


THE ZEN OF FILM vs. DIGITAL GRATIFICATION
April 10, 2009, 12:19 pm
Filed under: Field Notes & Essays | Tags: , ,

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“Mulling it over, I couldn’t articulate it fully but definitely, I knew I had become lazy, really lazy. A spectacular sloth by the standards of shooting film. Film is hard. Film is a stone cold unforgiving killing bastard. Film is once in a lifetime, no excuses. F8 and really, really be there: ready, steady, in focus, correct exposure, and pressing the shutter in synch with life.”


THE LURE OF DIGITAL

Throughout the 1980′s I covered a lot of football, some of it without a motor drive or auto exposure and all of it manually follow-focusing with big glass. Various manufacturers would show up on the sidelines with different versions of digital cameras to try, always promising (or threatening) the same refrain: “In five years you guys will all be shooting digital!” Everyone would laugh and roll their eyes at this ridiculous idea.

It took more than five years, but by 1999 with the introduction of the Nikon D1 I was shooting both film and digital. Five years later, fully two thirds of my work was digital. Now with the D3X and D700 it’s 99 percent digital. The main reason for this shift is simply that the quality of the files is just so fantastic now that I can’t justify the expense of film for most projects. I’m not too precious about my tools; for me it’s all about the image and whatever gets the job done. We are at a point now with the quality of digital where I can make a digital print from a digital capture and show veteran photographers prints they cannot tell are digital. And that brings the discussion back to the eye of the shooter and the content of the images; the camera is irrelevant.

Yet despite this technical advance, lately I’ve been looking hard at what this means for me as a photographer and how I see. Of course I miss film and the traditions I grew up with. Until recently I had been shooting Tri-x almost every day since I was 10 years old so it’s not a small thing to change. I’ve been questioning if what I’m missing about film and film cameras is more than sentimental. I wondered if the differences between the working methods of using film and using digital were more than physical and what the implications might be if so. And bear in mind, I’m looking at this as someone who lives for capturing moments. This led me to do a serious shoot on a personal project with only film. And that experience led me to a revelation that is changing how I shoot digital, for the better. More on that in a moment.

It was at the Super Bowl in 1982 that I first laid hands on a digital camera. It was an experimental prototype Nikon was working on. They let me shoot a frame or two. At the time, I thought the whole idea insane. I remember it being very slow and heavy. I vaguely remember you could fire a frame every few minutes and it had a maximum shutter speed of 1/90th of a second or similar. It was unworkable for sports unless you planned to just shoot peak action, waiting for the athlete to reach the apex of a leap in the air for example. This reminded me of the old guys I knew at my first newspaper who started their careers shooting sports with a 4×5 Speed Graphic. One gentleman in particular–Zeke–looked over my shoulder one day and saw the film I was getting ready to soup from an assignment. I knew Zeke had covered the invasion of Normandy, incredibly, with a Speed Graphic. He took a drag on his cigar and leaned over and shouted “Six rolls! We could have covered World War II in 2 f*****g frames ; one for the battle scene, one for the generals shaking hands!”

As the digital revolution unfolded through the 80′s and 90′s and all things analog were being converted to bits I was covering the engineers in Silicon Valley making the breakthroughs. It was clear they were going to change the world and I was very interested in the story more than the technology itself. My background was traditional and seriously analog. I was all about silver and the rituals of the darkroom. Staying up all night printing with MIles Davis on and a bottle of tequila was a necessity. I never imagined that digital capture and output would replace film and silver gelatin paper in my own work. But my curiosity about what the engineers were developing and my proximity led me to experiment early with digital scanners and printers. In 1983 I was transmitting photos to USA Today from forest fires in Yosemite with a steamer trunk size “portable” Scitex scanner. I bought a Mac in December of 1984 and was cruising the early internet immediately through primitive modems. In 1989 I co-produced the first published photography book with digital separations using a beta version of Photoshop. I made one of the first– if not the first– portfolios using a dye-sublimation printer from SuperMac. After three months of hard printing that beast, tweaking the color and density, I put the prints in an “archival” portfolio and by morning all the prints were blank. The ink molecules had migrated to the plastic pages. This is why we call it the “bleeding” edge of new technology. There are dozens of other experiments and beta tests I did with all the latest hardware and software, yet through it all I still never believed it would replace film or wet printing. Never. And that is exactly what happened.

THE ZEN OF FILM

So who cares anymore? Digital is king now. I for one do care, immensely, about the differences between film and digital. Why? I want to make great photographs, that’s why. I still dream every day of trying to make something meaningful that will stand up to time. And I started to get this slow realization that digital was making me lazy. Lazy, as in the opposite of what’s required to be great. No need to really worry about exposure, or to focus or anything. Just point and shoot–a monkey could do it! No need to think at all. This is so seductive and easy to rationalize. You tell yourself, “My eyes are getting bad” or “The auto everything makes me faster” and so on.

I started to worry that with digital I might be losing my edge. Yes, I was making images that I could be proud of and giddy with the instant gratification of seeing the image on the camera’s LCD. But what if I was in fact losing ground? What if I would get so slow and lazy I would miss the picture of a lifetime, the one I’m waiting for every day?

Mulling it over, I couldn’t articulate it fully but definitely, I knew I had become lazy, really lazy. A spectacular sloth by the standards of shooting film. Film is hard. Film is a stone cold unforgiving killing bastard. Film is once in a lifetime, no excuses. F8 and really, really be there: ready, steady, in focus, correct exposure, and pressing the shutter in synch with life.

To test this seemingly irrational fear, I decided to shoot a new project using film and manual settings. It turned out to be incredibly difficult at first, like giving up hotel mini-bars difficult. Like running up a sand dune blindfolded while trying to thread a needle difficult. But some things you don’t forget and after a day or so my mind razored up and I noticed I was again unconsciously adjusting f stops and pre-focusing while I was raising a camera in anticipation of a moment, just like in the old days. Soon these mechanical procedures happened automatically, unconsciously, naturally and in so doing I was changing. I was much more aware of light and therefore of the unforgiving nature of the film. I was bending my brain back into a film mindset. I could feel the difference and started to grasp the outline of a theory.

With digital, so much can be saved. Not only do you have the LCD to alert you to whether you got the shot, to adjust exposure and composition, but you can back it up via wireless, double memory card slots, downloading right there onto hard drives and so forth. The processing is much safer overall and risk of losing the image goes way down. Sure we get the odd electrical storm inside a memory card, but this is insignificant compared with film dangers.

With film, so much is at risk. You are never, ever sure you got the shot until you process the film, and depending where you are in the world and your assignment this could be days or weeks, or in the case of my old friend Frans Lanting, months! You learn to be psychic and to live in denial. You are denying your burning desire to see what you got. And sometimes when you think you sort of missed the shot but are not quite sure, you can deny it for the time being and move on, hopeful yet ignorant. (Contrarily, with digital you will know you missed the greatest shot of your life right then and there, thus inducing plans for suicide, and casting a pall of depression over your shoot.)

With film, not only might the exposure be off, but the processing is fraught with peril. Even if you process yourself mistakes can happen, it’s chemistry for Christ’s sake– and even the best labs have the rare but deadly disasters. Just protecting the film from the shoot to the lab is sometimes a minefield of stress and worry. Try getting a hand check at Heathrow security sometime. The rolls of film are like uncut diamonds, objects that simply cannot be replaced. You sweat, you bleed, you age until it’s safe.

The state of mind required to shoot film is one of heightened, intense concentration and analogous to the mindset required for Zen meditation. It’s pure zen in fact. You are truly living in the moment, electric with anticipation, open to life unfolding before you.

The state of mind when shooting digital is more relaxed, more easily distracted. It’s more like everyday life, nothing that special is required. Especially if you are in fact trained as a photographer and have some skills. The camera does leverage your abilities, no doubt. But while you have your head down checking the LCD guess what? You just missed your pulitzer. That LCD is crack. You just can’t get enough. We all want instant gratification and here you have it. Bliss. Yet the act of constantly checking the back of the camera is taking your head out of the game. You gain a useful bit of knowledge but at what cost? I know it also can save time we used to spend covering our asses with brackets and snip tests and whatnot but if it’s moments in time you are after, I now believe it’s the disciplined Zen mindset you need.

So my theory is simple: there is something really important, perhaps magical, about the fact that film is so unforgiving that it creates a special mindfulness in the photographer, which in turn increases the chances of making great pictures.

Is that a big breakthrough? For me it was a bolt of lightening. I’d slid down into the warm tub of digital complacency and lost discipline and needed correction. Yet I really love my digital cameras for all the practical reasons listed above and so I figured out a compromise. It has not been easy, but it’s all about limiting my use of the LCD. I try to never look at the devil LCD and I often will put the camera on manual exposure or manual focus to keep those neural pathways oiled. I’m not fully going back to the complete mechanical world, but by creating a limit on the LCD I put my mind back in the moment, open and thinking, ready for that shot of a lifetime.


130 Comments so far
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I really enjoyed reading your article, and have committed myself to an LCD free life for the short-term future.

Comment by Christopher

Right on, hope it helps…d

Comment by menuez

We approach this debate from a slightly different angle. Sisse and I were raised on shooting Kodachrome, not the more forgiving Tri-X or color negative films. Therefore we are very precise in our exposures, and bracket our shots to obtain the perfectly exposed digital negative. When you live and work in Paris, New York, or London, where there still exists top-notch labs, with the knowledge and expertise for processing film, it can still be attractive. However when you travel and go through security, we all know the involved risks and stress that exist.

Four years ago, we were on assignment in Israel and decided to have the film processed locally. We found the ‘best’ lab in Jerusalem. In the beginning, the film looked okay, but when we came to Roll 70, most of the colors had all disappeared and there was only a muddy-magenta image left. We were experiencing a lab that no longer was prepared to handle E-6 processing. It was devastating. From that moment on we decided to embrace and perfect our knowledge about digital imaging. We love how it has freed us up so we can be more creative and experimental than ever before. Surely it has increased the work-load in the field, but we would much rather see our photos each night, instead of waiting for weeks to know if we have succeeded the way we intended. Throughout the day we do not look much at our LCD screens, only to quickly check exposures. We know all how unreliable they can be anyway.

Do we romantically yearn to shoot film again? Perhaps, but only when using larger formats, when you really approach making photographs in an entirely different way.

Comment by Cotton Coulson

Ouch, losing film hurts, losing any image. What’s so cool is how you’ve leapt in and are now masters of digital. And smarter, as it seems you quickly adapted to digital within a film framework, minimizing the LCD use. Of course the advantages of digital you point out are tremendous which is why I keep pushing to understand best how to use it.

Comment by menuez

I’m with you… I’ve shot all of my professional life with digital, but started out with manual focus/exposure SLRs. After picking up auto-exposure and auto-focus, I moved back to manual exposure, and can’t remember the last time I used auto exposure. Auto focus is another story as I find it very hard to focus the Canon digitals using manual, but now that I have a 50D that accepts split focusing screens, perhaps I will try that, too.

I recently took up shooting with more film, using a Holga, a Lubitel, and most recently a Crown Graphic. It really is enriching, especially to think you only have a few frames. The developing (in my bathroom), is most rewarding although a huge pain in the … . I love it, though, and my subjects love it, too.

We all need to slow down a little and professionals need to prove that we’re not monkeys. The work takes skill and talent, and one of those skills/talents should not be chimping. Check for focus if you need, but if you don’t trust yourself to know that you got the shot, looking at the camera won’t help.

Thanks for your thoughts… now I’ll browse the rest…
Casey

Comment by Casey Lessard

Good thoughts, really appreciate your perspective. The question is how much does the process affect the outcome? Is there a benefit to a mindset — i think so but it’s different for all of us. But if a monkey can shoot it, I say let the monkey shoot it. I’ll keep looking for a way to evolve up the food chain… thanks, d

Comment by menuez

Doug:

Zeke must have been a wire service photographer at one time because I remember hearing nearly the identical thing at UPI. All you need are 2 frames, an overall of the battle scene and a head shot of the winning general

Best,

Chip Mitchell

Comment by Chip Mitchell

It really makes you wonder cause they were all serious. I keep trying to shoot less!
Thanks
doug

Comment by menuez

¡Amen hermano!

I’m right with you. I started with a Mac in the early ’90s and remember going to all those conferences where they were testing dye sub printers and showing us that first digitally transmitted pic from the Gulf War…yada, yada….

I’ve lamented and celebrated all the intricacies you’ve mentioned. I especially despise “photographers” that go out and buy a Mark V with a 80-200 and start blasting away like there’s no tomorrow–no thought to moment or anticipation. I want to know who’s editing all that crap these guys are shooting.

I love my D700 but to keep me really grounded, I lug around a 4×5 Cambo and Mamiya RB67. Sure the digital files are generally crisper and infinitely cleaner. They are nearly if not impossible to discern from film. But there is STILL something ephemeral about a filmed black and white image. It’s so hard to put into words. The depth and rawness of the images carry an appeal that is probably only noticed and/or appreciated by us old timers.

Comment by Carlos Moreno

Mil gracias amigo– you point to the mystery and the unknown factors I believe affect all our best efforts, there is indeed “something ephemeral” and transitory. It’s subtle but real. Great comments….doug

Comment by menuez

Doug I recognised a lot of what you have to say here, and you say it very articulately by the way….I moved in a very short space of time from Leica rangefinders to DSLR’s and it was a difficult transition, for 18 months I barely shot anything on the streets for myself, eventually I got back out there and began to embrace the new machines and the new things they could do…DSLR’s do require discipline and the LCD is both your friend and your enemy. On balance, having a small camera in my hands on the street that can record images with the information of a 5×4 sheet of film is enormously exciting and opens new doors creatively.

Comment by Nick

Yeah, it’s just something to consider and be aware of. Thanks…d

Comment by menuez

Hey, Doug-

I have long been an admirer of your work, back to the Corporate Reportage days. Thanks much for this thought-provoking post.

Best,
David Hobby
Strobist.com

Comment by David Hobby

HA! I love that you remember those days. Thanks for proving I exist and responding…d

Comment by menuez

“…film is so unforgiving that it creates a special mindfulness in the photographer…” I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s about time to dust of the FM2. Thank you for this post.

Comment by Matt Pritchard

I still love the old F without the meter but yeah, find that old FM2 and take it for a spin…d

Comment by menuez

Hi Doug,
I had the pleasyre of meeting you in Chicago at PDN on the Road. I have to agree with you that digital can make you lazy about the photo. It’s so easy to just shoot shoot shoot and look at the lcd screen to verify the results. film makes you sue every technical skill to achieve the result you want to achieve. I now have assistants who have never used a color meter and rarely use a light meter. I used to test my assistants on location by making them guess the exposure without a meter. They all were good at it after a few trys.
Thanks for the acticle,
Ken

Comment by ken frantz

You sound like a good teacher, that’s a great idea which I will try myself, thanks…d

Comment by menuez

Love what you have to say – hit the nail on the head. I could use a bit more zen in my own work – Cheers

Comment by Justin Kern

word!! i still shoot 90% of my editorial, 50% advertising and 100% for personal on film for the same reasons you mentioned. other annoyances when shooting digital is having publicists, hair stylists, posse members etc looking at the monitor commenting. i too have been training myself not to look and to keep the big monitor for vip’s. i also have to say that any more time staring at the computer is really not healthy. i look forward to the day that the digital darkroom will be posture friendly. i’m thinking a full multi touch wall led that will allow us to use our hands similar to using an enlarger for photoshop techniques. what do you think of the possibility of that? having the option of standing while working on your images? thanks for the post. i’m actually printing in the darkroom today for an editorial shoot i did last weekend. cheers

Comment by chris mcpherson

Doug, thanks for a great post.

I recently had a similar realization about my LCD addiction and have been pushing myself to leave it turned off during shooting. To accompany this mindset, I have also made a commitment to shooting more slowly.

This slow down has been especially comforting to me. It’s as if I have given myself permission to wait for the proper moment. I find myself more engaged with the subject when I shoot this way, regardless of whether I am shooting digital or analog.

Comment by Ryan Smith

Doug!
Great post. I’ve been chimp-free for about a year now. I remember you telling me not to “chimp” and look at the LCD. I’ll allow myself one look at the first image to make sure I haven’t left the ISO somewhere strange at 3am the night before, but after that, it’s just focusing on the subject in front of me. You’re right. The disconnection to your subject while checking the shot in the LCD is a rhythm breaker.

Thanks as always for your wisdom!

Billy

Comment by Billy Sheahan

Billy! Thanks man, loved your latest postcard! Is that how you spell “rhythm” ??

Comment by menuez

Hi, I’m the choir and you’re preaching to me.

Seriously, though, I’ve been espousing similar thoughts to some of the local photography group I’m part of for a while now. I try to shoot film once every month or two, just to force myself to keep film habits alive. Especially shooting black and white, where you have to really focus on your composition because there’s no color to distract from the lines you chose. (As a DSLR and SLR shooter, the real challenge for me is to shoot with the old 1950′s Samoca 35mm camera… it’s not even a rangefinder, so you have to guess at the focus!)

If I can’t shoot film, I force myself to pretend my digital camera is a film camera… no reviewing the shots while out shooting, nothing. It’s not the same, but it’s at least a start.

Either way, it gets me less focused on ‘how did that shot turn out,’ and more on ‘where’s the next shot?’

Comment by Rachel

Amazing t shirt: I hope you don’t mind if I print up your first line, so funny. Hilarious, actually… made me smile. And I confess: Samoca? I remember the Argus C3 but you got me on that one

Comment by menuez

ommmmmm…!

Comment by menuez

Doug,

A friend sent this over – it’s nearly as if I wrote it myself. I still shoot film too, because I love the mental process associated with shooting it. I think about things, take my time, and wait for the moment. It’s all about that moment. And as you said, it would be a shame if you were oogling your LCD when that moment came….

Comment by jacob gibb

cool, and i think a lot of people are starting to question this at the same moment in the evolution of the technology. interesting

Comment by menuez

Doug, Your writing is as good as your snaps. In my mine’s eye, you underestimate the importance of the frame and the joy of “it’s in the doing.” Zen is more than not,about the minimal importance of mechanical objects.Perhaps digital will facilitate a variation on “Zen and the Art of Archery.”

Comment by Cooper Lake

Dennis, I’m delighted you think so. And the more I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the more I think it’s the right attitude to bring to this issue. Thanks for reminding about the joy of doing, and the ever important frame. cheers amigo…d

Comment by menuez

Doug – It’s crazy, I had just been meaning to write a similar article (although you said it better than I could!) I’ve gone back to film for a lot of my personal and even some client work, and it is absolutely a different “experience”. I heard Joe Buissink speak earlier this week, and he said much the same thing – “Digital makes you insecure” – we come to rely on the LCD, every shot we chimp making sure “did I get it?” “Is it right?” we lose (like you say) that “zen” – that confidence in our abilities and tools that puts us into the state of “flow” where our instincts as a photographer take over and we stop relying on our camera to reassure us…

Comment by Ed Z

i love your comments via Joe Buissink — really makes it even clearer how tricky this is for the mental/confidence/intuitive part of this

Comment by menuez

You make me wanna load up some EPP in the old RZ67! I’ve been at this as a living for 22 years. Yes we had it hard, back then, so many things to go wrong but I agree, the discipline it fostered can’t be recreated! I am passing this post on to some “kids” I know

Comment by ian

Thanks, glad to hear it and curious how they respond

Comment by menuez

I often wonder if digital has invited me to be too precise. Part of making good pictures – for me anyway – was a bit of the embrace of chaos of reacting and making a shot without the chance for too much analysis. Being unable to analyze it on the LCD meant that there had to be a level of “trust your gut” when shooting.
Too much thought leaves open the possibility of mucking up the natural response.

Comment by Chicago photographer

Exactly!

Comment by menuez

yes great article
as a black and white photographer (Does it make sense anymore nowadays) i am still using Tri x film for my photojournalistic project.
traditionnal camera and taking the time to appreciate your work i think it s the best combination to learn how to see the world and then get THE PICTURE.

long life to film

Comment by mathieu grandjean

definitely. well said.
reminds me i also did not get into the whole issue of shooting digital in color and then later deciding to convert it to bw, and when/why to do that. another column!

Comment by menuez


Sorry, my HTML went screwy there… Meant that I love my Holga! Didn’t mean to bomb your comments.
-Gary

Comment by Gary Allard

so much of this is in our heads, go holga! ck out the holga for iphone, martin gisborne of apple turned me on to it. cool

Comment by menuez

Enjoyed reading the article thanks, I started in a digital age but dip into film once in a while!

Comment by Ed Salter

appreciate hearing that it had some relevance to a person who grew up digital. maybe the whole discussion will be irrelevant in a minute

Comment by menuez

Hmmm, print film always seemed pretty much idiot proof to me. Get the exposure within 2 stops, and drop it off at the lab to fix quietly behind closed doors. At least that’s how I felt after 5 years working in a pro lab.

People want to blame digital for their lack of self control. That’s avoiding the problem, which is with the photographer not the gear or process.

Comment by Matt Needham

Ha, ha, yes, you can save print film too, and thankfully so. I do tend to rant. But still, most of my magazine work was chrome, so it’s a third of a stop really…

Comment by menuez

Wow, when I hit this page at 9am there were no comments. now what like 34? Obviously hit a nerve. Mine too. Your article was dead on. I am shooting some film again, in an attempt to get my head back in the game again.

Thanks!

Comment by photobby

Thanks so much, yeah, it’s a topic a lot of us wrestle with. We are surfing a sea change… while learning to surf :)

Comment by menuez

I laughed a lot with this article as it reminded me so much so of when the lighting bolt that struck me…about 5 years ago. I also started in film with Tir-X and felt the same way that you felt when you were struck. ;-) I am all digital and still shot in “M”….it’s the only way I know how to stay involved. Plus it helps me when I do film so I don’t feel that bad.

Comment by Sandrino

So glad to hear i’m not alone, and that you had a laugh!

Comment by menuez

Thank you.

I’ve been working on a personal project with my M cameras and Neopan 400 and 1600. It is weird to factor in the processing cost into my budget. I am shooting this in a hybrid sort of way – shoot with the Leica or Rollei TLR, process the film with the lab scanning the negs and then editing from the scans.

It does feel good and it feels right to shoot film again. But only for a personal project.

Comment by Cameron Davidson

Yes, the cost of film, processing and then scanning is now always a bit of a surprise compared to digital costs. And yeah, for me the end stage now is mostly digital output so scans are a must….d

Comment by menuez

I have had the same issue recently. Looking through absurd numbers of images in Lightroom and wondering why I need 30 shots of the exact same thing from the exact same position.

When I’m feeling really complacent about things, I try this: shoot exclusively RAW and intentionally use smaller (2gb max) cards. This puts me back in the mind-frame that each image “costs” more than JPG. It would be like shooting cheapo $2/roll Kodak MAX or some really nice $10/roll Ilford. It puts thought and contemplation back into my process.

Just my way of dealing with it.
-Noah D.

Comment by Noah Darnell

dude, smart! and so funny, but yeah, i also keep my memory cards small, 2 gigs or now i am using 4 gigs with the larger files of the D3 and D3x, but still this limits me. more importantly it keeps me in a similar rythym to film. you know when you’re getting close to 36 and time things accordingly. smaller cards approximate that feeling as well as other things you mentioned. and when i’m shooting film all day as i look back i remember certain images by approximately what roll i shot them on, that stays with me as i edit later. for ex. i grab roll 4 first cause that’s got the most important frame i need or whatever. with digital most shooters dump everything into one big bucket and slice edits by time or day or similar. makes no sense to me. i do it by “roll” by creating a file structure that matches my memory cards in order of shooting them like film. i’m keeping the metaphors that i grew up with alive where i can to make this easier for my brain.

Comment by menuez

I’m driving a nail through my LCD! … wait that might damage the rest of the camera…I’ll put duct tape over it…oh goey mess when I really have to see the LCD…um I’ll just refrain from looking…NNNNNOOOOOOOOO!!!! LCD you are the devil’s concubine!

Comment by Adam Leahy

LOL!!

Comment by menuez

I’m not even sure where or how to begin to respond.

Digital is sadly . . . inevitable or at least seems so. That being said I have yet to actually own a body, and have borrowed from friends or rented one for only a few jobs; fortunately, (for me, anyhow) my clients seem to (so far) respect that I ‘shoot film, not digital’ (usually 5×4 e-6) and love it when the pages of chromes hit their desks.

Even when shooting smaller format (MF) I shoot minimal Polaroids, and love the process of cranking through the rolls. And oddly (?) every member of the freelance crew who is working with me for the first time (most of my crews know my feelings about digi) says ‘wow, that’s really cool’. Yeah, I suppose I’m a Luddite- ‘pissing in the wind’ so to speak. But I guess that’s my stance and I’ll hold it as long as I can.

I can tell you a few things- my film is ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS dead on exposure wise. I don’t shoot (or pola-yeah, fujiroid now) much, and I get the shot quickly and move on. The very thought that we (y’all actually) have become a bunch of people stopping to check a LCD every few frames . . . makes me itch.

F’ the screen, KNOW what you’re doing and trust your gut. I mean really . . . ‘chimping’, ‘monkeys’, ????

The rationalizations offered are insane!!!
- ‘what if my iso had been changed’- suck it up
- ‘what if I missed the shot and didn’t know it’- umm, if that’s a worry/concern I think you’d best look for a new job. This SHOULD be the majors, not the minor leagues.
- ‘I shoot raw (or whatever you call it) and use small cards’- see the comment about the AP shooters.
- ‘what if my focus is/was off?’- you can’t tell then? WTF????
And don’t even begin with the fact that Canon doesn’t offer a screen that shows the difference between a 50/1.2 and a 50/2 wide open because ‘we don’t sell that much fast glass’. Canon-for ‘Professionals’. Pros HAVE to know the DOF. And you are using bodies that don’t support that? And I suppose that Nikon’s the same. Can’t speak to it personally, as I don’t know. Y’all should have had them for that alone.
- ‘cost/time savings’????- how MUCH time do you waste ‘fixing it in post’ when you could be out with the AD/shooting personal work/hanging w/your family & friends. As for cost- the Crown Graphic mentioned above- 60+ years old, STILL working. That first digi Nikon Doug mentioned??? Probably cost $50K, THEN (just think if you’d invested that) and now? Quite literally worthless.

Here’s the thing- clients WANT to believe that what we do is ‘special’ and yet ALL digital seems to do is to make it (in the words of Kodak ads from the late 50′s- I CAN remember them, can you?) ‘so easy anyone can do it’.

OK, rant over. Shoot your film, send it to the lab and go have a drink. If you trust your gut that is.

Doug, you have the time in, the work to show and the skill set and the ability that would make me (as a client) feel confident letting you shoot with whatever medium you felt would be best for the job. Most of the people out there shooting digi? Not so sure.

Flame away, I’m asking for it.

Comment by damian

Well, that’s a lot of whiny crap.

Wah, you got lazy because you shoot digital. Bad old digital, making you do that. Wah.

You can shoot digital manually, you know. Manual focus lenses, primes, manual setting of f-stop and shutter speed, the works. If it makes you feel good, you can even delete shots that you muffed, instead of saving them in Photoshop later.

Blame digital because you use it in a way that makes you feel inadequate. What a crock.

Comment by Wigwam Jones

It is unfortunate that you completely missed the point of this entire piece. He is not anti-digital. He is merely commenting on the change of behavior brought about by digital technology and wondering if it actuality prevents one from creating the best image they can be capable of creating.

In an ideal world the camera is just a tool and it shouldn’t make any difference. But it does. The mystery is gone along with the anticipation and the sense of wonder. Even if you turn your LCD off, it’s too easy to turn it back on.

Doug’s whole point is that while shooting with film, he allowed himself to experience a greater sense of heightened awareness. Digital technology makes it very easy to bypass that step.

By the way, of the many, many photographers I happen to know who hold PHD’s in whining, Doug is not one of them. Have you ever actually seen Doug’s work? Believe me, there’s nothing inadequate about any of it, regardless of how it was captured.

Comment by Debra Weiss

So funny that the poster above arguing back against Doug doesn’t really have much to offer in his own photostream:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wigwam/

No wonder he misses the point.

Comment by Christopher Layne

wow I think you totally missed the point, obviously never shot film huh! Doug is bang on the money in my view, what he’s saying is film makes one approach digital a little differently, with some thought, that’s point, perhaps you could try engaging in some thought on the matter! :)

Comment by Dean

Great article. You nailed it for me…

That is why I still love film… it is so demanding, so intense.. so sensual… you are making an object…

Then there is the printing… watching a print come out in the developer.. how magical is that…

And the uncertainty of not knowing what you have got… I have given up worrying about it and take the zen approach.. if it is meant to be a great shot it will be.. if it fails oh well…

The discipline is so important… digital can be so disappointing…

Great article, thanks for sharing your thoughts…

Regards,

Len

Comment by Len Metcalf

my pleasure, appreciate the comments. and as much as film will always be there for me, part of this is getting over the transition to digital and making it a non-issue.

Comment by menuez

Very interesting points. I especially appreciate the fact that you covered both sides without taking an exclusive conclusion.

While you say you gain more control on the field using film, there is one part of the story that I feel was left out: digital image processing.
I, for example, shoot almost exclusively RAW, and my appreciation is that the time you gain on the field bursting frame after frame is eventually lost in the time you spend processing each and every one of them. With film, you don’t really have to worry about this part. And I feel we also forgot to count the time spent to change rolls of film.

I feel that film vs digital is more about the psychology of subjectively prizing what you can’t have immediately. But feeling good about your film image doesn’t necessarily make it better than its digital sibling.

From a wider point of view, with the technological advancement, there is this strange heartaching vague awareness that we are turning from purebred photographers (translated as a warm body with a camera in the hand and some ideas in the head) to some species of image producers. With the passing of years, the paradigm concerning visual creation seems to converge all aspects of image capturing to a single main area: the cold, precise land of 0s and 1s.

The Dark Age of photography is exciting, it’s magnetic because it’s mysterious, because there are more variables to count and that gives it less predictability. It’s also more personal, because the rolls of film are physical, you can hold them, burn them, and probably more importantly… lose them. Silver emulsion appears more interesting than digital because it’s less predictable. Because predictability means boredom. That’s also why paintings or drawings are more valuable than photo prints. It’s happened before, when the first photo camera was introduced, artists were committing career suicides all over the world.

We can’t hide from digital. All in all, I guess we’ll have to shift the source of the excitement we get from the unknown variables of the chemo-mechanical process to more creative approaches of image taking.

Here’s my take: the more facile it will be to get an image, the higher the competition, and thus, the higher the quality of the output, at least among professionals. Because we all want to see more than well focused photos that are well developed. Sure, it’s daunting, it’s scary, it forces you to go beyond your comfort zone. It’s lust, you cannot stop it. We either go with it and push ourselves into the more creative aspects of photography instead of the half-romantic-half-technological ones, or drop out.

My opinion.

Comment by Chris N.

very well put, all your points. re: your comment on digital image processing, one of my growing pleasures in digital is finding the ways a digital darkroom can replace the satisfying rituals of a wet darkroom. The more I can approach processing and printing in terms of these metaphors and using the same creative muscles as analog the more fun it is. And a big benefit is the part about not pouring toxic chemicals down the drain, breathing fixer or playing with ferrocyanide, etc…

Comment by menuez

LCD interfering with your creative process? Four words. menu>image review>OFF

Doug, love you, hate this post. It’s a study of contradictions. Auto everything? Since when is that a digital issue? Zen and self discipline? You’re talking about the discipline imposed by a limited medium, not your self. Lazy? Sorry, that’s your issue, not the issue of the medium.

I’d respectfully suggest your next step would be to apply the discipline required with film, that you’ve re-learned, to your digital shooting, and then see what level you bring your work to.

(ducks, runs away…)

Comment by Ted Dillard

Love you too, Ted, and understand your impatience. The fault is mine for not expressing this intentionally contradictory musing more succinctly. The point is that I’m not against digital, I embrace the new tools and in fact am doing as you suggest and applying the discipline of film to digital. That was the point and the end of the piece, sorry that was not clearer.

Comment by menuez

heh. Too much coffee this morning, after I posted this I re-read your piece (again) and was kind of getting that. Sorry!

It’s good to go back to your beginnings and give yourself a kick in the head… but only if it moves you forward.

Comment by Ted Dillard

Probably you should edit my ramblings before I post!! Less is always more I guess. But I really appreciated the kick from a sharp mind, helps the thinking. :) I guess I’m also alluding to the superstitions we have about the mystery that goes into a getting a great moment beyond what tools and talent one has. The analog tools were perhaps more aligned with the magic; digital is the magic…now my turn for coffee

Comment by menuez

I understood Doug’s initial post to reflect something I’ve observed in all manner of photographers from pros to amateurs: digital CAN make you lazy. I’ve been guilty of using the camera’s monitor to check my exposure; of grabbing quick shots and just planning to fix ‘em in Photoshop; of not stringently checking my color balance; and other weakness.

It’s just so easy to eschew diligent procedures and fall into lazy mode with digital. I’ve had to work harder to bring back discipline to my digital photography. It’s a good thing.

Comment by Carlos Moreno

exactly, neither is good or bad. it’s just awareness of how one uses the tools…thx

Comment by menuez

As an all-digital, just-started amateur photographer, I am always fascinated by tales of film, something that I never experienced beyond loading Kodak ASA 200 on my point and shoot, then taking it out and dropping it at the nearest lab. I probably shot less than 10 rolls of film my entire life.

This phrase caught my attention:

“Soon these mechanical procedures happened automatically, unconsciously, naturally and in so doing I was changing. I was much more aware of light and therefore of the unforgiving nature of the film.”

So, as an honest question: how much does it differ from having the camera automate the same tasks, which would hypothetically also let you concentrate on the creative process?

Comment by Thiago Silva

On one hand it’s absolutely fantastic to have the camera automate a lot of the tasks in terms of being able to grab moments and the creative process. On the other, having to manage the tool, even unconsciously, heightens your awareness and may improve the result. My goal is for it not to matter and use my film skills to leverage what digital has to offer. But if you’ve not learned the mechanics prior to automating you are not able to utilize the tool to it’s utmost to express your vision. LIke driving a Ferrari and never getting out of first gear.

Comment by menuez

Thiago, that is a good question. There’s a good reason most photography schools insist (or at least used to…) that a first-year student start out by shooting with a 4×5 view camera. It is the most basic, fundamental tool, where not only do you control the exposure and focus, but even the relationship of the film plane to the lens plane. You, at a fundamental level, learn how a camera works.

The creative process, in any medium, but in particular photography, is as much about the use and control of your tools as it is any other part of the process. You can’t build a creative process, as a painter, for example, without understanding how one brush differs from another.

Automating the tasks in a process is not how you learn. You learn by trying and controlling, making mistakes and getting surprises. If your camera is making the decisions, you are not controlling the process, thus, I’d argue, there is no process at all. …film, or digital.

Comment by Ted Dillard

Thanks for the replies. Just as a clarification, when I said “letting the camera” automate, I didn’t mean “green mode”, but more in the lines of having the camera automating some functions (judging initial exposure, autofocusing to the focus point of your choice, etc.). Although, come to think of it, all the automations I was thinking about are also present in modern film bodies. So not really a matter of film vs. digital, but of technological advance in general, I guess.

Comment by Thiago Silva

I held out for a long time and only recently bought a Minolta 5d because I was not going to let thousands of dollars of lens go to waste. I miss my time in the darkroom and that excitment of waiting to see if I got “that” shot. No LCD for me, thank you.

Comment by Sheila Piala

You make a great point. I’m a student still straddling the digital and film world. I love the instant gratification of digital but struggle with the output. Black and white film is still beautiful and I enjoy the darkroom ,the process, the unknown. Its more about the photographer and the view than it is the medium. There’s plenty of room for both….

Comment by Becky

Who’s Dennis ? No matter, I love you. Cooper Lake

Comment by Cooper Lake

Doug beautiful article. I remember in the late 80’s returning from my photo shoots and dropping my chromes at USA Today’s front office in DC.
The tic tac of time for the film to be process had to be one of the worse feelings for any photographer. Once my fresh dry film was out of the darkroom, via the hands of Leslie, Monique and Vandy, and safe on the editors light table, then I could be me.

Until that moment it had been a full roller coaster of emotions, x fingers and prayers. Did I screw up? Was the light perfect? My best frame sharp…will they call me again?

But once that film rested nicely, warmly and dry on that glossy light table it was HALLELUJAH! My breathing would get back to normal while my fast racing heart had shifted to 3rd, 2nd and 1st gear.

But those days, when only our eyes were the window of LCD, did teach me discipline and to get the shoot right and ready for my clients.

With the arrival of top digital gears those days seem like so far behind, or the way we feel when we watch “Gone With the Wind” or “Citizen Kane.”

Yet still today all my fine arts, doc work and some gigs are done with T-Max black and white film.
There is something special about personal work and fine arts.
Maybe is the ghost of Ansel Adams, W.E. Smith, Weston, Lange, Cartier-Bresson and the rest. Or maybe.. just maybe.. it has to do with pre focus, F8 and really be there.

Comment by Manuello Paganelli

yes, i remember, our film was probably being processed at the same time. i had to fedx mine in though which added more terror… love the line “will they call me again?” the freelance prayer

Comment by menuez

I’d been shooting and scanning 4x5in sheet film at 1600 ppi. When I started seeing good capture pixels from dSLR cameras, when I saw that I’d only need one-third to one-half as many from the dSLR compared to sheet film to make a sharp file, digital forced my hand.

Comment by Andre Friedmann

I shoot both, but often quote director, Robert Altman when asked why I shoot film.

Altman was talking about why he enjoys fishing, and he said, “Because my imagination is under the water.”

It’s true, when fishing, you can only imagine what lurks in the depths. Are there fish? Is a fish interested in my bait? Is my bait still there?

Film is the same way. You see the image in your head. You imagine how the camera and film will interpret the scene before you. However, you don’t know precisely. Your imagination is on the film.

It’s engaging in a way that digital is not. I love digital for a lot of other reasons, but film engages my mind and imagination in a way that digital does not.

Thanks for you article.

Comment by Steve

beautiful quote, i have to remember that, thanks…d

Comment by menuez

One of the most pleasant articles about digital and film. Actually I agree with you and you should look also for what the Nikon F6 chief engineer said a few years ago. Read here: http://imaging.nikon.com/products/imaging/technology/scene/09/index.htm

Comment by dino

this nikon article is FASCINATING, thank you

Comment by menuez

d3x + 24 & 85mm pc-e.
= Good times. Feel the vibe…

Comment by tony anastasi

i’m feelin’ it tony!

Comment by menuez

so good to see your blog Doug, great insights
and a wonderful reminder of the class.
(i was in your 2008 class at santa fe. The lessons for me still unfolding-
a lot of self assignments and sit downs w/ Ad agencies & design houses.
check out the site if you get a chance. http://www.christopherkeels.com
the best is yet to come,
God Bless

Comment by Chris Keels

Hey Chris, great to hear from you and great to see your site– you got heart, and a great eye. Best, doug

Comment by menuez

Thanks for your article. It really touched me.

Sometime back in year 2002, I won the 1st price of some local Digital Photography contest. The price consisted on a laptop. I sold it inmediately, ran to the shop and bought the body of a Leica M6.

My friends thought I was nuts: who cashes the prize of a Digital contest to buy a Film camera?

It still took me 6 good months to save the money for a Sumicron 35mm (the body sat in a drawer all that time). My one and only Leica lense so far.

One day back in 2004, I was sitting in a dark bar in Istanbul, and took this photo:

http://www.cortacans.com/pcortacans/gallery_01-07.html

I named it “Loneliness”, ’cause that is what I felt while I was in that bar.
On that precise instant, while the body of the M6 was sitting on my right hand, and the viewfinder was in front of my eye, I behaved like there was no camera, nothing between my hand and my eye. It had become the sixth finger on my right hand, or the third eye on my head. It had dissaperared as an independent object from my body, It shot what I saw and what I felt.

I am head over heels in love with “her”.

I started taking photos at the age of 12 I had my own b&w lab. I have owned (and still keep) a number of cameras, including 3 DSLR bodies and lots of lenses, but never felt that connection. In the digital world, glass is glass, and bodies are plastic.(must admit that I’m curious about D3x…)

For ages, I had a dream. I dreamt Leica would produce a clip-on digital back that would fit (and subsitute) the rear lid of an M6 or M7. THAT would be the digital camera of my dreams, no matter how many Mpixels, what dynamic range…

I cannot explain why all this happens, but I believe that the reason why we love grain in film is the same reason why we hate noise in digital; the reason why we don’t mind sharp-ish images in film is the same reason why we expect ultra sharp images in digital.

Digital is king, yes, but only thy who have felt b&w film in their veins will be able to fully undestand and agree with your (wise) words

thank you again (hope you don’t mind the little “projection of own depressions” in freudian terms, and a lot of mis-spelt words)

un saludo

Comment by pedro

Pedro, you are my kind of nut. Great story. And thanks for sharing “lonliness” — inspiring to see and very strong mood in the other images in the portfolio. Nice to see your thoughtful eye…con respecto….d

Comment by menuez

thanks for your words on my portfolio.

It’s feed-back from wise people (like you) that make the difference.

gracias otra vez. ;)

P.

Comment by pedro

un placir…d

Comment by menuez

Nice and thoughtful Doug. I’ve gone through similar processes in my head. My background is large format film so our personal conclusions are perhaps slightly different. It has occurred to me more than once that we are a transforming generate of photographers who know both film and digital intimately.

I find the difference between Film and Digital to be one that allowed me to focus more of my attention to what is happening in front of the lens. Probably more so than many, I have a limited capacity to think in the moment. If that moment is taken up with the tools of film it meant less time to capture the moment; less time to concentrate on the subtle changes in my subject that can mean the difference between good and great.

Your background is such that I’ll bet you’ve learned to do both very effectively but as a studio guy, I found that digital added new life to my career. I’m having more fun.

Thanks for a great post, and thanks to APE Blog for directing me here.

Comment by Bruce DeBoer

Thanks as well to APE and to you for the great comment about having fun with digital. I did not want to come across as condemning digital at all. It’s a great new tool. It just became important to redefine how I use the tool to keep growing as a photographer. Any tool, like a hammer, can build a house or tear it down….d

Comment by menuez

Well said.

For the last few months I have had my LCD blocked out. I use a light meter, pay attention to the light, manually check focus.

Its caused some problems or missed shots but that was my fault, not the camera. The zen ways of film are slowly returning and it feels good…

J

Comment by Justin Myers

It is a great feeling indeed. Great to hear from you…d

Comment by menuez

Thanks Menuez! Your thoughts bring us back to what matters in photography and why we want to register those moments. Sometimes the modes and scenes keep the act so mechanical that I lost any touch and I feel I am unable to arise any feelings from the image.

Comment by Aldenor

You are most welcome!

Comment by menuez

I never quite understand how photographers always say you can use the LCD on the back of camera to check exposures. If you are shooting RAW the jpeg on the LCD is less than accurate.

Comment by ellicsod1978

Although I wrote how I’m limiting my use of the LCD, I do use it at appropriate times for exposure, but just as a rough guide. I adjust my LCD two stops darker to be closer to what we will see on our calibrated monitors and with Nikon LCD’s it can give you a nice quick ballpark for exposure. But you are quite right, it is less than accurate.

Comment by menuez

The histogram…

…the single most powerful tool of digital photography, is how you can check exposure in the most accurate way imaginable.

Comment by Ted Dillard

Doug,

Thank you for a long awaited essay about the film vs. digital debate.

However, not to be argumentative, by any means, but I don’t believe film is as difficult as you state. It is a process that I solely use, from beginning to end for all of my projects to date, and is a process in which you may have to slow down a little in comparison to digital.

Now, before I go any further, I must admit that I have never experienced using a digital camera in my life, and I can understand the idea of how a digital camera, especially if used daily for a number of years, readjusting to an anlog camera, may be tricky at first. However, one of the great things about negative film is the tremendous amount of latitude one has when exposing and processing the film. so, if you make a mistake, with the exposure, and catch it in time, one can usually compensate for it, either through development or even in when the image is being printed; slide film is less forgiving.

In terms of visualization, I think if you an incredible amount of experience photographing than you begin to visualize the images that you have taken or about to take, first, in your mind, and you generally get this gut feeling whether or not the image is going to be great or not; sometimes the image exceeds your expectations, other times it is less so, and more times than not, the results are less than less so. There are even times when I knew a picture would not be great or even worth my time printing, yet, I still take, and keep wondering why I took that picture in the first place.

Here are a few reasons why I prefer film over digital:

First, the tangibility of film over digital. I like the fact or idea that I can hold a negative in my hand, look at it, touch it feel it, sense it in its negative space, while making out all of the details. This is what has attracted me to stay with film, despite a few of the challenges mentioned in the article.

Second, I started photography, when digital did not exist, and had already invested a smal chunk of change in equipment, granted, I could have sold it to purchase a digital camera, but never felt that the technology was equivalent to the resolution of film, especially when comapared to medium or large format.

Third, I found, even today, that cost of a traditional darkroom, is still far less expensive for me than digital
darkroom. I bought my entire darkroom set, which included a 4×5 enlarger, safe lights, easels trays–8×10-20×24–and tons of other needed items for less than $500.00, and with this equipment, I can print RC fiberbase and up to 30×40 if I had the desire. Inorder for me to output a 30×40 print or even a 16×20, the digital costs for me, would be too prohibitive; The need for a decent computer, the programs, scanners, the printers, and the inks, and the refurbrishing of the inks, not too mention the constant upgrading I would have to do with a digital darkroom of faster computers, higher quality printers, and the constant upgrade for software.

Finally, the learning curve to understand how to scan an image appropriately, manipulate it in photoshop, monitor callibrations, and to create a final output that would match my skills in the darkroom, is beyond me at this point, maye not in the future, but in the present anyway.

Please don’t get me wrong, I support digital, and I have seen some truly amazing things that I cannot do with my cameras, or in the darkroom, like infinite DOP.

Cheers,

Thomas

Comment by Thomas Lindahl Robinson

Thomas,
Sometimes I am stressing the fears experienced shooting on deadline with film in the past a bit more for drama’s sake, because of course when you do shoot film everyday like most things it gets to be part of you. Everything is relative to experience of course, and one’s personal preferences. I love your comments about tangibility of film a lot and appreciate hearing your perspective a lot, thanks…d

Comment by menuez

I am an analogue Neanderthal in everything in life be it Hi-Fi, Swiss mechanical watches and of course photography where I use a Leica M series exclusively to take B&W only images and they spend time in the red light area. I can see a place for digital but not within art photography.

Regards Kenneth-UK

Comment by kenneth

This was great post, I really enjoyed reading it. I especially like the part about 2 shots on the Speed Graphic.

The Film is hard line is great as well. Maybe thats why I never moved away from it. I like a challenge.

Comment by K. Praslowicz

Great piece Doug! Although I’m a film guy, I have nothing against digital. But one thing I wonder about is doing intense documentary work with people who are drug addicts, prostitutes, etc. Of course it is 100% essential to be honest about your intentions for the photographs you take of them, that’s just basic ethics. But what happens when you’ve finally built enough trust to photograph them smoking crystal meth, or doing something else really ugly? They also know about the LCD. When they ask to see those photos, do you simply say “no?” Does the trust then collapse? And if you do show them the photos on the LCD, then what? Maybe they’ll be fine with what they see, but maybe not because they’re seeing that image out of context, by itself and not juxtaposed against the photo in a published edit that shows them as a complete person, that shows their good side and not just their self-destruction. This is me just ruminating, I would like to know how it works shooting digital in these circumstances.

Comment by Ian Martin

A follow-up thought: Could Eugene Richards have done “Cocaine True, Cocaine Blue” with digital?

Comment by Ian Martin

Excellent, excellent points and questions Ian. Would love to hear other views. In some ways the trust issues are the same regardless of LCD. I had a recent experience in Uganda with someone demanding to see the LCD in a hospital so that was quite a surprise. My stated intentions matched what was on the camera so all good, but it would be potentially life threatening for someone in a position similar to Ron Haviv in his Bosnia days if he’d had to show film then and there. Not sure, so complex this point. Ethics and practical need versus a “noble cause” such as war crimes and when you bend rules to get the story, or do you ever? At the W. Post I was censured for hiding my cameras to get past shotgun toting guards to access a migrant camp where conditions were inhumane, became a scandal, big front page story, but I had crossed a line by not identifying myself to the guards. But no way would I have got the pix otherwise….

Comment by menuez

I hope that people defended you regarding the guards; they were doing wrong by trying to hide the truth of what was happening in that migrant camp. What about all of the journalists covering Zimbabwe under tourist visas?

Comment by Ian Martin

The Post had gotten hit hard with a reporter faking stories, winning a pulitzer they had to return. My timing was bad but yes, my picture editors defended me and I was not fired. The story spoke for itself, and was the work of a veteran investigative reporter to whom I was assigned, and I think got some changes made to the camp. The governor got involved etc. I was just improvising, 24 years old and unaware of any ethics rules. The ethics code became very strict with no room for case by case interpretation. There has been a lot of debate about misrepresentation for years in the US, including an ABC story about bad supermarket meat that was done with hidden cameras and other subterfuge. Consumers needed to know. Government is not doing it’s job inspecting meat, etc, yet ABC got hammered. I leave the judgements to others and make my own call now on what I think is right and wrong. i also no longer look at anything “objectively” as that’s a complete fallacy anyway, it’s all subjective and our perception is mostly colored by preconceived notions

Comment by menuez

Regarding film, I think it is powerful that the images disappear into that little black box, the contents of which are unknowable to anyone until it is unlocked in the darkroom. The photographer doesn’t know, and neither does the subject. (I think the Ron-Haviv-in-Bosnia example is a good one.) It’s Schroedinger’s Cat. And as a film guy, I find myself going back and going back photographing the same situations again, never being satisfied that I’ve “got the shot.” (In the darkroom, I often find that I had what I needed on the first trip, but that the photos from the subsequent visits are stronger.) I think it’s this insecurity (which gets a bit irrational in a seasoned photographer) that is central to the Zen aspect of working in an unforgiving medium.

Comment by Ian Martin

well maybe i’m just slow in some ways, but i just love pondering the mystery you point to, thanks for that :)

Comment by menuez

Mr. Menuez — good stuff, and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

The camera supporting the Digital workflow is just another tool — akin to stone tablets evolving to pieces of paper — yet the part everyone forgets, is the importance of what is captured, why it is captured, and how it is presented. If you consistently achieved all three with film — you were a master – because there was no “chimping” on site – back in the day.

One can even say that the Digital format may promote a hap-hazard approach because now one can shoot 500 frames etc. — or maybe it’s just all “6′s”

JSturr

Comment by John Sturr

Thanks a lot for a great read. I’ve shot professionally with film some 10+ years, and some four years ago made complete transform from film to digi, honestly i dropped perfectly working F5 right there and i haven’t shot one roll of film since then. I hated to see this revolution happen, but at the same time i felt that i have to jump in not to be left out; i didn’t want to be the very last person to learn this new medium. Your words echoed in my mind, telling me how i exactly got lost in the land of post processing, auto focus, instant preview… I used to have my Minolta lightmeter around my neck every time when i had to shoot under variable light conditions… Now that thing’s been collecting dust year in year out, when it used to be one of the first things i packed when leaving my house. I shoot with D3 and i love it, but i felt that i had to go back to where came from, to sharpen my blade. After spending few days juggling around in eBay, i received a gem 503cx with 80mm and that baby will be from now on always with me, to slow me down, to put me to think what i’m about to do and how. It will be a pleasure, it won’t take over my digi set up, but it’ll coach me back into what i used to be; a guy who picked his photos carefully, trying to make every frame count.

I’ll definitely turn the LCD off.

Thanks again,

Timo Jarvinen

Comment by Timo Jarvinen

I’ve been spending a lot of time with gaffers tape over my LCD in an attempt to ‘re-oil’, as you so eloquently put it. All my personal projects are done in this manner – when I get to a paying gig, the LCD becomes a helpful tool, rather than a crutch.

Comment by Joe from Minnesota

This is so very good. Thanks for writing it.

Comment by david

So well said. Thanks for writing it.

Comment by david

At the end of March, I wrote in my blog a similar concern I’ve had for some time now (see link). I’m self taught and from the beginning wanted to shoot medium format but couldn’t afford it. So, I taught myself to shoot 35mm as if it was medium or large format, slowly, deliberately, with awareness, rather than multi-frame motor drive, wham bam thank you ma’am.

I put off going digital as long as possible and, initially, kept to my shooting regimen. It was easy to “fall from grace” and the quality of my work suffered. Getting caught up in the technology made me lose a but of myself in the images I made.

It’s funny, Edward Weston back in the 1930s complained about photographers getting too wrapped up in gadgets and technology and that sentiment is as applicable today as it was then. Even more so, I think. Photography, with the associated technology, has become a series of button presses leading to a manufactured creation rather than a conscious mental and spiritual involvement by the photographer and hands-on production. The art is driven by the availability of technology and someone else to create the coding that allows us to manipulate and intangible, invisible set of binary codes eventually becoming a physical image (in print only) of something that may or may not be of our own imagination. Sure, we point, compose and expose, but the rest?

When I find myself being sucked too deep into Photoshop, I grab my Polaroid SX-70 camera and some of the last remaining stock of instant film I have and go out to make “real” photographs.

Comment by Mike Shipman

I’ve found the change to digital straightforward, seldom chimp, although I do check a histogram sometimes.

What I found more disturbing was having to use a zoom for the first time when I bought a EOS20D – APS-C format camera. I hated it, having just used a 35mm and a 135mm for several years.

As soon as I moved to a full frame (5D) I got rid of the zoom – still took quite a long time to get the familiarity back.

Comment by Hugh Alison

Great reflection.
I just think it drifted once the point was made. Technology allows us to work faster and crank out more images. Digital cameras do to photography what cars do to transportation with a difference. Cars deprive us of the slow pace of walking, of that physical and visual (as well as intellectual as we process information as we walk) experience, which in some ways can be a philosophical one–see how many philosophers used to teach or think (aloud) while walking; some probably still do (that or they drink rum or tequilla on a beach!).
As mentioned in the piece “digital cameras make us lazy.” Probably what the first photographers shifting from painting or drawing to photography said in the 19th century–when you think of it.
Then it is not the camera’s responsibility, but ours. Let’s not blame it on the messenger. I can still work on a tripod, or/and slow my pace down, or/and spend more time planning my image before taking it. Then I also have a wonderful tool that allows me far more control over the final result, over the “previsualized” image that I want.
Let’s take full responsibility for our potential or real weaknesses and fight back; let’s not start a process that sounds like denial and complacency. It is still our choice to become better or worse photographers. Let’s use technology but not be distracted by it.

BC

Comment by Bruno Chalifour

perfect, agreed, will edit more of my text too!

Comment by menuez

PS: going back to the top of the page I think Doug’s motto is the real conclusion of this: “Go fast, don’t crash.”
In other words, embrace technology if it is your choice, just control it.

Comment by Bruno Chalifour

Hi Doug, I met you and Rick Smolan in line to fly to the big island for a solar eclipse in 91. I was in my early 20′s and just starting to earn a living in photography through being a stringer.

A lot has changed since then to say the least. I have been shooting for 34 years now, 15 with digital. What I have found is that while digital is a great tool, overall, it has not made photographers better, has not bettered the images of say, David Alan Harvey, William Albert Allard, James Natchwey, Mary Ellen Mark, etc.

In terms of impact and emotional content, I rarely see images today made on digital outdoing film images made yesterday. I like to commit to a strong technique, I like the look and the feel of film. I liken shooting with digital like running on sand, no discernible limit while shooting with film is like running on pavement, you can “power” off of those limits and make them work for you.

So in the past few years, I have reduced the amount of digital I use to deadline or client budget related reasons. I photographed OBama signing the stimulus bill not long ago. I had a D3, D700 for my news agent and a leica M3 with Kodachrome for me.

The good news in all of this? Digital has matured as a medium and film has matured as a niche. I will continue to use both and I am happy to see some clients are fine with budgeting for film use.

I am a photographer, I use what I feel like or what I have to and after 15 years of shooting digital, I not only find that it is not the second coming, but it is not better than using film, just different.

So be different, come join us in celebrating a film’s 75th anniversary:

http://www.Kodachromeproject.com

Life is too short to follow a crowd, but you know that..:-)

Comment by Dan

Yeah, i remember that day and our meeting, amazing to hear from you. Glad you survived to build a career. I love your comments and agree with you. Impressed with the kodachrome thing– I have to admit I have not thought of that for a long time but I will check out the project. thanks!

Comment by menuez

For me it is the auto every thing that puts you in to the moment. Setting there for an hour or so, the place and time be come more then a picture. The smell, the touch, the sounds, and the moment. No anticipation the moment and the picture. Yes I will make changes in the camera. Change saturation, speed, white balance. But not till I get to the moment. I start in Program shot and look. Then I shot and look and listen. I shot, look, listen and smell.
With no anticipation, I look, I listen, I smell and I shot.
The act of taking a picture became a meditation and the picture is the moment.

Comment by Michael Stolz

cool!

Comment by menuez

In these digital times, the ability to shoot on film, to create an original non-manipulated image with a fully manual camera system will always be considered as something of a dying art form …

Comment by RAM

But you know this will become very valuable for those who keep it alive. Like the audiophile true believers collecting vinyl and spending $$ on tube amps etc….

Comment by menuez

the niche rules!

Comment by menuez




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