This past week I received the following question, “is film a better creative format than digital?”
I admit that the discussion regarding film vs. digital isn’t really that common anymore. Yes, I talk with high school students that are using film in photography classes. Those discussions are mostly about how film works, about processing, and printing, or using different chemicals.
Sometimes an older person who stopped taking pictures in the 1980s will loudly tell me digital is unnatural, doesn’t look good, and is cheating. Cheating? That conversation is always humorous. However, it is one-sided and not really worth getting into because any opinion but theirs is going to be ignored.
However, this question wasn’t about which is better as a way of making photographs, it was about creativity, and that intrigued me. Creativity is about imagination, originality, and art.
My quick answer to that was that I liked both film and digital images. To me, film is a more “tactile” medium than a digital image, and I like the extreme tonality that a good photographer can achieve. I believe digital image files can have more sharpness and a lot more detail. Sometimes that is good, sometimes not. That also depends on the photographer.
In my opinion creating an image is what the photographer does. It involves deciding upon the kind of camera and medium one might use, but the camera and medium is just the vehicle for a photographer’s creativity. It is really all about the final image, and how one decides to produce that image for the best visual effect.
I think some times that too much is made about the process. The process is just that, a series of actions or steps that one takes to achieve a particular end. I guess what a photographer does to create that show-stopping photograph is truly interesting, but in the end it is really only about the photograph.
The idea that there might be something more creative in making an image with film than with digital doesn’t make much sense.
I remember all the possibilities we had with film. Imaginative photographers would select different types of film and change the way they exposed and process it. Photographers probably had shelves of different chemicals for both developing film and making prints, as well as cabinets filled with photographic papers, and all as part of their process to bring out personal creative vision.
Now photographers can shoot with cropped or full frame cameras, and instead of dedicated rooms filled with equipment, they load their computers with software programs to help them with their personal creative project.
When using film one would previsualize (a term coined by Minor White) how one wanted to produce the final image before releasing the shutter. And I think many still do that to reach their vision, except now photographers are thinking of programs like Photoshop or Lightroom instead of the chemical processes required with film.
There are some photographers that only know film, there are some photographers that only know digital, and there are those that are competent in both. And although they might use film, digital, or both, to produce an image, creativity comes from the photographer and not the process.
Maybe I should have just replied to that question about creativity with photographer Ansel Adams’ words, “You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
I look forward to any comments readers have. Thank you, John
My website is at www.enmanscamera.com