“Do you ever use film anymore?”

Golly, I sure wish I could say yes. But that’s really only a nostalgic response, not a practical one. I haven’t shot any film in, probably, two years, and I don’t plan to anytime soon.

I loved film, I really did, especially formats larger than 35mm. Every now and then, I put a 4×5 inch transparency on a light table and put a loupe on it and I’m astonished by the quality.

The problem is that it’s more quality than I ever need. My commercial photography is almost entirely for either web sites (where high resolution is completely wasted) and printed materials where 15 megapixels is almost always way more than is needed.

Working with a digital camera makes it possible to see exactly what you have as you shoot and deliver the finished job the day of the shoot, in a form that the client can just plug into a page without developing, shipping, and scanning. It’s faster and more efficient for everyone involved. Add to that the expense and the karma of dealing with all that icky chemistry and trying to find a good way to get rid of it.

I have friends and clients who continue to shoot film and I applaud them for that, mostly. Tillman Crane is shooting very large format black-and-white and printing on platinum and palladium paper. It’s gorgeous work that never gets run through a digital filter (until it gets scanned for the web site). There are some (you know who you are) who are just dragging their feet, resisting the digital world out of fear, laziness, inertia. Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of fear, laziness and inertia myself and they’re not entirely bad. Just make sure you choose your medium for the right reasons.

Against the Grain

I’ve gotten to the point where film grain looks bad to me. Old-fashioned in a not-good way. Lumpy, bumpy textures where there should be none.

I have another friend (anonymous unless she wants to fess up in the comments) who loves the grain of Kodak’s Tri-X film. She’s been resistant to shooting digital because the tones are too smooth for her. Finally, someone showed her the Photoshop filters that approximate various film grains. One of them was even called “Tri-X.” It worked. Then she found a place that prints digital files to silver paper (black-and-white prints used to be printed on a paper coated with silver halide salts). So now she shoots digitally and makes it look like Tri-X. People think she’s still shooting film. It’s great.