There should be little surprise that film or “analog” photography continues to be widely discussed in modern times. With the ubiquity of digital cameras and an instant feedback loop right after taking each photo, why do we continue to cherish the traditional and slow way of photography?
In fact, on platforms like Instagram, we can easily find exclusive and popular hashtags associated with film photography, as well as many large, influential accounts which feature only film photographers. In the most extreme of cases, some photographers upload photos to Instagram while retaining the edges of the film frames, perhaps providing evidence that their photo was an act of artistry using film.
And indeed, film photography is a very intentional, labourious process that is surrounded by an aura of mystery for many. For today’s generation who have never used a film camera, the idea of photography with just 36 frames per roll and waiting a week for the film to develop seems unfathomable. Appropriately so, many can understand this point of view.
Yet, film photography teaches us many things, including a discipline to carefully, purposefully make the best use of each frame and to perfect our craft without the aid of digital tools like Photoshop. If you have spent any time in Photoshop, then understanding that last point is an easy one. After all, most photographers enjoy the experience of photography primarily and not so much the painstaking hours spent in front of a computer sorting, picking, and editing their photos.
Another benefit of film photography is the beautiful “film aesthetic”, which includes the characteristic looks and colours of the film chosen and the grain in the photos. As we witness the abundance of photography apps (which in many cases are natively available on most smartphones) with film filters, it becomes clear that there is a beautiful, pleasant look to film. While I agree with this, I also believe that choosing a specific film look without the ability to control the intensity of the filter, the saturation of colours, etc. creates an artistic limitation on how each photo can be perfected.
To be honest, I am not a proponent of either digital or analog photography. I believe strongly that a great photo is just that, and the decision between film and digital photography is less important. Photography is about telling beautiful stories, and the presence or absence of a “film aesthetic” is not enough to create compelling photos. Let’s not loose sight of that!