Film vs Digital: The Hastings

It's not secret I've started shooting film more and more. Why, you ask? That's a great question. Let me see if I can explain.

The whole reason I picked up my film camera last April in the first place was because I was getting burned out. I got tired of shooting, then editing, editing, editing, editing, and editing some more. But, in order for me to produce an image I was happy with, that's what I had to do: edit. And I was sick of it. I was at the point where I didn't even want to pick up my camera because I knew after I shot, I'd have to spend hours in front of the computer working in Adobe Bridge and/or Photoshop. This is after I've already spent hours streamlining my post-processing workflow to the minimum amount necessary. When I realized that not only was I a slave to the digital post processing, but that it was actually keeping me from photographing, I knew something had to change. So, I gave film a chance. Mostly I tried it because I wanted to shoot for myself a little without having to do the processing, but once I got my first images back, I was amazed at just how amazing film really is.

First of all, the look of it is phenomenal. It's creamy and warm and real. Film images just have this depth and quality to them that digital just can't seem to match. Digital images tend to be very harsh & sharp, which can be very unforgiving, especially on faces. Film is extremely dynamic, and it's almost impossible to have blown highlights. When I'm shooting with my digital camera, it's almost impossible to not have blown highlights somewhere in the image, plus color/contrast is rarely what I want it to be.

Let me show you an example...this image of the Hastings family is completely unedited, straight out of the camera (5D Mark II, 50mm, ISO 250, 5.6, 1/80):
Digital Original

In the image above, the white shirts are so bright that they're completely white, and the image has no detail in those areas. This is what I'm talking about when I say "blown highlight." In this situation, the way to avoid these blown areas is to change my exposure until the white area is exposed properly. Unfortunately, that would mean loosing detail in darker areas of the photo, including faces. I wanted my faces to be properly exposed, so I had to sacrifice the white shirt. This image also has a blue tone to it, and there are almost no true black tones. So, it gets it's first round of edits:
Digital Prelim

After adjusting the color, the contrast, and a little bit of the exposure, I now have the image above. For you photo-nerds, I did this round of editing in Adobe Bridge. Looking at this image, I'm still not quite satisfied, so it goes through another round of edits. I do a batch in Photoshop, and all the images get the same treatment, which is a mixture of Totally Rad, MCP, and my own actions. So now, we have the final image:
Digital Edited

Now, let's look at this same photo, on film, straight out of camera. This is Fuji 160 (I think...maybe 400H), shot with my Canon EOS 3, 50mm lens, and developed & scanned at Richard Photo Lab:
Film Original

Amazing. I haven't touched this image in Photoshop. All I did was send it to RPL, and a few weeks later, it came back to me, looking just like this. No Photoshop, no actions... no longer am I a slave to the laptop. Instead, I can get out and shoot some more, just like I should be doing. Here are all 4 images, side by side:

Film v Digital
Just look at the difference between the images, straight out of camera. Does it make sense now why I've fallen in love with film?

Of course, digital has its strengths too. I haven't completely abandoned digital; in fact, it's still what I use the majority of the time. Actually, I was planning on shooting the Hastings family only with my digital, but when I arrived at their session, I just knew the best for the situation was film. Here are a few more from their session, all on film.



This image I changed into black and white using Photoshop-



What do you think? I've got several film posts to share in the next couple of weeks, including my first film wedding. I may also be able to do another film v digital post, just so we can all see another comparison of the same image in both digital and film. Is that something you'd be interested in seeing?


amy j. said...

Very interesting post Jenna. I used film for years because I had to...I'm a bit older than you. I loved film as well and learned photography on a completely manual old Pentax K1000 back in the early 90s.

I didn't switch to digital until about six years ago. I had worked in magazine production and graphic design so I was very familiar with Photoshop and post processing. I admit I was jealous of the freedom one had altering images at work as compared to what I was limited to with my own personal photos.

After shooting film and paying to have it processed for years of my children, I was at the end of my rope with the lack of a decent lab locally any longer and the cost. It was SO expensive to process film and you had to find places to store all the photos and negatives. This was a hard thing because just personally I shot hundreds of images.

When I went to digital I was floored at the creative license and range of what you could do with an image. I still am. I guess you and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum, mostly due to my age compared to yours. I love film, but I wouldn't go back to it personally or professionally, especially professionally. I think it would be too cost prohibitive.

I enjoy the post processing aspect of my work. It feels like the really creative part for me in some crop and play with color and contrast and treatment. I can make the same image feel so many different ways just by editing it slightly...and I often give clients a few versions of the same photo in fact.

Good luck with your film endeavors. I'm curious to see what you do with it.

I am curious as to how you price out the film work as compared to digital for your clients? Don't you have to charge them more due to cost of film etc. Do you give them digital copies of the images along with the negatives? Most people would want that nowadays I would think.


Jenna Henderson said...

Hi Amy-
Thanks for the great comments! Yes, film is more expensive, but my time is much more valuable to me. So, when it comes to spending time editing digital, or spending money on film, I'd prefer the latter. We don't have children, but if we do one day, it will be nice to know I don't have to spend the time away from them editing because I can have it done by someone else. Like I said, both film and digital have their strengths (and weaknesses), but for now, film is where I'm personally feeling the love. Thanks again for the comments! Stop by again!