Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Not Digital, Not Film, But Digital Film

Glacier Point Infrared - Yosemite National Park, California
What in the world is digital film? I don't know that it is actually anything, outside of my own definition: digital images made to appear as if they were captured with film.

One thing that I despise about digital photography is that it sometimes looks digitized. I remember about 10 or 12 years ago I could easily pick out a digital image. Place two prints in front of me, one captured with film and one captured with a digital sensor, and I could tell you which was which. Digital pictures looked digitized.

Camera sensors have improved by leaps and bounds since then, but sometimes digital images still look digital. Film looks organic. I can still sometimes tell just by looking whether an image was captured using film or digital, although it is so much more difficult than it used to be.

I've heard some use the analogy of MP3 vs. vinyl--digital music is cleaner but vinyl is warmer and richer. It's similar with circuitry vs. vacuum tubes in amplifiers. Or electronic drums vs. real drums. I think there's some truth in those analogies, but they fall short for me because I'm not a musician, and because we're talking about visual art and not audible art.
Half Dome From Mirror Lake - Yosemite National Park, California
What I find about film that is superior to digital is that film looks organic--it looks to my mind how a photograph should--while digital sometimes doesn't. There is something about the silver grain and film tonality that is "right" and there are sometimes aspects within a digital image that are "wrong"--all of which are subtle.

With all of that said, 99% of my photography is digital nowadays. I occasionally shoot film, but digital is so much more convenient that I trade the look of film for the look of digital. I then use software in post-processing (Alien Skin Exposure 7) to mask the digitalness (is that a word?) of the photograph and make it appear more analogue. I'm not always successful and I still occasionally cringe when I can tell a photograph of mine is digital.

I don't like digital photography because of how it looks. I don't like film photography because it is much less convenient. The happy middle for me is digital film--taking my digital captures and manipulating them to look like film.

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