Why I appreciate film photographers

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by Bellamy /

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Why I appreciate film photographers… by Alex Jackson-Smith
A guest post for the weekend. Alex Jackson-Smith discusses how the internet has changed the way photography is perceived, and the arguements that have followed over the digital vs film debate. An interesting piece that is certain to lead to its own discussion.

Why I appreciate film photographers, even though I’ve now gone digital. (or Finding Fellow Photographers – How?)

I am very frustrated with the internet. The internet showed promise in making portfolios from thousands of fellow photographers available for me to review and learn from as well as provide a place where we can discuss what matters and express our opinions. Whilst the status of the photographer, be they hobby through to professional is not relevant to me; what does matter is that I still can’t be sure who is really a photographer and who is mostly a “post-production artist”. The difference as I see it, is whether the captured image is near the end of the artistic process or the captured RAW image actually represents virtually the start for the artist’s input.

So many sources, be they channels on youtube or websites with advice, promise to help you with your photography. In many cases however, the exchange and thinking is in Photoshop and not photography. Indeed we are flooded with images that are of unknown source. Since when did we respect Cartier-Bresson, photographers from National Geographic or Pulitzer Prize Winners for their Photoshop skills? They probably don’t or didn’t have any Photoshop skills, they are not allowed to use Photoshop and more importantly they are photographers and don’t need to.

I personally love the Botanical Gardens in Munich and when going round often I come across; reflections, shadows and highlights that ruin super compositions.

How can a person that concentrates on the post production approach benefit from my experience. I go on and return to the plant later when the sun is positioned differently, but this can’t be done in photoshop. This is pre click thinking and can’t benefit an artist of post production; they would be forced to think my way.

Equally them telling me of some super add-on or option for an effect would be useless, as the truth of the image is fundamental to me.

It seems, that digital post-production artistry is also very different from people developing and printing their own film, because especially with film users they very much have to work the image mostly in the camera.

Therefore, for me and my expectation of a community to which I feel I can belong is very much influenced by how an image arrives in its final published state. I can’t discuss what I do to work an image wholly at the time of taking the picture with someone who leaves much of the artistic input to post-production. Our styles are miles apart.

Control and thinking pre-the-click, so to speak, compared with the retrospective “sequences of clicks, sliders and undo” are totally different philosophies and practices. Both might get visual results that can be “impressive” or “powerful”, but the path is so very very different.

Understand me, it is not that their thinking “double-clicks” is less valid than my thinking “pre-click”, it is just that we have no common-ground.

I still have two problems with this situation.

Firstly the definition of photographer has been adopted by people who can create wonderful art using a computer, they deserve a personal title for their style of work, in much the same way as traditional photographers deserve not having theirs confused or diluted.

Secondly, there are more photoshop users than traditional photographers, so finding people with the same philosophy and practice is difficult considering the term Photographer has been made more generic.

So whilst I left film years ago, perhaps you now understand why I appreciate those that do still use film and share their knowledge and experience. For whatever their skill level, their personal composition style, their choice of format or lens, I can be more sure that they are in thinking and process more on my wavelength; and with them I can learn and share.

It seems therefore our ability to understand and share with each other depends upon “the when” in the process that we use to create most influence and artistic impact on our images. And until we can be sure of whom, in style and approach, we are talking to, we will be frustrated and enter into battles that are meaningless.

Too much emphasis has been given to the argument over digital sensor or film emulsion as a basis for photographers having something in common or not, but surely this is simply a personal choice of medium for expression, not the philosophy of technique.

Alex Jackson-Smith – www.jackson-alexander.com

– Examples of my approach can be found in the videos I publish on youtube.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa1j9JodTVrxCGiZmX7o43w

Alex is English, lives with his German wife in a small village in Germany about 60km East of Munich.
Photography was a hobby that he took up from around the age of 16 having been given his fathers old setup of a Mamiya DSX1000, with 28mm, 55mm, and 105mm Mamiya fixed lenses.
Having started photography in a purely manual environment, the move to digital was awkward due to the over automated systems. Several digital cameras later, Alex now uses a Nikon D5200 (Entry level DX) together with the excellent AIS lenses; 28mm f3.5 (42mm in DX), 50mm f1.8 (75mm in DX) and 80-200mm f4.5 (120-300mm in DX), used by the professionals of yesteryear. This setup has created a personally comfortable balance of a system for old school photographic practice with affordable high quality glass but no film costs and no film swapping.
As a principle, editing post-production is avoided in all but crop, sharpening and colour balance, and even this is rare.
Examples of work are best found on his youtube channel, showing work from different locations which may be interesting for visitors to Germany looking for interesting photo-op’s.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Alex. An interesting line of thinking, as I am sure there are people that disagree with you. But I personally agree with your final line “surely this is simply a personal choice of medium for expression, not the philosophy of technique”.

What about you guys? What are your thoughts on this? Please share with us in the comments below.

JCH

20 comments on “Why I appreciate film photographers”

    Adrian August 8, 2016 at 1:07 am / Reply

    Not really, you can do a lot of “Photoshop” with film too. See Ansel Adams and his dark room and techniques.

    Float August 8, 2016 at 1:11 am / Reply

    I finally have an article to link to people to explain why I prefer film. I have always described it as “front loading” skill where you try to take the final image when you press the shutter. Digital to me often follows a “back loaded” skill approach. You take the most clean, neutral, adaptable file possible with too wide of a lens and pick the framing, colors, and even details of the shot later.

    Too bad there are people who shoot film, scan and photoshop their pictures only to post them with #BelieveInFilm hashtags.

    Michael Chong August 8, 2016 at 1:55 am / Reply

    I read your article with great interest and I believe share common ground as well. Personally, I have more respect and admiration for an image that is untouched by a digital brush. There is a moment of truth in that image. Years ago I read a story written by Galen Rowell, a nature photographer who was quite passionate in keeping his images as pure as possible. I can’t recall what the circumstances were, but something unheard of occurred right in front of him. He was alone, there was nobody else to witness the event. He grabbed his camera and was ready to shoot, but decided not to. Why? Because if he did, he would be accused of creating or manufacturing the image. Sadly, he died almost 14 years ago in a climbing accident. I’m certainly not against the use of Photoshop, it’s an amazing creative tool. But for me, I try to avoid as much back end work as possible, and have a strong image right from the start.

    Adrian Ward August 8, 2016 at 4:37 am / Reply

    I came back to film about two years ago , I current get my film developed and scanned by a lab in the UK , initially I spent a bit of time playing in Lightroom getting the look , I like but gradually I have been getting nearer and nearer with less Lightroom and more in camera , the use of filters , settings and film choice
    I was given a Hasselblad recently , it was in very sad state and cost a lot for a full service , but the first two rolls , were the first time I’ve been satisfied at my results without any post production in Lightroom
    https://flickr.com/photos/55288722@N00/sets/72157668711965204

    Alex Jackson-Smith August 8, 2016 at 4:57 am / Reply

    >Michael Chong

    “respect and admiration for an image that is untouched” – Agreed, but perhaps this is only possible because we know how much effort, skill and practice is needed? And for those using film it is even less forgiving !! :)

    My niece in the UK was in the Photography course for her exams this year, this meant photoshop and only photoshop – It drove her nuts, making the sky red, replacing the clouds, making night to day and so on! My father and I gave her a different perspective, most youngsters don’t get that unfortunately. – At least JCH, the forum and the people here exist!

    “Galen Rowell” – Thanks for the heads-up, I had never heard of him. I live in the sticks, thats my excuse.

    Alex.,

    Alex Jackson-Smith August 8, 2016 at 5:07 am / Reply

    > Float

    I’ve battled on this one for years to refine what felt so wrong, but was so hard to say. Digital wasn’t the issue per se, as I was using it. The penny dropped when someone on a JCH article a couple of days ago said, “Digital for B&W would be c**p”. This made me click as to the real reason I feel there is a problem.

    That this formulation goes some way to help some of us to defend what we believe in is good.

    Michael Chong August 8, 2016 at 6:39 am / Reply

    My bad, Galen Rowell and his wife died in a plane crash in California. Look him up, some really amazing photos!

    Christian August 8, 2016 at 7:02 am / Reply

    I’m not a fan of using Photoshop or Lightroom myself but the shift is only natural. Not everyone used to be able to operate a camera before the digital automation we have today, now it’s fairly easy for anyone to produce a sharp and properly exposed picture. If everyone can shoot a decent picture, naturally the focus would shift onto post-production as a way of putting your personal spin on things.

    I cringe at a lot of HDR or crazy intense astro & foreground composites but I can still appreciate the work that goes into them and every now and then I see something I really like.

    Film photography as it is practiced today has little left of the early days purity that film shooters often claim. Most people don’t print their own shots, a lot don’t even develop their own B/W and all the work that used to happen in the darkroom is handed over to someone in a lab. Not all the early greats were great darkroom printers but don’t forget that darkroom printing was the analogue Photoshop and the creative process in film photography was never done when your film had dried. Too many film shooters these days add a ‘shot on film’ when posting online as if that somehow turned an average shot into a great one. It’s usually the one who put the least amount of work in themselves too.

    So to conclude, I agree with most of your opinions but this article ties into the endless ‘Film vs Digital’ debate in which I ultimately agree with Bellamy’s idea of ‘Just shoot whatever you want’ and well, appreciate any photo you want

    I am guilty of the hybrid workflow too (Self dev & scan) and like to spend the least amount of time in digital post-production but the hip & lazy film shooter is in my eyes often less creative pre-Photoshop than a savvy digital shooter. If every film shooter were to shoot, develop, print and THEN scan those prints before uploading them we’d have a different story.

    Also don’t forget that photography is only so much about showing ‘truth’. Photos have been manipulated excessively since mankind started taking them. Part of the fun of photography is showing what we can’t see the same way with our own eyes.

    paul r August 8, 2016 at 8:52 am / Reply

    Interesting article.

    I find many of the pictures I see on photo-sites over-produced, and in the worst instances, everything in the frame has been heightened to such a degree that the picture in question achieves no harmony between elements, and ends up lacking a strong centre of interest.

    I shoot film irregularly. (I’d do it more often if film and commercial processing weren’t so expensive.) Most of the time I shoot digital — but almost always in jpeg, occasionally taking advantage of non-standard in-camera picture styles. I rarely do any post-processing beyond occasional cropping and sharpening. I spend enough time already in front of my computer without adding to it unnecessarily by excessive post-processing. This ‘minimalist’ approach sits well with my aesthetic and lifestyle preferences.

    Carlos August 8, 2016 at 5:07 pm / Reply

    Hmmm, “why I shoot whatever” is often nothing more than “why I feel I have to motivate, manipulate, whatever others”. Stop ruling each other. Make a picture and explain your thoughts and actions on/with it, or show your findings on some experiment, artistic or technical, show your experience. But please let others judge if they prefer to gain from your experience or not. Talk about you, not us or others. Otherwise its of no use, just running others over.
    to me these posts are just killing the purpose of a blog, as these constant film over digital, true over wrong, candid over photoshop, old over new school, digital over anything else, medium-format forever is a little sign of passion, sure, but the words basically saying, look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me.
    No, please don’t look at me, look at yourself, what you created and show that, how you did it, ok, maybe an occasional candid bag shot, too.
    Or just ignore whatever I say, or others, whoever, whatever. ;-)
    just – have – fun – being creative.
    C#

    Aivaras August 8, 2016 at 11:30 pm / Reply

    Interesting article. While I don’t fully agree that shooting film can guarantee more natural picture, but I’m big fan of photography where production skills are more important then postproduction.
    To me its not medium ,that matters – its state of mind. I’d would call such approach – “fair photography”. One can see soul of picture rather then specs affects.

    Alex Jackson-Smith August 9, 2016 at 12:30 am / Reply

    Carlos,

    I’m sorry you interpreted the article this way. If expressing the difficulties I have and the admiration that I have for others constitutes “motivate, manipulate, whatever others” then I have not done a good job. “Talk about you, not us or others.” – That is what I tried to do!

    The intent was actually to express my appreciation of the people using film because “I” think “I” understand more about how they get the shot and I can benefit from them (we can share). “I” was expressing that in the photoshop world we live in, “Photography” is not a term “I” can use to find people easily. In addition “I” think that film and digital as a medium are irrelevant and the problem for “me” is that trying to share methods or techniques with people that do post-production would waste their time and “mine”.

    So far “I” have found most people on this site to be amicable and “I” can profit from them. – (personally I prefer: we have something in common, but if “I” is so important to you…)

    I’ll try and write it better next time.

    best regards
    Alex.,

    Jarrod Hills August 10, 2016 at 3:43 am / Reply

    This was an interesting read but I have to echo sentiments above. Before it was called ‘Photoshop’ it was called dodging and burning and just like Lightroom and Photoshop, it took a developed skillset. The thing is that now, that skillset is avaialble to a lot more people and no longer involves hours in a dark room, well, maybe it still does. Now it can be done using equipment that is available to all.

    While I do not call myself a ‘photographer’, I do enjoy taking photos, film and digital. And I do some LR work on both at times. And, I do not feel guilty about it whatsoever.

    Gavin Go August 11, 2016 at 10:37 am / Reply

    Always tempted to get LR or Photoshop for my workflow but the problem is time. As an enthusiast, I have work which more often than not is overloaded. Thinking of it, this will require time to use. It also doesn’t excite me to modify the picture other than the Auto feature of Capture One. Also some rotating functions helps with minor cropping (almost none). This challenges me to compose the pictures properly before pressing that shutter button.

    It is the same as the addiction to high megapixels. It just isn’t needed. I print A3 size on a Canon Pro 1 and it looks great. Imagine I scan the film using Kodak Pakon (not plus).

    My opinion is that there are big differences with Film and Digital in terms of experience. I’m trying to cut short my workflow that is why I’m trying to love digital. But, I still grab even the T2 just to be able to shoot and carry all around. It makes me happy I don’t understand. It releases me from the modernity of life, slows me down, excites me waiting, expecting the unexpected, grain even noise makes me happy, differentiation from main stream and many more. It brought me back to my younger days where don’t have the resources to have these beautiful cameras and lenses at a bargain.

    Digital is so advance nowadays that you’ll never make a mistake at any given price point. The mistakes is only your skill in my opinion. Of course, another is your goal differentiating from portraits, landscape, sports, wildlife, street, family shooting etc. The worst is GAS.

    Happiness is not obsession to the right gear or the right system but the photographs we take. When our photographs are framed and hanged, I think it is the ultimate satisfaction anyone will have may it be a wall or a digital wall (flickr, instagram etc).

    Hernandp August 11, 2016 at 6:18 pm / Reply

    Let’s not forget that many film greats, HCB among them, left their darkroom work to pros and that the work they did to get the images was often substantial. It’s just a matter of the tools used to get the same end result. And people forget, digital has been a part of the pro workflow since the early Eighties. It’s not a recent development. With that in mind and by this writer’s definitions, many of the photogs the author would qualify as real photographers, aren’t.

    Alex Jackson-Smith August 12, 2016 at 6:11 pm / Reply

    > Hernandp

    SORRY I HAVE TO DO IT THIS WAY AS “REPLY” DOES NOT WORK FOR ME! it keeps adding a new thread??

    I am confused on the HCB darkroom work statement you made.

    WIKIPEDIA – HCB:
    “He believed in composing his photographs in the viewfinder, not in the darkroom. He showcased this belief by having nearly all his photographs printed only at full-frame and completely free of any cropping or other darkroom manipulation.[2]” (2 – is the NYT article below)

    The original source: NYTimes says:
    “He insisted that his works not be cropped but otherwise disdained the technical side of photography; the Leica was all he ever wanted to use; he wasn’t interested in developing his own pictures.”

    Which is not the same as “HCB among them, left their darkroom work to pros and that the work they did to get the images was often substantial.”

    This interests me, where is the source for “substantial work” or any “working the image post production” with HCB? He was so fixated on no crop being performed, I find it hard to rationalise that the rest of the content could be so easily “fixed” with such a mindset. But I am open to be corrected.

    On the issue of editing. The issue is not if you do or don’t, it is if the majority of artistic input is in one or the other that has an impact on sharing common ground. I just happen to be extreme and take an even stricter set of rules than photojournalism. This position is just personal choice, not I’m right and others wrong as some have interpreted! Guilt, as some have expressed, does not come into the issue, however honesty in the presentation of ones work is. If one is proud of an image that has been made extraordinary in photoshop, surely the person can be proud enough to say so.

    best regards
    Alex.,

    Pat August 13, 2016 at 1:45 am / Reply

    Galen Rowell, his wife and the pilot were killed in a plane crash- not a climbing accident. Sorry, he did use photoshop when it came out (from crazy high resolution film scans) and before that touched up by hand. One of the most amazing things Ansel Adams could do was post process in the darkeroom. He taught one other person his post process(darkroom) technique- THAT’S why his original prints are so valuable. Here’s a fun read about that famous James Dean photo: http://petapixel.com/2013/09/12/marked-photographs-show-iconic-prints-edited-darkroom/

    The final image is how the photographer artist saw it in his mind’s eye as he took the picture.

    Henry August 15, 2016 at 10:45 pm / Reply

    “HCB among them, left their darkroom work to pros and that the work they did to get the images was often substantial.”

    – I think the author just means that the work happened BEFORE the picture was taken. It’s quite true that Cartier-Bresson was completely uninterested in developing and printing his own photographs. He left that work to George Fevre and others at agencies at the Picto agency in Paris.

    Henry August 15, 2016 at 10:53 pm / Reply

    Nice article by the way and I agree with the sentiment expressed in there. In fact one of the reasons I switched to film myself is that I realised I was spending a lot of time trying to get my images from my nice digital camera to look like something nice. Now I know that a cheap $30 film camera from eBay has a killer black and white mode which cannot be replicated in software :-). I also agree that it is much, much better to try to decide what kind of photograph you want to take *before* you take the photograph, rather than after…

    Randle P. McMurphy November 7, 2016 at 11:11 pm / Reply

    A picture is a interpretation of life and a subjectiv view
    can never claim to be objectiv or true.
    Take a way the color is a lie too but nobody would say
    black & white photography is a lie right ?
    By the choose of your lens you influence the meaning
    of a picture too – a lie ?

    That all is photographie and we have to define the thin red line now !

    Adding or put something out of your picture is manipulation
    on another level and maybe exact what the writer meant…….

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