Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Still a Place for Film?

So, recently I decided to shoot some film because I realized I still had a bunch of it in a refrigerator, and also, I was curious how it might affect the way I took photos (compared to using a digital camera). My main question: Is there any reason to still shoot film...especially 35mm film?

Look of Film
First, I have to say, there are shots like these that only film can "pull off". This type of shot just looks crappy with digital cameras...DSLRs or otherwise. I think the dynamic range of print film and its "organic" grain structure make something like this work somehow. Sure, the digital camera makers try to emulate the looks of different films; but they're still just that: emulations, not the real thing.

Scarcity Breeds Scrutiny
Buying, developing, and scanning film isn't cheap in terms of money or time. When you're shooting film, you think twice before pressing that shutter release button. It's going to cost you something to take each shot; it better be worthwhile! I think there's something valuable about scrutinizing each shot carefully before taking it; the process engenders critical perception and evaluation, which seems to be an important part of growing as a accomplished photographer. Every once in a while I could kick myself for not triggering the shutter and thereby missing a possibly good shot! But more often than not, I'm glad for the discipline of framing and then resisting a pointless shot.

Creativity and Sensor Variety
Every time you put a different type of film into your camera, it's like putting a different sensor into your digital camera! How's that to stimulate creativity?! You get to decide on whether to have a color or black & white sensor, how it's going to handle highlights and shadows, color saturation, what sort of grain structure the image will have, and so on. If you don't like the "look" of the images you're getting, try a different film! What a great way to get a large variety of different types of images from one camera...:-).

Variable Sensor Resolution
I've recently been on a mission to get a compact camera with 35mm full-frame resolution. There have been some initial forays into this area by a couple of digital camera manufacturers (Sigma, Olympus), but there are issues with these preliminary offerings...and prices are at a premium.

There are some great compact film cameras (many of them no longer in production) from companies like Leica, Olympus, Yashica, Contax, Ricoh, Konica, etc that take 35mm SLR-quality photos with true 35mm full-frame resolution and beautiful bokeh on 35mm film. And that film can be scanned at various resolutions to yield almost any resolution digital file you need. I like to get my film developed and immediately scanned to digital files (I think most film processors now offer affordable scanning when you develop the film with them). And if you get a really great shot that you want to print large, you can always go back to the film frame and get it scanned at a different/higher resolution.

Light as Film
One thing that struck me about film cameras is how much lighter they are than their digital counterparts. Once you jam in an LCD and the rest of the electronics that go into a digital camera, it starts to get a little heavy and--often--bulky. Film cameras don't require much electronics (some have none); and if you make the camera body out of lightweight materials (e.g., various plastics), a compact film camera can weigh a matter of ounces. And since film consists of paper, thin plastic, resins, and a bit of thin metal, a "loaded" film camera weighs little more than an empty one.

Persistence of Analog
There are a few things I find unsettling about having most of my photos exist as digital entities only:
  1. I'm sure that someday, my computer (or whatever it might end up being called) will no longer be able to read information off of today's CDs and DVDs. Today's CDs and DVDs will become yesterday's floppy disks. There will be a window in which I'll have to copy all of my images to some other storage medium, or I can just say goodbye to my archives of digital images.
  2. I try to be good about backing up the images on my hard drive to other media. But this does not always happen. The spectre of losing images due to the failure of technological devices (which happens all too often) occasionally enters my consciousness...and is certainly a real danger.
  3. I keep hearing about how the quality of digital images on storage media degrades over time. I suspect film degrades some over time as well. I'm not sure which degrades faster; maybe I don't want to know...(!)
In any case, having photos on both an analog medium like film and also as digital images provides the ultimate in flexibility, accessibility, and safekeeping. There's some comfort in knowing you'll always be able to view, enlarge, scan, and print from an analog format like film regardless of what happens with digital/computer technology.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Alternate Way to Get a Compact Camera with a Full 35mm Frame "Sensor"

I've been wanting to have a compact camera with me sporting a high-quality lens that could take "publication" and "stock" quality photos. Most of the digital compacts have somewhat second-rate zoom lenses with puny & noisy sensors. The few exceptions (Sigma DP1/DP2 and the soon available Olympus E-P1) either have usability issues (Sigma) or aren't yet available and will be quite pricey (Olympus). The other issue with these cameras is that they don't come with optical viewfinders (though they're sometimes available as an expensive accessory)...which may not be an issue if you prefer using the rear LCD to frame shots anyway. I don't particularly like using the LCD because:
  • I prefer using a viewfinder for some reason
  • Having the LCD constantly on really drains the battery quickly
  • Even having an LCD adds quite a bit to the weight of the camera (any of you camera manufacturers considered a lightweight digital camera without an LCD? I think it would be interesting, because it would be more like shooting film where you don't see the results until you're done shooting...:-).
So, I've decided to try some highly-rated 35mm film compact cameras. I'll shoot the film and have it developed and scanned right to digital--like having a compact digital camera with a full 35mm frame sensor. My first acquisition: the Leica Mini II. It has a fixed 35mm f/3.5 lens. I will also be trying the highly rated Ricoh GR1s. Cost for the Mini: $90.

I'll publish results of my "experiment" in future blog posts.

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Mentality and Economics of Digital Photography

I recently took a vacation with my family, during which I took photos using a 35mm film SLR camera. It's going to cost me $125 or so to get the film developed and scanned to digital. (The cost of film processing without the scanning would be about $70.)

The same lens/lenses I use on my 35mm film SLR camera also work on my full-frame, 13 megapixel digital SLR. And being a wedding photographer, I have enough memory cards to store thousands of images, even if shot in raw format. For another $55 (bringing my total cost to $180), I could have gotten the developed 35mm film scanned to yield 16 megapixel-equivalent image files. But the $125 I'm paying only gets me 6 megapixel-equivalent scans.

So, you may be asking: "Why the heck would you shoot 35mm film when shooting with the digital SLR would be FREE since you already own the digital SLR and memory cards??"

There were three main reasons for my 35mm film folly:
  1. I have a bunch of leftover, out-of-date 35mm film (refrigerated) that I don't think I could sell for much anyway.
  2. I thought this out-of-date film might end up giving me some interesting artistic effects.
  3. I was curious how I might shoot differently knowing I was shooting film.
I haven't gotten the film back yet, so I don't know how the photos came out yet. (I'll speak to this in a follow-up blog post after I see the results.) But my shooting style was definitely affected and it got me thinking about how digital photography has changed photography.

One of the main things that stood out for me was how much more scrutiny I gave the image in my viewfinder before pressing the shutter button.

With digital, one tends to "shoot away" if anything even close to a possibly compelling image enters one viewfinder. I've seen some photographers take random shots without even looking into their viewfinders in hopes of luckily catching an interesting shot. (They check their LCDs and delete most of these...only keeping a few serendipitously interesting shots.) I've been "guilty" of such random shooting at wedding receptions when I'm holding the camera over my head to give it a view of the dance floor I don't have in hopes of catching something good.

From an economics point-of-view, "shooting away" with your digital camera makes sense: each additional shot gains another possible "winner" without any additional per unit cost (assuming you've got plenty of room left on your memory card/s). Sure, there was some additional cost involved in buying the digital camera and memory cards in the first place; but once this cost is absorbed, taking additional photos cost nothing financially.

Now, there is a "cost" involved in having to store and go through additional images *afterward* to find the good images and weed out the bad ones. But digital storage just keeps getting cheaper and cheaper and there are now services a photographer can employ to help him or her edit and adjust the thousands of images they've taken per photo session or event.

I considered making the argument that the money you would save by not having to keep updating your digital camera and computer equipment each year and not having to send your images out to one of these image editing/processing services would more than pay for all the film and film processing expenses (including having the film scanned to disks for proofs) you would incur. I'm not really sure how it would ultimately work out, and it would probably vary quite a bit from photographer to photographer, depending on the type of photography they specialize in, number of events per year, etcetera. However, I think this consideration is a good thing for all photographers to evaluate individually.

So, back to the issue of the added scrutiny I gave each image in my viewfinder before pressing the shutter button...does it matter?

There's a successful UK wedding photographer (Jeff Ascough, selected as one of the best wedding photographers in the world by various publications) who only shoots 200-300 images per wedding, even though he's shooting digital. In his blog post titled: "Less is More", he says: "For years I've worked on the principle of getting one exceptional image to tell the story of a particular moment, rather than lots of average pictures. If you cover a wedding with this mindset, not only does the photography improve, but so does the consistency of the coverage."

Here's my take: I think the added scrutiny you give a shot before pressing the shutter button *does* matter, in at least three ways:
  1. It helps you keep your photography "eye" critically trained. If you're "machine gunning" away, you've at least partially absolved yourself from judgements of quality of the images you're shooting.
  2. More scrutiny of the images you're capturing keeps you more "in the moment"...which should help keep you in closer touch with what you're photographing...which should, ultimately, lead to better images.
  3. You're not swimming in hundreds of mediocre images afterward, which I really think *has* to erode your judgement of images. With so many images, I find--at some point--it's difficult to evaluate what's good anymore. (Interestingly, I find it much easier to make these quality judgements if I wait some number of weeks after a wedding before looking at these hundreds or thousands of images.)
Now, it's not necessary to shoot film in order to implement more scrutiny and judgement in your photography. However, it can be an effective means for bringing your mindset back into the mode of more intentional and mindful photography to see if you notice a difference in the quality of the images you get.

When I get my film back, I'll let you know if the noticeable change in the mental part of my photography led to any differences in the actualy images I captured!

Michael Grace-Martin is a professional wedding, portrait, event, stock, and fine art photographer based in Upstate New York. He is also the author of this blog. All images and text are (c) Michael Grace-Martin Photography. His main website is: http://www.mgm-photography.com/.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Photos from a New York Wedding

When I started this blog, I intended to post more images than I have been. So, for the July 4th weekend, I've decided to put up some photos I took at a wedding in Upstate New York.(You can see more photos from this wedding at my other blog.)

When I do my "high-end" Candid ArtworksTM wedding photography package, I do extensive image processing in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, in which I apply various treatments to create images that stand out more than the sometimes "flat" images that come out of the camera. My wedding clients really seem to like this added processing...enough so that many are willing to pay the additional $1000+ to get it.

After doing the image processing for thousands of wedding photos, I've developed a number of presets (much like Photoshop Actions) that make the processing go faster. Also, having a library of presets makes it easier to find the best treatment for a particular image. If you haven't used Lightroom, you should know there's a "preview" feature wherein you can hover your mouse over your presets and see a preview of what the image will look like after applying the preset! This is both an incredible time-saver and helps to find the absolute best preset for the image.

Sometime soon, I plan to offer some of these presets for sale at my blog for a relatively nominal fee. So, keep a lookout for those...:-).