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Photography: Digital vs. Film
by Paul F. Gero, The Wedding Photojournalist Association
Recently there is no topic that creates as much impassioned conversation when it is discussed among photographers. In the current Wedding Bells magazine, there is an article that describes the total digital transformation of three photographers including Monte Zucker (the famous portraitist), Jeff Hawkins (a Florida photographer) and Denis Reggie (who many would consider the father of documentary wedding photography).
There are impassioned supporters of both film and digital. As a photographer who has used film for over twenty years and digital for the last six years, I would have to say that, at the time of this writing, it's just about a dead heat.
At least fairly recently (the last two years and especially this past year), film did surpass the quality of digital capture, in my opinion. Film does still handle certain situations better than does digital, but for all practical purposes, they will both produce professional results IN THE HANDS OF A PROFESSIONAL.
Some of these professionals are 100 % digital (i.e. David Beckstead or Denis Reggie) while others still prefer film only or a combination of the two. (I still like to shoot a little 3200 Kodak Tmax for the look it gives).
Digital, though, is revolutionizing the photographic industry in a way that has been nothing short of astounding. It is here in the present and will be down the road. And like computers, it will only get better, faster and cheaper (at least the cost of the tools).
When researching a photographer who shoots digitally it is important to discern if that photographer is relatively new to the technology or has been using it for a longer period of time (and thus should have the bugs worked out).
Examine photographs made by the photographer using digital capture. Most likely, that photographer will have work that was also captured with film. Compare them and see if you can tell the difference.
When I discuss digital vs. film with prospective couples these days, I find much less resistance than I did a year ago. Couples are usually pretty technologically savvy and often follow the developments in our industry, at least on the periphery.
Any opposition some might have to digital goes away when I show them images that are captured on digital (on a Canon 1d - 4.1 megapixel chip camera) that are quite large (14' x 22' full bleed in an 11 x 14 inch album).
They also see many images that have been captured on film, though scanned. Some folks are able to notice the differences, but most really don't care.
What they care about are the images and the feelings that they capture and evoke. That's really what it comes down to and the main reason we are hired.
Digital does, though, offer several advantages to the photographers while working.
1) The ability to see the image right away. This is my favorite reason for using digital capture. It gives me a level of comfort because I can see if my lighting, expression, exposure, etc. are correct right away rather than wait to see the film back from the lab in a few days.
2) The ability to change the ISO (or the equivalent of film speed) on the fly. This allows the photographer to go in and out of a myriad of lighting situations without having to suddenly change film to match the light levels from place to place at a wedding.
3) A virtually unlimited number of photographs can be captured at an event. This can be the boon and the bane of the photographers' existence, though, because if you shoot them, you've got to edit them. But it frees the photographer from thinking "I can only shoot 10, 12 or whatever number of rolls of film at this event in order to keep it within budget."
4) The ability to make black and white and sepia toned photographs from the digital capture. When one shoots digitally (unless they are captured in a black and white only mode on the Fuji S2) every photograph can become a black and white and/or sepia image. Parents may want an image in color, the couple may want to have it in black and white.
5) Digital workflow. Many photographers now offer what is often called a magazine style (or flush mounted) album. Images shot on film would have to be scanned in order to produce this type of album. While it is totally doable, it adds time and another step in the process. Digital capture eliminates the scanning and often the time spent dust spotting the scan made from negatives (Though I know of a very talented photographer -- George Weir, who is a WEDDING PHOTOJOURNALIST ASSOCIATION member -- who prefers film and has his images scanned to disk to allow him to still post images online and then create images for his lab. He has created a digital workflow without using digital capture and is very pleased with the results).
6) Freedom to experiment. This is a corollary to reason one. I will often shoot images that I would not even try with film because I know I will be able to erase it if it doesn't work and modify it because I'll be seeing the results immediately. I was on a foreign trip last year and stuck in the bus on a rainy day. I literally pointed the camera out the window and just made some exposures just for the fun of it. And it was fun! Some of those images were totally unexpected and I would not have "wasted" film on it. But because I had the immediate feedback I could see what was working, modify it as I shot and make some different images.
Despite all the buzz about film vs. digital what it gets right down to when selecting a photographer are the images and personality.
Do you like the feel and the style of the images that the photographer shows? Do you LIKE the photographer? Do you trust him or her? Do they exude confidence about the work they do and the tools that they use? Do they have raving fans who will share testimonials with you?
The Wedding Photojournalist Association (WPJA) consists of professional photographers that document weddings and events in a candid, natural way. We prefer to work in an unobtrusive way capturing the real moments as they happen. Most of us have developed our skills working for newspaper and/or magazine publications.
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