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FILM vs DIGITAL – Which one to use?

I wanted to share with you six things that I thought about when I’m deciding whether I’m going to use a digital camera or a film camera. I don’t really have a desire to shoot a wedding completely in film, and I don’t really have a desire to shoot weddings in completely digital. And so I have to figure out ahead of time when I’m going to be using digital and when I’m going to be using film. 

And these are the six things that I think about when I make that decision.


Pros and Cons of Film vs Digital Photography

The first thing is storytelling, how do I want to tell this story?

For me, the one of the first things I think about in storytelling is how is this image going to make you feel? And there’s a few things that change the feeling of the photo.

How in focus or how out of focus it is. How kind of sharp and hyper realistic is the image, what the colors look like, the type of lens and the compression that I’m using. I really think film and digital can tell different stories because I shoot differently on digital and I shoot differently on film. 

When I look at those images afterwards, it’s just this feeling that I get and it depends on what the story needs. And then I just follow my gut whenever my gut is telling me do I need to shoot film? Do I need digital? And I go from there.

Number two is shooting environment.

Low light and fast movement that I’m not controlling is a pretty easy scenario for me to decide to shoot in digital. So for a great example of this is a reception. You have a reception and maybe like the bridal party or the couple is coming in and you have lots of movement, unexpected movements, changing in lighting and all of these scenarios.

It makes complete sense for me to shoot digital in this scenario as opposed to film, because it just the capabilities of using a digital camera, being able to change my ISO on a dime. Things like that make it very easy for me to choose digital in that scenario.

But if I have lots of light and I’m able to direct all the movement, you know, I’m spending time with a couple at golden hour, you know, outside. That’s the scenario where I’m definitely going to be shooting film. 


Number three is connection.

This is a really important point for me. When I mean connection, I mean connection between me as a photographer and my subject. I find across the board, no matter how careful I am when I shoot digital, it’s very easy to get sucked into the image to get sucked into like: Oh, is it in focus? Oh, did I get it?

Like so much of my time is spent looking at the camera instead of connecting with my subject. So especially when I’m shooting portraits. Like, if I can shoot film, I will shoot film because my connection is with the subject as opposed to my camera.

And I think how I shoot that is one of the most important things like my best images come when there’s a good connection between my subject and me.

Number four is critical focus.

How important is sharp focus in this moment for this photo? A good example for this, for me, is when a bride is coming down the aisle, I have movement. This is a very important moment where focus could be very difficult on a camera that doesn’t have very good focusing capabilities or if you’re doing manual focus.

When hyper critical focus is important to one of these moments it’s very easy for me to choose digital. I don’t need to force myself to shoot film in scenarios where I just don’t need to.

Photo Editing

Number five is editing.

One reason why I love film is I get to send off my film to a lab. They do all their magic and then they send it back to me and it’s perfect and it’s done and I love it. And that has really helped my workflow when we are shooting wedding after wedding in the summer.

On the other hand, there are scenarios where I need to do a ton of editing or maybe the dynamic range. There’s like really bright brights, some really dark darks.

And an example for this is when I’m shooting interiors. So I have a few interior designers and there are scenarios where actually shooting film is not going to be very helpful for me because one, I’m dealing with a lot of bright areas and a lot of dark areas in one shot.

And so sometimes I need to do something like an HDR. Sometimes I need to be able to go in and edit. Edit an image quite heavily. And that’s where a digital camera is just incredible.

Number 6 is cost.

So I just purchased some more Kodak portra 400 120mm. And that price increase is a killer. So that’s a real consideration to think about as you’re shooting digital and film – is the fact that, you know, film just costs money every time you click that shutter. And so there needs to be, especially if you’re using it for a business, there needs to be a return on investment. It needs to make sense to shoot film in that moment. Is the film image really going to produce a better image? 

The reason I use film and the reason why I spend money on film and film development is because there are times where I believe that shooting film really does produce a better image, not just image quality. I think it’s really easy to get sucked down into something like if I took a digital image and a film image, which one would be better?

I actually don’t think that’s the relevant conversation when you’re deciding whether to shoot digital or film because it’s a really multifaceted choice. There’s so many more factors than just the final image quality. 

And so hopefully this helps you as you’re deciding whether to shoot more film because I really think you should. But it’s really helpful to know and to realize that you don’t have to shoot film for every single photo that you take. But at the same time, I really don’t think that digital can do everything that a film camera can do.

Luke Cleland