May 27, 2015

As part of our new Guest Blogger series we’ve reached out to our community of talented artists to share their knowledge, passion, and art! In this post, Dev Samaddar explains why film photography remains so important to his artistic process.

Once you have exposed a frame of film you cannot un-expose it. You cannot delete it. Once you develop a film you cannot change it. You have some leeway while developing to push or pull, but once you have committed to a process you can’t go back. Even while shooting, a film camera (without automatic film advance) isn’t as fast as a digital camera — you have to wind the film forward and that takes at least a second.


A digital camera can shoot multiple frames per second. This means with film you have to choose the precise moment when to press the shutter instead of holding it down and shooting twenty frames in burst mode. What is different here from digital photography is that at each step you have to make a decision that is irreversible. With digital, you can delete an image right in camera. When you develop a raw file with image processing software, you can endlessly change the settings (or presets) to arrive at the look you want. The only point of irreversibility in digital photography occurs during printing when you commit the image to paper, but even there, there is flexibility, as you can go back and change your digital image and print again. Even if you scan your negatives into digital images, you are stuck with the choices you made up until developing the film.

But you knew all this. What does this mean for you as an artist?


There are many “film vs. digital” discussions all over the internet. However, they all talk about the technical aspects—dynamic range, resolution, sensitivity, etc. Missing from that debate is the important perspective of art. Photography is no longer a science — it is now considered art. If you are painting with oil or watercolor, you don’t just apply paint without thought. Whether the subject is in front of you or in your mind, you take great care to compose and paint, because once you do it, it is irreversible. Therefore every brushstroke is deliberate, making painting a meditative activity.


The same is true for film photography. Once you realize that your actions are irreversible (and each shot costs money) you become more mindful of what you do. You compose more thoughtfully, you expose more carefully and you wait for the right moment to press the shutter. You are mindful and immersed in the act of shooting a photo. This slowing down, this immersion has a positive effect on your photography. If you develop and print your own photos then the same principle extends to your darkroom. If you send your film to a pro-lab afterwards, you lose control of part of the process, making it even more imperative that you get your part right while shooting. As you may realize, this is very different from the “click, click, click, chimp” routine many of us – including me – have with our digital cameras. Instead of purposeful shooting, we plaster thick expecting some to stick. Newer cameras offer even more distractions: they connect to tablets and phones and transfer the images immediately for onsite editing and sharing.


Digital photography is undoubtedly more convenient and there are specialized presets that can simulate the look of any film stock. But art is not just the destination, it is also the journey. It’s not the look of film, but the act of shooting film that helps you grow. Even if you primarily shoot digital, give film a try.

About the Author: I started my career with engineering turning to business/entrepreneurship but realized, in the words of Mr Keating from Dead Poets Society that, “medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” So I turned to poetry and photography, shooting both film and digital.

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