Woman in a red dress offering a bunch of sea grapes

I recently attended an artists retreat with some lovely people. There were photographers, sculptors, painters, poets and writers and some great cooks amongst them! We spent three nights at an old house on the far south coast of New South Wales. It’s there that many of the photographs featured in recent posts were taken. When I get around to it I’ll even publish them all in the same place when I can get my head around all the great things that went on there.

For this post though I wanted to talk about the beauty of film. I took two cameras to the retreat; my Nikon digital and my Mamiya medium format camera. I got the medium format negatives and scans back from the lab this week. When I first started out in photography there was none of this digital business. I learned to develop my own negatives and darkroom techniques for turning those negatives into photographic prints … the smell of acetic acid still holds a dear place in my heart as does the smell of a freshly opened pack of film. It’s a wonderfully analog process – layers of light sensitive emulsions on a clear base change chemically when exposed to light. I like to think that my post-processing of my digital pictures for the most part mimics what I could do in the darkroom albeit on a much compressed time scale. I rarely manipulate my images much beyond tonal controls and cropping anyways. While I have embraced the digital revolution and all the whizzbangery it offers the modern photographer … there’s something about shooting film (apart from its smell).

The saturation and dynamic range surpasses that of my digital camera (a D80) and the rendering of detail is a wonderful thing to look at. In the photo of friend Greer presented above I had a roll of (very out of date) Fujichrome NPC160 film … we’re talking EXP:2007(!) which was given to me by another friend who’d had the film in his fridge since then. The negs came back beautifully. I took a similar shot with the Nikon but it doesn’t have anywhere near the presence that this one has. Another consequence of shooting film is how much you value each frame. I get between 12-15 frames from a roll of medium format. I have to remind myself that it’s both not very many and ample! That and how spoiled I have become with auto-focus, adjustable ISO and instant preview. When shooting 35mm I still find myself instantly checking the back of the camera to see how the shot came out 😉

How about you? Are you purely digital? Did you transition from film to digital or have you only ever known digital? Have you returned to the beauty of film or picked it up anew? I’m interested in this … do tell!

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