Film & Digital, Discipline & Whimsy; “In The End, The Photographs Always Win”

When the film vs. digital debate lathers up, it is not uncommon to see passion—and single-mindedness—from proponents on both sides. But when patrons to my booth at art shows ask me, “Do you use film or digital?” My answer is, “Both, and my photographs are better for it.” By fusing the best of both worlds, I am able to simultaneously tap into discipline and whimsy, planning and tinkering, thought and feeling. In the end, the photographs always win.

I’m an 80/20 guy: I shoot about 80 percent digital and 20 percent film. It’s not that I can’t “make the transition” from film. As a matter of fact, I had been shooting exclusively digital for sometime before I dusted off my 35mm cameras. The reason for revisiting them was growth. I found that when I spent time shooting solely film, my subsequent digital work improved because of the refresher course in discipline, planning, and thought that film provided. Conversely, by embracing the freedom of digital, I’ve been able to experiment and grow in ways and at rates I never would have realized if I had been working exclusively with film. So now, when I pick up my 35mm, I’m able to draw upon the wild and free experiences afforded to me by digital.

When shooting film, I am filled with feelings of process and meditation. I feel different—and I photograph differently—when I have a 35mm camera to my eye than when I am using my digital. It all begins with routine. To this day, I still get that small rush of excitement when opening a box of film and popping the canister. I love the promise and permanence of the leader as it threads in the camera and the back snaps shut. I like knowing that the pace of artistic life is going to be measured out in counts of 24 or 36.

When shooting film, we naturally employ thought, patience, and consideration. We strive to make every frame count because we know we are limited. We also know we must be committed to each frame because by the time the film is processed, we will not have an opportunity to revisit those moments in the event something wasn’t quite right. As a result, we develop a discipline, an eye, and a feel.

The digital world, by comparison, is a freewheeling, carpe diem thrill ride. Memory by the gig is plentiful and cheap. We munch it like popcorn. Digital photography affords us an opportunity to experiment, to fail, and to perfect. With a digital camera and a few memory cards, we can shoot for hours, losing all track of time. Digital provides the opportunity to play in ways film doesn’t afford. When I have my digital camera to my eye, I am always looking for—and trying—one more shot from one more angle. Often, it doesn’t work and that’s just fine because sometimes it does work and I learn something.

I love the instant gratification digital gives me. I love the chance to approach a scene from a wide gamut of perspectives and view points. I love being able to set a buffet of electronic photos and graze until I find that perfect one. With digital, we are given permission to develop whimsy, new perspectives, and impulse.

Ultimately, it makes sense to create a hybrid workflow that is an amalgam of the best film and digital have to offer. What photographer wouldn’t like to be able to call upon method while dancing with novelty? Who wouldn’t like to develop an instinct flavored with spontaneity? By drawing upon the skills honed through shooting in the contrasting worlds of film and digital, we can fine-tune our photographic expertise holistically. We create our own overall vision. We prepare ourselves for eventualities. We unlock our creativity in new and exciting ways. In the end, the photographs always win.