How Analog Film Helps Me Create Better Artwork

December 22, 2018  •  1 Comment

Tim Layton With Silver Gelatin Large Format PrintTim Layton With Silver Gelatin Large Format Print I have been thinking more lately about my black and white film workflow because I am writing a detailed article in the April 2019 edition of the Darkroom Underground about my fine art workflow, from beginning to end.

In this article today, I am going to share some of the primary reasons that I think film helps me create better images. 

Based on my experience, most people shooting film today are scanning their images and editing in Lightroom/Photoshop to make digital end products.  This is a personal choice and I have no opinion about the choices another photographer makes, nor do I really care because it doesn't impact me.  My hobby is wildlife photography and I use the latest video and digital cameras in my adventures.  I have been doing this for years and so I am very familiar with the modern digital photography process and workflow.  

I have made the personal choice to keep my fine art workflow completely analog from film capture to making my large 40x50 silver gelatin prints by hand in the darkroom and I believe my artwork has benefited from this choice. 

In no particular order, here are some of the reasons why I believe working with film vs. using the latest digital technology helps me create better images:

  • Once you master the analog process, you truly master it.  No more upgrades to Photoshop are required and no new editing technique or method to chase.  
  • I know my film, developers, and camera gear like they are part of me.  There are no upgrades to buy and nothing to chase.  By knowing the pros and cons of my tools, I can invest the majority of my energy into creating my best work.
  • I feel more connected to my work because of the tactile experience from loading the film and developing it in the darkroom to making my fine art prints by hand.  My hands are involved in every part of the process and I think this is part of the reason for my success.  I am connected to my work in a deep and passionate way.  
  • Film renders light differently than a digital sensor.  I believe part of the reason why my fine art prints are so well received is because of how the light is rendered via my analog process.  There aren't any digital noise or sharpening issues to manage in my images.  In my long exposure work in particular, the difference between a film-based image and a digital exposure is significant in terms of tonal values and unwanted noise artifacts.  I prefer the analog rendering, obviously.
  • Film and large format photography is very simple.  The tools and process can be mastered by anyone that invests the time and takes it seriously.  After the technical aspects are learned, it is about what I have to say and share, not about anything else. 
  • There are no digital file conversion issues to manage over time.  Digital photos require a software program and a computer to render the image and ultimately create the end product.  What happens to that digital file 10, 20, or 50 years down the road?  None of these issues relate to film because it is a physical medium.  In fact, I think film is the ultimate fine art photographer's medium because if a person wants to digitize the image, they can always use the latest and greatest technology available at that time.  All I need is the film, light, and some basic chemicals to make my photographs.  Simple is good.  
  • I am not distracted by the latest trends.  I could care less about the latest digital camera technology as it relates to my fine art workflow.  My process to make my fine art prints is the same as it was 25 years ago and it will be the same until I retire and it will be the same for my son too.  
  • I have no interest in setting in front of a computer for hours to create a digital image and press a button in Photoshop to have a computer make my print.  I do enough of this with my wildlife photography hobby and I have thousands of backlogged images that I have never even viewed yet.  I would get bored and probably stop making new images if this was my only choice.  I have to spend a lot of time marketing and promoting my artwork and business via the computer and the last thing I want is to spend my creative time on the computer. If I were wealthy and didn't need to market and promote my work, I would throw the computer in the trash and never look back, but unfortunately, that isn't an option at this time unless you are wealthy and want to take over my marketing operations... 

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Tim Schroll(non-registered)
Perfectly expressed. I couldn't agree more with the entire statement. Thank you. I too have had to use the digital workflow in my day job but, it has never changed my view of the darkroom experience. After 45 years of film and paper I have witnessed the "revolution" but never got caught up in it. But, I never tried to make my living with photography as you.
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