Film to digital

There and back again – from film to digital! Every action has a reaction and it’s not different this time. Follow my transition from film to digital.

After leaving the digital photography world pretty soon after discovering photography in general I started to shoot on film. But nowadays it’s more about technical improvements in the darkroom instead of shooting pictures. Are you struggling with film or just want to get back to your digital camera? Let me tell you my story and try to give you an insight on this matter.

Why film

So why did I start shooting film? Back then I believed it would make me stand out, make me different than all the other photographers out here in Belgium, especially in model photography. Until this day it is still not too common, many of the people that I’ve worked with were inexperienced with getting photographed on film. After a while I realised it doesn’t make you stand out, it only makes you different. I liked the look of film, the endless possibilities in black and white and the great colours and compared to digital low cost for shooting 35mm or medium format in acquiring the right gear. I’m a black and white shooter, not disliking colour but not liking it either.

Film made everything look different, but felt more like a hit or miss at the beginning. You have to know the film you are using and how it will react do different things. It’s a great process, maybe even a must do for every photographer because it’s so technical, you get to look different at every aspect of photography. Again, if you are a black and white shooter – do it. I did not understand black and white until I got to work with black and white film. It’s so different compared to colour,  a whole new world. Working with film means less distraction, slower shooting, more focused on what you actually have to do and get things right. Every step in the film process feels like a layer of quality control, it counts. The more confident you feel with film the more that feeling goes away just slightly. However every roll I developed in these years felt exciting to do, it’s feels always like it is the first time only with more confidence.

Then there is the darkroom part, digitally I never printed anything. On film I was printing on a weekly or monthly basis depending on the shots I wanted to print. The proces of making your own black and white print with the perfect blacks, shadow detail up to the midtones and highlights. The smell of chemicals, the time you are spending in the darkroom is an experience that you need to enjoy and feel. B&W film gives you endless possibilities in film and their developers and after that you get another range of endless possibilities in paper, paper developer, toners, .. so much things you can try and learn. It opened up my eyes, so much things that in the digital world is “normal” but in the film world you need very precise skills to obtain the same result. So yes, film makes you different and I also believe it makes you a better photographer. It makes you choose, things that you like it’s much easier to copy others digitally than it is on film, you will find your own preferences.

The pause

After my exhibition “Women Behind Emotions” in June, 2016 I was a little bit stuck. I didn’t think of doing anything after that project. Been printing 3 months on the exhibition to come up with 27 prints (30×40 cm) on fiber paper. It takes an enormous amount of precision and patience to complete something like that. It was a though job and I was quite happy but lost when finished. So I didn’t pick up camera for weeks or even months. In August I had to give a model photography workshop in Germany together with MeinFilmLab, it got me started again. I was always into fashion photography right from the start and that was my direction after weeks of getting inspiration from my surroundings I knew what I wanted to do.

But, let’s take a break here. Yes, I wanted to make pictures and try out new things but it never came to that point. What I didn’t tell you is that in those 3 months of printing I had numerous of problems with contrast, over and underdevelopment/exposure. It was a nightmare, the lack of skill and knowledge at the beginning made things hard and after the exhibition I wanted to figure out what was wrong. So all my photography time really went into worrying and not shooting. Why do I have these problems, even though everything seems okay? Long story short I didn’t take any photographs and only started researching about technical things.

Film is a nice thing and most of the people really don’t go into detail as much as I did, but I wanted it to be good. Understand the why and how because if you don’t you keep ending up with inconsistent results which I personally didn’t like. All these things made me want to quit film, but I had good reasons not to do so: the look, the darkroom and archiving. So I ended up choosing digital for my next series. Funnily enough when seeing these inconsistent things on other film shooters their work, it doesn’t bother me at all. For colour, I really like colours on film but when you only shoot 2-3 rolls of colour a year I just quit shooting colour on film and do it digital.

For the digital part – it really feels good knowing that digital gives the opportunity to experiment a lot easier and try out a lot more. Where film defines you, digital helps experimenting.

Quitting film? No not really

I will still use film – the small camera’s, the robustness, the look and process is a winner. So don’t give up on film, it’s a great medium and hopefully will keep me fresh when shooting partial digital again. The Women Behind Emotions series was perfect for film, something really personal – I’d like to stick with that concept by only shooting very personal things on film.

Still have plenty of film camera’s and rolls of Kodak Tri-X to be used. My film days are not gone!

Back to digital

Have to be honest here, I really needed a push from some friends to actually take the step. I was quite scared to do it, since I have been telling everyone the last couple of years that film rocks and then end up with a digital camera in my hands. There were a few things that I was not sure of like archiving and such but I’m working on future blog posts about this. Currently I’m using Amazon Glacier as an off-site backup strategy. It’s very low cost and provides everything you need for a good and safe backup system. It requires some IT knowledge so I’ll probably setup a tutorial pretty soon.

So to write a conclusion. Film is still my holy grail, film is the thing that let’s you know why photography is there in the first place. There is no hate towards film or digital, each medium has it’s place and film is a long lasting medium which should be respected. Looking forward to explore the digital world again.


Sebastian Schlueter December 12, 2016 Reply

I can only underline that is very important to follow your inner voice! Your first examples look very promising. Cannot wait to see more.
Kindest regards

Jesse Struyvelt December 13, 2016 Reply

Thank you Sebastian!

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