Category Archives: philosophy

Why use film?

Is film better than digital?

There is plenty of acrimony out there in the disagreement between film and digital photographers. There is also plenty of people for whom the medium doesn’t matter in the slightest.

In my case, I feel the need to pontificate, mostly because I can’t help being opinionated and I like to share those opinions. So there.

I think in some ways, film is indeed superior to digital for recording images.

Why? First, the look of a film image is different. The medium as well as the camera and lens combinations lends a more unique look to the images. Digital tends to bring a sameness, a uniformity to the look of an image, as does the processing that follows. True, you can’t tell with some. But overall, there is a difference and with digital, I find you lose something when you lose those unique qualities that film, let alone alternative capture methods, brings. Why else are film based filters so popular for digital shooters?

Not only is there a diminishment in unique qualities, there is also a loss of serendipity, unique results, happy accidents. While you might make mistakes, digital doesn’t have real flaws nor can you induce unknown results by playing with chemicals or processes. And messing about with Photoshop doesn’t count I’m afraid.

Second, there is the process. Film, by nature of it’s scarcity, (as few as 12 shots in a roll let alone single sheets), requires you to slow down, think abut your shots and make them count. Yes, you can do that when you shoot digitally, but how many people do? While the bountiful nature of digital does mean some additional freedom is possible in your approach, how many rely on number of frames versus quality of frames?

Professsionals used to shoot film, they got the shots, and did so without needing to take 5000 images. They also engaged in plenty of experimentation. I think photography has actually lost something with the ease of digital capture. It’s lost people really learning the skills of a photographer in knowing their gear so well, knowing how to create great images in camera, knowing how to get the shot the first time.

Third, digital has led to a lot of people with cameras calling themselves photographers who really don’t know much about photography or even how to really use a camera. Anyone can get lucky shots and if they shoot enough frames maybe quite a few good ones, but it takes more than that to create with intent. And that is the difference. If you count the number of people using digital cameras vs the number of film shooters out there creating images with intent, I think you’ll find they are proportionally a lot smaller the the film camp.

Before you object, I’m not talking about all the pros out there making their living with a digital camera, they are beside the point. I’m talking about everyone else. Pros don’t have as much choice these days as client expectations require digital compliance unless you get some exceptional clients.

Given these points, in many cases I say film is superior to digital and here’s a finger to all those old farts saying “thank God I don’t have to be in a darkroom anymore”. Lazy buggers.

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How is working on spec any different than working for free?

Or in other words, how else can a small business owner save money while supporting other creative professionals?

Where is this coming from you might ask? Well, I saw a tweet posted by a very influential photographer encouraging other photographers to use www.99designs.com. He advocates a service that unfortunately is part of the ongoing problem with low pay for creatives based on people being willing to work for free. That’s what spec work is. In particular, with a site like this, and it’s not the only one by far, they hold “contests” for design work such as a logo, and if your design is chosen by the person wanting a logo, then and only then, will you get paid for your work. And to top it all off, “prizes” are generally less than industry rates.

I find it very ironic that a photographer or other creative professional would support such shenanigans given the same problems in the photographic industry. How often do you see posts and articles bemoaning the ongoing lowering of the bar for rates due to all the would be photographers who will work for free or very little pay for “experience” or “exposure”? Its a problem that has become even more pervasive with the easy access to professional level gear.

The only way out though is education. We need to teach photographers and other creative professionals to value their time and each others’. We need to teach our clients to value our work and pay what we’re worth. And those clients may be us! That means charge industry rates yourself. And pay each other industry rates. Find someone who will do the work you need and skip the spec stuff. There is a range of prices in every industry that hovers around an average. You should be able to find someone you can afford. If you think you can’t have you looked at other options than straight cash? Contra deals, or barter of services in other words. Saving up a little longer to afford the one you really want to work with. Will your designer or whatever take multiple payments? How about some creative fund raising like www.kickstarter.com? After all, the money you spend on marketing your business is the best money you’ll spend and why would you cheap out? You wouldn’t on your gear when it counts.

And don’t forget, if you don’t want to work for free, why should anyone else?

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Why bromoil?

I’d like to tell you a story. About why I love to do bromoils. I had a wonderful chance to see a fantastic exhibit of pictorialist photography here in Vancouver, a couple of years ago. It was the TruthBeauty exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Pictorialist photographs from about 1835 to 1945 were on show and they were fascinating. The premise of the pictorialists was to use photography to create art, not simply record what they saw realistically, but what they envisioned. Many different printing processes, now called alternative processes, were used to produce fantastic works of art. I fell in love. The images, the visions expressed, the interesting printing methods, all spoke to me of what photography could be. And in our digital age, so much of photography ends up seeming the same in the end, an exact as possible realistic rendering that all blends together after you’ve seen so many.

One process in particular stood out for me. Bromoil printing. I had to find more out about it. To give the short answer, bromoil involves bleaching a black and white print, and then stippling on layer after layer of ink to bring it back. You can achieve a wonderful etching like quality to a print that has a luminous depth or even a highly photographic style rendering, depending on your technique. It offers a great deal of control over your print, creative freedom in producing your print, and the satisfaction that comes of handcrafting something beautiful.

I love the unique look of a bromoil print. For me, the prints have a different feel to them. They produce an emotional response beyond just the subject matter. I love the historical connection. I am using a process that is over a hundred years old. My teacher learned from masters of the process and there is this long unbroken line of learning stretching back into the past. Also, wonderful historic processes used with modern photography allow us to connect directly with the past, something that is lost so often in our high tech digital world. 

Crafting your photograph in general, directly making the print by hand is a tie to the past that digital technology has robbed us of. Creating images this way allows us to appreciate the beauty of something handcrafted, another castoff from our mechanized age. And the rarity these days of these processes, of handcrafted works of art in general, especially with photography, allow us to create something that truly is unique.

If you’d like to see some prints, I’ve posted some of my images earlier. This is the link

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Self taught?

I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus from photography for the last month. I went home for a vacation that turned out rather different and longer than expected. After dealing with a lot of things, I am slowly getting back into planning my business and doing research.


One thing I’ve come across often in my research, and it’s a big peeve of mine, is a number of photographers claiming to be self taught. Self taught? Really…When you read more of their biographies, they mention that they’ve had some workshops, maybe learned from so and so. As far as I’m concerned, the vast majority of these people are full of it. If you’ve taken some night classes, the odd workshop here and there, gotten a little mentoring from other photographers, you can hardly call yourself self taught. Were you asleep when these people were teaching you? Or are they just an inconvenient fact to ignore for your ego?


The only people truly self taught picked up a camera, maybe a few books and never learned anything from a live person. There are a few out there, but not many. I certainly don’t consider not taking a photography program at college to equate to self taught. I, for instance, am working my way through a night program as I can afford it over a significant period of time, take workshops in specific techniques and work with a mentor. I have taught myself some things from books, but that has hardly been the majority of my learning.


Do I have a point to this, besides a little venting? Certainly. I think we need more honesty and self examination in this business and less self aggrandizement and marketing bs. Otherwise you start believing your own hype and end up diminishing yourself overall.

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A walk in the rain

This morning I went for a stroll in the pouring rain. It is Vancouver in the fall after all. Other than wet feet, it was nice. I don’t mind the rain and even though it was dark when I started, it’s much quieter first thing in the morning.

I’m doing this for several reasons. One of them is part of my trying to work on getting a little fitter. Not because I want to do it for my health, but because I know I want to feel better, not tired all the time. I took away several little gems from a short talk by Danielle LaPorte, and one of them was to make your goals based on how achieving them will make you feel, rather than what you can achieve. A novel concept for me, but it makes sense. Rather than making a goal of wanting to lose x pounds, my goal is wanting to feel better, wanting to feel good after a hike rather than like crap because I’m too out of shape. So I’m not going to try and force myself to the gym because it’s good for me. That never works, and I hate being forced to do anything, even by myself. So my solution is just to get moving. I’ll start simple, with a walk in the morning. When that feels good, move on to adding on other exercise.

Another reason is the desire to cultivate a new habit. I’ve been doing a lot of reading as I try and work on my business concept. Photography books, business books, inspirational books. Another great idea, from The Creative Habit by Twyle Tharp, is the idea of starting your day with a routine, or from another point of view, a ritual. Something you start every day with, that is repeatable, easy to do, and creates a habit. Her definition of a ritual is an automatic but decisive pattern of behaviour. This creates an activity that becomes habit, that is done without questioning it and can be the preparation to start your day and get your creativity flowing each morning. I am feeling in need of structure to my day and by starting with a walk, during which I intend to take a photo or three, seems like an ideal way to start my day. Will I be able to continue it on a daily basis? That remains to be seen, but I have started, which can be the hardest part of all.

Getting out and taking photos is fun, but not something I manage to do all that often lately. I have no excuse, since I certainly have the time. Even when working in an office all day, I still had time, but didn’t seem to be able to manage it. I need to find a way to get myself out shooting on ideally a daily basis. Why? Not because I just want to get better at photography, all photographers want that. Because I know I will feel much happier with my photography as it improves. I took a body of work class over the course of a year, three twelve week sessions, once a week. My photography improved exponentially and I love how that made me feel. I was really happy with my results when I went out to shoot with awareness of why I was out there, rather than always just aimlessly pointing my camera at what caught my eye. So again with a goal with the end result of how it feels. I know my photography will get better by simply shooting, and it will get better yet by shooting with a purpose. One week, work on composition, another work on seeing the light, etc. Finding the time? Do it on my walk. This even ties in with the goal of starting my day with a creative boost. How better for a photographer than simply going out and taking a few photos?

And speaking of photos, here’s a few from this morning’s walk.

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