Photo: Hamish Gill

Film photography is not what it used to be. It’s changed – or more, it’s evolved. For the better, too. But I bet there are a lot of people who haven’t even noticed!

Photography just seems to be one of those pastimes that has the potential to get under people’s skin. There are so many ways to take part that it’s no wonder we find ourselves in camps, adopting one or a couple of methodologies, approaches, processes or even brands, and taking ownership of them as if they belong to us.

In doing so though, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of forgetting that our approaches and whims are just a product of our own choices, and therefore simply right for us. Instead, it appears to me that a large majority of photographers get into the habit of thinking they have made the ‘best’ choices and that everyone else who doesn’t follow suit is somehow wrong, deficient or missing out.

Film photography in 2020 is what it is – not because of a battle with digital, but because of how it has integrated with and into it

Unfortunately, in our world of social media and websites and forums and blogs and YouTube and ‘influencers’, it feels a little bit like the views and opinions held by the majority can leave little room for the views and opinions held by everyone else.

So what’s all this got to do with my opening gambit?

Well, it’s my view that because of all this, many photographers who have committed wholly to digital photography might not have noticed a real change in the film photography landscape.

The pixl-latr is a product I launched on Kickstarter as a low cost and effective solution for digitizing negatives.
Photo: Joe Handley

Now, please don’t think I’m about to start waffling on about growth in film sales and increased interest in more traditional photography mediums as a whole. It is true that there has been quite significant growth, but to my mind, the growth is at least in part a byproduct of a change in attitudes toward film photography. Attitudes that I have seen perpetuated through some of the hundreds of thousands of words I’ve published by the many photographers who have written for my website, 35mmc.

It’s true that I still see the occasional ‘film vs. digital – which is better?’ YouTube video pop up, but it has long been my view that these conversations are behind the curve. It actually strikes me that this argument is dead, and this seems to be an opinion shared by an increasing amount of people. Not because one side won or lost, but because the sides have joined forces.

Film photography in 2020 is what it is – not because of a battle with digital, but because of how it has integrated with and into it. Digital has changed film photography for the better, and I feel quite strongly that the opposite is true too.

The FIlmomat is an updated automatic film processor, launching soon!
Photo: Lukas Fritz

To begin with, the simple way people are using digital cameras and the advancements in both software and hardware for the digitization of film are examples of how the technology has advanced in favor or supporting film photography. But digital has also helped democratize film photography. The barriers to entry are less, and not just when it comes to amateur-level kit.

Film photography has influenced digital technology too. As most readers here will be aware, some of the bigger brands have taken inspiration from film cameras. Fujifilm is probably the most notable with their retro-aesthetic digital cameras and built-in film simulations. The way film looks, or at least the way people think film looks has – for better or worse – influenced digital photographic styles.

The ways photographers approach image creation seems to have been cross-fertilized between the worlds of film and digital

And that’s all even before we consider people’s workflows and attitudes toward creating images. The creative ways photographers approach image creation as a whole seems to have been cross-fertilized between the worlds of film and digital. So for example, in the last few years, we’ve seen a huge increase in the use of ‘vintage’ lenses – something that I’m pretty certain is attributable to an increase in photographers seeking something of a more film-era-like ‘feel’ to their work. And then there’s how digital workflows such as the use of Lightroom has for some people sped up or aided in the process of using film and other traditional mediums as a starting point to a final image.

The Cameradactyl OG is an affordable 3D-printed 4×5 camera.
by John Whitmore

In short, film and digital workflows, technologies and creative approaches have merged. The narratives around which is ‘better’ have – for many at least – fallen by the wayside. The questions of how they can be combined for the benefit of an increased range of possibility and potential have come to the surface instead.

But, while all this is true, there’s no drama in a draw – neither side won the battle, so the story has had few attention-grabbing headlines. There’s less of an angle to hang opinion off in the gray area. Nuanced opinions, fence-sitting and happy mediums don’t get clicks, views, upvotes, likes or shares so readily.

Film and digital workflows, technologies and creative approaches have merged

I had to pose a combative opening gambit just to get a lot of you to read this article, I’m sure. But really, I didn’t want to… well, if I’m honest, I sort of did, because I quite enjoy the argument. But my argument is not one of trying to convince people to think one way or another about how to create or take part in photography. I prefer instead to try and highlight the fact that the arguments themselves are often quite pointless.

In short, there is no one true path! In fact, one of the most beautiful things about photography is in the wealth of choices it provides us with.

Which is ultimately why film photography has found its feet again. Not as I say because it’s won any battles, but instead, that for all the objective differences and subjective reasons why people might choose to shoot it; despite what the majority might think and say about it, it’s still an option that’s available to people. And moreover, in 2020 it’s an option that quite readily fits into our modern digital world if and when required or desired.


Hamish Gill is the publisher of 35mmc.com and a moderator in our Film Photography forum.

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