Analog vs. Digital

 

Photography by Paul Martens using a Poloroid SX70 (Not digitally manipulated)

This image was taken with a Poloroid SX70. I love this image as it serve to show what was possible with special film types before Photoshop – and what inspired many Photoshop techniques to take shape.

This is a fun one! I found some of the old printed news letters The Lab Works used to generate. My, how have times changed! Here are some old terms we used in the early 1990′s:

Internegative – a negative made from a slide or transparency in order to make a colour print.

Copy Negative – a negative made from an original print where the negative is not available.

Cibachrome  – a direct slide-to-print process which does not require an internegative.

Full frame – to print the full image without cropping onto a standard sized sheet of paper.

Bleed – an image that has no border, as  “the image bleeds off the edge”.

Push processing – to prolong the time of development in an effort to compensate for underexposure.

Pull processing – to reduce the time of development in an effort to compensate for overexposure.

You may or may not be familiar with the film related terms. Processes like cibachrome and interneg became obsolete as scanning became a more viable (and less toxic) option. Dodging and burning, while still a popular method, is now performed with “tools” in Photoshop. A very cute story was recently told to me by Ian McCausland about a young woman who didn’t know why Photoshop had icons of the “lollipop and OK sign”. Ian explained they are the dodge and burn tools -  explaining how in the darkroom dodging is generally done with a circular piece of card attached to a thin wire while burning is accomplished by making a circular opening with your fingers (allowing the rest of the hand to prevent the light from affecting the rest of the image). Naturally she understood, however never having been in a darkroom – the connections were never made.

But I digress.  As it goes with change, people made some fuss and the collective “we” fought the notion (as some still do) that anything could do better than film.

Some opinions still rest on the notion that a person hasn’t really learned photography until they have learned on film. I believe many newbies to the craft, who are only learning with digital cameras would beg to differ. After all, the task is still the same – use light to expose an image. Exposure can be on film emulsion, emulsion based photo paper or a digital sensor. The effects are similar – if you don’t expose the frame right you will blow out highlights, block up shadows and struggle to make a good print.

As it also goes with change – luckily -  comes the psychological flexibility and our ability to adapt.  The digital learning curve was steep and somewhat painful in those early years, but you managed to figure it out and become the photographers (and then some) you were with film! Nothing to stop anyone now! Darkrooms were sold, film camera’s were set aside and consigned. It seemed like no one was ever going to look back (or smell like chemistry ever again.).

Clearly the shift to digital has had an enormous impact on the industry.  As a lab, we had the extraordinary task of keeping up, and you as photographers, pushed us to keep maintaining the status quo. Now that film is disappearing faster than the polar ice-caps, I wonder if this immediate threat of extinction of a historical process is causing some collective regret. Or rather a secondary shift in thinking? Film actually is that great but so is technology. Instead of  re-inventing the wheel, technology is blending what was incredible about film and putting it in to digital camera’s. Fuji and Leica make a digital rangefinder that look and feel like analog camera’s and software companies like Nik have profiles that are meant to mimic film types.

One serious advantage of digital technology is how it encapsulates the camera, film, and darkroom all in one. Perhaps not as much with DSLR’s when shooting RAW, but fact remains with files “out of the can”, dodging, burning, contrast, and colour adjustments can be completed in one action. Sure, a few slides on levels and a tweak in brightness and contrast may be necessary, BUT. Digital filters make effects simple and creative where as back in the day, if you wanted special effects, you either learned  them in the darkroom, or you took up an interest in the myriad of lens filters available to add or subtract colour, polarize, vignette, blur, even “star” (wow!). Never MIND what was possible with some of the Poloroid films. Nowadays Snapseed is taking smartphone editing to new heights with filters like grunge or drama – but do not be mistaken – these are all inspired by the blood, sweat and tears of the film shooters who worked endless darkroom hours to get unique effects that were different from the norms.

So, what exactly am I trying to say? I suppose simply that the worlds are not different but parallel. They compliment one another – acquired traditional skills are used in the digital world and the creative freedom in the digital world inspires techniques to be used in analog methods. It’s actually kind of exciting.

I’d like to know what you think. With or without consequence, the analog-digital discussion is sure interesting and fires a lot of debate.

Happy Shooting!