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Why I Shoot Film | Johnny Tang Photo

Why I Shoot Film

I often make it a big deal that I’ve shot the nearly the entirety of my World of One photo series on film. I prefer to shoot on film because it adds to the craft of the image, and also adds to the viewer’s appreciation of the piece.

A smarter person might not choose to work in this way, as it is not an efficient or cost-effective method to make work, but I am passionate about the visual and artistic integrity of my art, so I stand by my decision to shoot on film. While certainly there are artistic advantages to shooting film over shooting digital photography, overall, my decision to pursue the former instead of the latter is largely an emotional one.

When I’m asked about my preference for film, my go-to answer is that, “It just looks better!” My visual preference for photography shot on film has a lot to do with my emotional response to the way color is represented on it. For most of my formative years, almost everybody was shooting on film. Thus the colors captured by film photography are nostalgic to me. This is similar to the way that black and white film photography might remind people of other generations of WWII or the Civil War or other everyday moments from long ago. I do not connect with digital photography in that way, as its introduction in my life occurred when I was already in college.

Shooting film also makes me feel a bit closer to my photography heroes. After all, the photographers that made me want to be a photographer all shot on film. While I feel like I’m still a long way off from being able to emulate any of their achievements, in working in this way I feel like I can at least walk a little bit in their past footsteps.

I began my photo education during a time when digital photography was just starting to become prevalent. I was shooting on film when I first got into college, but I was shooting digitally when I got out. Making the kind of work that I do now (shooting film and then scanning and digitally manipulating it), is a way for me to utilize the skillsets I’ve gathered from both of those schools of thought in which I’ve been trained. I make use of this artistic transition from film to digital in a way that might not be possible at any other time in history. Before Photoshop, I wouldn’t have been able to collage people in front of one another without those figures appearing transparent; or be able to cut out the people as cleanly as I can now. In the coming years, I worry that my ability to continue taking advantage of these two techniques will become less possible. The infrastructure for shooting film is shrinking every year, and film is already singing its swan song and will soon go the way of the dodo bird.

The act of shooting (actually capturing an image) is, in my opinion, he climax of the photographic process. Simply put, it is what makes photography photography. Shooting film forces me to shoot more cautiously and economically because, unlike digital photography, it costs money every time the shutter clicks. This difference changes the way I approach my work; suddenly the goal is to take as few photos as I need to, as opposed to taking a ton of photos to make sure I have what I need. I’ve found that this change in mindset makes me much more mindful of the process and improves the overall quality of my work. Being more focused on what I’m trying to express, allows me to more thoughtfully decide how exactly I want to convey that message.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with these two images, which are essentially the same shot. The one on the left was shot with my digital camera, and the one on the right is a scanned photo that I shot on film. Both were photographed from the same spot, using the same exposure, and are displayed at the same resolution. Which one looks better to you?

Two images, both of an asian guy in a suit doing a headstand on a natural background. One on the left shot using digital, one on the right using film.

Which one works better to you? Image on the left was shot using digital technology, and the image on the right was shot on film.

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1 comment

  1. Hi Johnny- It’s Cheryl Franklin. Let’s start with the composition of the photo. I love both shots for different reasons. The one on the left was shot at a closer range and the color is more vibrant. The one on the right is more realistic in as far as the color is concerned. Is there a little man in the background on the right? It looks from a distance like he is observing what’s happening on the hill. That’s what I imagine anyway. I would call this “inverted meditation”. I digress here. The question was , which works better for you. I personally love everything you do, but the one on the right , does it for me.

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