100,000 Exposures Later ... [PART I]
A Film Shooter in a Digital Age
By: Thorsten Overgaard, March 26, 2008 [reprint from uber.com]
When I published my book "Twenty Portraits of 2007" I was still considering myself a film photographer.
Being a film photographer has a certain feel to it. You feel like touched by a higher power, as if you have seen the light.
Being a digital photographer is somewhat part of the riffraff.
But then I noticed that 16 of the 20 portraits were indeed taken not only digital, but with the simplest digital equipment available.
So I thought I might better come clean…
And try to explain myself
I’ve said to myself and people that I would go digital as soon as I could create the same style in digital as with Fuji Astia slide film.
Fuji Astia 100 ISO as 800 ISO, Leica SL mot with 80mm Summilux F/1.4
Then again, working with picture agencies and news media, they want the files here and now. Really no point in sending an awesome film scan to a picture agency a week after the actual event.
So you got to compromise. And I did.
I went ahead and shot film for my archive and personal pride. And riffraff files for the hungry media that they could get here and now.
At some point I stopped shooting the pride files on film. Really no point in having them, and also the lab closed down so the turnaround on developing a slide film changed from 1 hour to 72 hours.
Digital workflow is kind of interesting, especially if you realize that not all photo assignments are a matter of pride. Some things just need to get shot, delivered and the remains buried in the hard drives.
It’s not that I shoot stuff that “If I didn’t do it somebody else would.” I have the luxury that when I photograph and write, I only do the stuff I want to. I don’t have editors telling me what to do. They may suggest, but mainly I’m the one who suggest things for them to buy. (You may wonder, and yes you are correct: This is the business model to either becoming the famous starving artist or - and that should always be the goal - the well-paid artist with integrity doing what he does best).
Because my photography and my writing is my communication.
It’s a matter of integrity. Have a look in the newspaper and see what’s there. As I usually say to those who want to have their company in the newspaper, “Have a look at the actual stories in a newspaper. Which story would you like to be?”
Because the majority of stories in media is about injuries, loss of status, treats, possible chaos and actual chaos.
Most stories are sensational. Few are factual.
Some people will do anything for a byline.
Back to photography. Thing is I’m addicted to Leica and Leica didn’t offer that riffraff-files-that-look-like-Fuji-Astia look. So I thought, what the hell. I'll just get the Panasonic DMC LC1 digital with Leica lens and shoot the hell out of it. Nice stealth camera, black and all.
Odd feeling attending an event where 90% of you shoot film and 10% is shooting digital. But 100% of what will be used will be riffraff files from the digital camera.
My film bag is 20 kilos. The digital is 0,5 kilo. Yet I dragged the film equipment with me again and again.
||Hard rain in London shot with Leica M4
Fortunately I had to do a shoot outside in London, standing on a ladder for an hour, while it was truly raining, even for London standards. Ruined a nice suit and the digital camera though. Lucky me.
The Leica R and Leica M that I also used didn’t notice the rain. Those just shot the hell out of it and made nice files.
So I got a bit of film revival as the digital had to return to Japan or somewhere to get fixed.
But heaven must wait. The picture agency was even like “There was some of the files that had dirt in them so we removed those files.”
By dirt they meant film grain.
So I realized I couldn’t do much longer in my pleasant time capsule made of Fuli Astia slide film. I bought the Leica Digilux 2 which is the real Digilux. Same camera as said Panasonic, but the Leica edition is in their design and with slightly changed placement of the buttons. Not so stealth as the black Panasonic.
Yet, a camera that doesn’t say a sound when making a photo, and easily used 100% full metal manual, easy to go unnoticed over your shoulder: Big enough to show that you are for real, small enough to go unnoticed when you don’t want to look like a Canon jerk.
My Leica Digilux 2 just turned 100,000 exposures and now has a twin sister that looks exactly the same.
I don’t know, but at some point in time I started realizing that all I needed to carry was my digital camera. Only film cameras for special events, features or stuff where you want to “start a production.”
By production I mean … hmm … some film stars can walk right out of bed and they are camera-ready. One guy I really really really wanted to shoot some months ago was the kind where he had to get convinced by a trusted publicist who had worked with him for 15 years, then briefed properly by only the most competent people on the subject we were to cover, then finally – if he would still like the idea – prepared for cameras by professional skin-, hair- and fashion-people. The works. Not to mention transportation, security and special catering.
So his publicist said these golden words. “No, forget [name], we’re talking a full production,” which meant all the above said things and three days of hard work for the publicist just to make that person consider it. So we sent on with another one who could be made camera-ready in just two hours.
Same story with cameras. My film cameras need respect and time to do their job, their ‘files’ need tender baths and special chemicals and exact temperatures to appear in their glory, and those in turn has to be treated with the outmost respect and dignity only by the best scanners available. Then they will show glory.
Ooh, my precious!
But that’s a production. You see.
The Leica Digilux 2 just hangs over the shoulder or lies in the floor of the car. Ready in a split second. And the files can be fixed and sent to the other side of the world within 60 minutes. And by then you have FTP’ed the shots that need to be available for some media, archived the full event, backed it up, and deleted the camera files off of the camera card. And you are ready for more of it.
Hans Blix shot with Leica Digilux 2
I think around the time of shooting this one of former Iraq weapons inspector Hans Blix, which I shot both as slide and as digital, I realized I actually liked the digital file better than the slide film file.
I mean, I could doctor that, because I know what digital can do easily and nice, but also how slide film can do wonders if time and circumstances are set up to do slide film. But the above was set up as a fast digital shoot.
Which made me realize that shooting digital files as a dedicated digital shooter will bring about nice pictures than shooting slide film – and do the digital files not whole hearted, but more like a bad excuse for being in a rush for the sake of a deadline.
“Hey, wait till you see the slide film scans in a week. It’s magic and you can tell I’m a true artist. And hey, don’t mind all the digital files in the media meanwhile.”
Thing is nobody gives a shit about the perfect files sitting in an archive. It’s the digital files done here and now and used in media that counts.
So somehow I found a way to make them look the way I wanted. Which I’ll get back to when this blog continues in a few days…
(The Uber.com series is becoming available later, so far one more article is available: 100,000 Exposures Later PART III)
Blog Comments (21)
Posted by Daniel Kag... on August 06, 2008 3:09 PM
film still has a place in my heart always will, its what i was taught first .i want one of those little 5mp buggers now 100000 frames and no problems seriously?
Posted by Thorsten O... on August 06, 2008 5:22 PM
No, the sensor can die on you, which is a known issue because of an error in the sensor delivered from the factory. So many Digilux 2 cameras has gotten that replaced at Leica for no charge, and if one encounter it, it will be repaired for free by Leica. It's a heat/humidity error that was not supposed to be there.
Besides that, only problems if you drop it on concrete or into water ;-)
Frankly, film or digital. I think it's a matter of deciding what one is shooting with and utilize the possibilities. Just like choosing to shoot b&w film, or slide film or any brand/type of film. One develop a style both in the way it look, but also in the workflow and rhythm. So go get one ;-)
Posted by TolHorse S... on March 30, 2008 9:59 PM
Great blog! I understand completely. I always swore I wasn't going to get into digital photography. I love film, and I love working with it in the darkroom. But when I became a (poor) college student, and wasn't taking many photos anymore because I didn't have access to a darkroom nor the money to buy film/supplies, I quickly decided that a digital slr camera could have a place in my life. And while I still largely prefer film, my digital Pentax is getting me through.
Posted by Martin Bri... on March 30, 2008 6:34 AM
If you want a small and discreet camera consider Pentax K20D or K200D with some nice pancakes. Or Olympus which has the most compact DSLR's and zooms with the same aspect ratio as your Digilux 2. I had the LC-1 while back and it sure was a very funny camera and something magical about it..
Posted by Robert_K on March 29, 2008 7:14 AM
I bought a Digilux 2 last week. Second-hand.
Wasn't easy to find one. No first owner wants to get rid of this camera.
And after one week I already know why.
Posted by Guest on March 28, 2008 10:54 AM
I resisted digital for a long time. Now that's all I shoot. Making the transition helped free me of my gear and process obsessions. Film or digital? Who cares, I'm watching the light.
"Somebody let the rabble in." -Lewis Carrol commenting on roll film replacing collodion process.
Posted by Haonavy on March 27, 2008 5:31 PM
Thanks! I enjoyed reading this. I haven't been on the scene very long, but I have been around long enough to know what it was like "before digital" and often find myself being drawn back to it - sometimes for the simple romanticism associated with it.
Love to see those that share the same thoughts! :)
Posted by Riccardo on March 27, 2008 9:47 AM
You have some good point. I read with sadness that you are "digitizing" yourself more and more. I get your points.
The worst thing is maybe the adversion to grain. With my own agency I discovered though that grain is fine and that I need to inspect slides for dust/spots. FARE/ICE don't work really that well, especially if the image gets sharpened or otherwise even slightly manipulated.
But you have another point... why luggage around 20kg instead of 0.5? Actually it is an attitude. Sometimes I can choose just to go around with one lens. Fixed. I also analyzed why a digicam was handy: a zoom after all is nice when you need to be quick and aren't "passionate". The same goes for autoexposure, autofocus.
SO sometimes you might find me around with a little eos and a sigma zoom. Works. Fine. But already when I shoot with that camera I feel less passion and when I have an interesting subject amidst a reportage, I find myself setting the zoom (pretyt much precisely!!) at 50m... so what?
Of course, this can't do anything for speed. I still get negatives processed fast, but slides are a pain.
If I needed to be more serious about photography, especially with time constraints, I'd need a digital too and this is sad. For now I enjoy without.
Posted by Tabish Bhi... on March 27, 2008 8:20 AM
Hey thorsten. my first comment on ur blog. While i dont have a lot to say, i do have to say that i agree about stories being sensational. as i just told chris the catch 22 is that u can change or cut the context completely in an image and therefore with a camera, comes responsibility. with an eye, comes greater responsibility. u're lucky u can shoot without people having to tell you what to do u know like the "bosses" but very few have that privilege. so kudos to you brother.
Posted by Thorsten O... on March 26, 2008 4:40 PM
@ Treamus: I get what you're saying about the passion. I've had the same but somehow I can see how digital can be fun too. I guess that is what this little blog series will be about.
I want to freeze the world around 2004 and shoot film forever, but on the other hand it might also be rewarding moving with the flow.
Posted by Treamus on March 26, 2008 3:24 PM
A very well written blog, I agree with what your saying as regards picture editors who don't care about the look or feel of the photo, they just want it on there desk.
I just can't get passionate about digital, although I have to shoot digital for a living.
Posted by Thorsten O... on March 26, 2008 11:18 AM
@Desyn: I never took any education for any of the things I've worked professionally in (I've done advertising, graphic design, internet and today I mainly write and photograph). We were 4-5 kids in school who had quite fancy cameras for our age and shot a lot, and I shot like 100 meter film of b&w a year till I was 20, then had a long break and took up photography again few years ago.
I think in the field of art there's no right way or wrong way, so if you do it your own way and become real good at that, it will work.
Having said that, getting an education will get you a network as well as a lot of history, seeing ways of doing things, which I sometimes miss to have had. For example I have no idea what exist of types of studio light because I never worked in one. So I have to sneak around and see what others are doing, then apply my own style to it ;-)
Posted by Desyn on March 26, 2008 8:11 AM
SELF TAUGHT VS SCHOOL:
thanks for the blog on digitial vs film -
r u self taught in photography or did you do the school route: i.e. degree in fine arts/photography - etc - just curious, x's V.
Posted by Thorsten O... on March 25, 2008 10:17 AM
@Chris: Nikon and Canon is definitely under consideration and has been for a while. I'll get back to that later in the posts, as well as why Digilux - surprisingly - is enough of a camera to most assignments. So hold on to your hat and your 22 Megapixel beast.
Posted by Thorsten O... on March 25, 2008 10:14 AM
@Philip: I'll go more over the Digilux 2 and in a later post in a few days, as well as telling how and where to get it for a fair price (because you can't buy it from new anymore).
Posted by Thorsten O... on March 25, 2008 10:13 AM
@ Veronika: Thanks, I'm glad to hear (an curious to know what the those questions were).
Posted by Chris on March 24, 2008 1:23 PM Remove
my danish brother ... you just need to accept that leica will never make a "suitable" digital solution for professionals. ;) go with the riff-raff ... buy a canon or a nikon. ;) the glass is pretty nice, brother. i promise.
that little digilux does make some nice files, though.
definitely not film .. but ... even in los angeles ... one of the world's capitals of photographic production ... film processing labs are closing on a monthly basis.
i think you just like firing up the imacon scanner, right? ;)
Posted by Philip LeP... on March 24, 2008 12:46 PM
Interesting post... I too love working with film. But, as I slowly go through the images I want to add to my Uber website am finding that most of them were taken digitally. With the recent death of my digital camera I find myself stuck right back in the middle of my personal film/digital debate. I have been looking at various point and shoots as an alternative and will have to keep the Digilux 2 in mind. I really liked your point about dedication. Film/Digital, whatever, in the end it is about being dedicated to the images you are producing.
Posted by John Launi... on March 24, 2008 11:38 AM
I appreciate the richness of your shots!
Posted by plumeriasj on March 24, 2008 10:19 AM
I KNOW THE DILEMMA. I HAVE IT EVERYDAY. I STILL PREFER FILM. BUT DIGITAL SERVES IT'S PURPOSE.
Posted by Veronika l... on March 24, 2008 10:12 AM
Thank you very much for this blog!it gave the answers on some of my questions about digital photography.
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