Converging film and digital

I wasn’t so into film photography when I was younger that I had a darkroom and played around with various processing chemistries or running different films through alternate developers.  Read a lot about it and looked at pictures coming from experimenters in the area, but it just seemed like more than I wanted to devote to photography at the time.  After all, I was just interested in clear documentation of scenes, sites and vacations, not creating unique art to stand out from a crowd or fulfill some inner vision I had of a scene.

Now digital comes along and suddenly I have tools that make this “playing around” easy, mouse clicking easy actually.  Want to see what an image would look like were it a print negative processed like slide film?  There’s an app for that.  Want to see if a duotone would improve the look of an image?  Click on a button.  Wow, in seconds I can take advantage of knowledge built over decades by photographers and technicians patiently developing film and recording the results for posterity.  Playing around with all these tools suddenly makes me appreciate the old-fashioned photographer working in a darkroom as chemist and physicist.

Reminds me of my college French classes.  I learned more about English language use and construction while suffering through French than I did in many years of pre-college education.  Oh, so that’s what an indirect object is and how it’s used and why it’s necessary for a sentence to be comprehensible.  Wow, I really wasn’t paying attention in high school, was I?

The point of this is while scanning some negatives lately I came across a set that looked like color print film but didn’t really have much contrast or color, just the orange-ish colored mask.  It was a roll of film someone gave me to play with and when I checked the film designation I found it is Kodak Portra 400VC, a film designed to deliver vivid color (VC) in subdued or flat light.  Which, as it turns out, were the conditions I shot it under but since the images in the negative weren’t screaming COLOR to me I decided to scan it as a B&W film.  You can do that – any film will scan as B&W, even slide film.

What I got was very interesting.  Maybe it was the film or maybe the location and type of light but I found the images to have great shadow detail and soft contrast in the harder light areas.  This image lent itself easily to adjustments with NIK filters and I ended up with a nice, subdued, sort of tranquil scene.  Which is why I made this picture in the first place but this isn’t the version I had in mind at the time.

Or maybe it was because this image certainly gives me the sense of place I had while standing there on the river’s edge.

Now I see why some film photographers were always playing around with alternate film stocks and developers.  First of all it’s fun, and second you sometimes get something that you wouldn’t have seen through the viewfinder at the time.  It’s still the image, but it’s a personal slant on the image through the miracle of chemistry.  Or in my case, the miracle of not knowing what conditions the film is suited for combined with computer technology.  Going backwards in photo technology time means I’ll be relying on serendipity quite a bit as I push buttons and pull sliders around.


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