Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Economics of Film

U.S. 41A, Webster County, Kentucky

If you pay attention to such things, you may have noticed that all the photographs I've shown so far were shot on film. There's a reason for that: I photographed on film for the first 35 years of my career before making the transition to digital photography 16 years ago.

In my work as a documentary and commercial photographer, transparency (slide) film was always my preferred medium and was also usually required by my clients. I have shot many thousands of rolls. Fujichrome Professional 100D, is my all-time favorite film.

I've also processed thousands of rolls of slide film, using Kodak or Unicolor chemistry in a Unicolor Film Drum with a motor base and a home-made water bath with a fish-tank heater to keep the chemicals up to temp. (Although only the first developer is temperature-critical.) Later, we had a King Concepts processor in the studio, which made things a little more efficient.

When working, almost every situation was evaluated with a Minolta incident meter, and exposures were bracketed over a one and a half stop range in half-stops. Most of the time the half-stop under exposure was the selected one. I also used filters extensively, especially warming ones, to render as nearly as possible the feel of each scene on the film.

I was a very precise and careful photographer in those days, even in situations where I had to work quickly. There was no way to "fix it in post," so if I didn't get the scene on film the way I wanted it, too bad. Digital has made it easy to become sloppy.

Actually, photography was much more satisfying and fun when I shot film. But there are other considerations. For example:

For my book Backroads and Byways of Georgia (Countryman Press, 2017), I traveled more than 10,000 miles around the state over the course of a year and made more than 4,200 digital exposures, which equates to about 118 rolls of film.

Since my cameras and lenses were already paid for, those 4,200 exposures essentially cost me nothing. If I had been using slide film (Provia, from B&H at $10 per roll), those exposures would have cost me $1,180. A gallon of E6 chemistry from Arista costs $80 and can process about 40 rolls. That's around $240 for processing. Not cheap, but much cheaper than a lab.

So if I had processed the film myself, which I could easily have done, total cost for film and processing would have been about $1400. Probably a good bit more than that, actually, because if I had been shooting film I would have bracketed, which is not usually necessary when shooting digitally in RAW mode.

I received a reasonably generous advance from the publisher, but that also had to cover gas, lodging, and food. Adding in film and processing costs would have stretched it a little too far.

And of course, there's also the time cost. Processing all that film takes time. Fortunately, I can edit slides on the light box, which is certainly as fast as editing on computer, but then there's also scanning time. Lots of scanning time. About 225 photos were used in the book, but I had to submit more than that to give the editor some choices. It all adds up.

But do I think the book would have been better if I had shot it on film? Yeah, I really do. With film, I could have used filters to render the ambiance, the feel of the light in a scene much more effectively than I have been able to do with digital photography. Maybe there's a way to do that, but I haven't figured it out yet.

So, could the book have been better? I think so, but I might be the only one to notice.

(Canon EOS A2, 28-105 f3.5-4.5 Canon EF lens, Fujichrome 100. Cokin #85 filter to capture the feel of the early light.)

1 comment:

  1. If I was shooting for a living I would use digital. I shoot Black and white for most stuff, digital for wildlife and misc things.