Productivity vs Pleasure - Choosing Digital or Film as a Working Photographer
Here’s a blast from the past. Going through some old backup drives, I found some old photos from a previous life, when I used to regularly attend Fashion Week for my nine-to-five gig. Thinking back, I never really enjoyed getting stuck with runway duties, given the practical limitations of shooting from one crowded spot. That said, I always enjoyed taking backstage photos for the archives. It was always fun to witness the anticipation before the show, when the scrum of frenzied preparation was orchestrated with collaborative finesse.
For the image set I’m sharing on this blog entry, I was shooting with two Leica SL paired to the Leica Vario 24-90mm f/2.4-4 Elmarit-SL ASPH and the Leica APO Vario 90-280mm f/2.8-4 Elmarit-SL ASPH. It was a hefty duo to carry around. But since I was essentially shooting on someone else’s dime, I really did not think much about the added burden to my aching back. I mean seriously, what’s the big deal of a little physical inconvenience, if timeliness and certainty of workflow can be optimized? After all, work is work and not recreation.
Besides, it’s not as if I’m really carrying this pair with me for the entire day. Because I was on the job, I wheeled my gear to the location. Once at the job, I left my bag and pelican case with an intern. That meant I only had to carry around two Leica SL cameras and two SL-mounted lenses for an hour an a half, which really was not that much of a hardship. It is not as if I had to strong-arm the models, make-up artists, and hair stylists to be willing participants for the archiving. Why would it be? For all of us, it was just another day on the job.
Originally, I was not going to post a new entry on the blog this week. If you recall from last week’s blog entry, I have already depleted my rainy day archives. But in being my compulsive obsessive self, I did try to rectify the deficit with three photowalks during the week. After all, my partners-in-crime and I were all accounted for last week. Unfortunately, having a full roster does not change the fact that this weekend was Mid Autumn Festival, and my photo lab was closed for the observance. I guess it’s just my luck for shooting in film.
From the perspective of productivity, using film does have its drawbacks with regards to timeliness. I mean, I am dependent on my photo lab, unless if I am willing to develop my own film. And even if I were willing to do that, the analog workflow still cannot compete with a digital workflow. Where film needs to be developed and digitized for on-screen use, digital media can be uploaded right away for immediate use. As such, shooting in digital makes more sense than shooting in film with regards to the needs of doing actual work.
Thinking back to my days in fashion, there is no possible way in which I can shoot in film during fashion week. The event I am documenting has a shelf life of an hour. If I had to develop and digitize my own film, I would be many hours behind everyone else with regards to the news cycle. And that doesn’t even take into account the transport of developing chemicals and scanning device to the location from overseas. It would be a ludicrous undertaking to inconvenience the workflow, just for the sake of rendering that special film look.
As much as I am an advocate for film photography, I understand the realities of work. That is, when you are on someone else’s dime, you are not shooting for yourself. You’re performing a task for someone else, so you do not have the luxury to shoot in film. In fact, the entire proposition of shooting in film is unreasonably indulgent for most regular jobs. At best, you could sneak a few shots on film. But in most cases, like archiving backstage during Fashion Week, the subject really isn’t worth the added trouble of film documentation.
Admittedly, the opportunity to photograph backstage might seem like a chance of a lifetime for many. But you have to remember that I’ve been doing this for many years. For me, there is nothing remarkable about fashion shows. It’s just work for me. My objective is to capture as many presentable images as possible for the sake of collecting content. In turn, much of that content is prepared for dissemination on various media outlets. So as you can imagine with my job on the line, the last thing I’m thinking about is shooting in film.
Of course, that is not to say I do not regret my oversight in not sneaking a couple of shots on film. But as I have already stated, I’m working on someone else’s dime. Under the circumstances, it would not be appropriate to indulge myself by shooting in film, given the inherent limitations of productivity in an analog workflow. I mean, I am obligated to offer my best effort to execute the task, and what I seek in personal fulfillment is not a part of the job description. It’s not as if my pay grade allows me to shoot in anything but digital capture.
There is no denying that a digital workflow offers greater productivity than an analog workflow. You’d be crazy to shoot in any medium other than digital capture, if your job were on the line. Even for me, I would absolutely choose digital capture over film, if I were still chained to a nine-to-five gig. And it’s not because I prefer digital capture over film. It’s because a digital workflow reduces my workload. In the end, is there a more compelling reason to pick digital capture for work? You just want to get the job done as effortlessly as possible.
Why make work longer? Work is work. It is not recreation and it is not pleasure. It is a means to an end. For that reason, any means that offers the path of least resistance is the most reasonable option for reaching an end. I mean, why go out of your way to make work difficult for yourself? If a digital workflow provide you the promise of greater productivity, would it make any sense to reject digital imaging? Thus, most working photographers opt for digital imaging because it gets the job done with timeliness and certainty. Plain and simple!
This is true for photojournalists, in-house photographers, or event photographers, where faster turnaround of work product is expected by editors, supervisors, and clients alike. Because of that, it is understandable that the overall advantage offered by a digital workflow cannot be beat. However, that’s assuming that productivity is the main concern of the documentation process. I mean, if productivity is no longer the main concern - that is to say the luxury of time isn’t restricted - then the appeal of digital imaging isn’t as absolute anymore.
For those photographers who aren’t duty bound to produce work at a faster turnaround time, the prospect of using film is feasible. Not surprisingly, the use of film is still commonly practiced by many top-tier commercial photographers and film makers spared from the constant grind of tighter schedules for their own professional work. That said, how many of us can actually reach such lofty heights and dictate our medium of capture? As I have already stated, film capture is a luxury. Only the best of us can choose film for professional work.
So, don’t feel bad if you’re not in a position to shoot in film for work. To be frank, you shouldn’t want to shoot in film. Chances are, whatever you’re tasked to photograph for work really isn’t worth the added bother typical of film developing and digitization. I mean, does it really matter to you if a municipal press conference is caught on film? Or an in-house product shot? Or a wedding ceremony? Or even Fashion Week? If the objective of the photographic task is to document or communicate, then the use of film is completely unnecessary.
In my opinion, digital imaging promotes productivity and is therefore geared for work. The fact it can be used recreationally for pleasure is just an afterthought. The way I see it, I find digital cameras reeking of productivity and work. As such, it’s no wonder the last thing I want to shoot is a digital camera, after a long day at work. It would be like bringing my work home to do - that is if I still worked at my former nine-to-five gig. As it stands, I’m no longer gainfully employed in that capacity, which is why I presently shoot recreationally in film.
If you’re one of those special few who can shoot professionally in film, no one’s here to stop you. For everyone else, work is work, so shoot in digital to reduce your workload. But for fun, you should really shoot in film… that is unless your personal obligations require autofocus tracking, a telephoto lens, and many frames per second. Mind you, if you really need that much technological help, should you still regard your personal obligations as fun? Seems to me you’re bringing work home.
Of course, there is a price for fun if one doesn’t develop at home. I suppose I could begin developing my own film. But then again, isn’t that just more work?
All images have been tweaked in post on Adobe Lightroom. Some images have been cropped. And a handful of images have been retouched for personal reasons.
PS - Some of you might have noticed that I’ve changed the title of this post a couple of times. Frankly, I do not know what I should have as the title of this blog entry. What I really want to call this post is “The Rambling of a Blogger Who Found Some Old Work Photos and Decided to Go Freestyle and Wing It”.