The Film Look: Reminiscing a Bygone Era By Chandrasekar S

You will not find a photographer today who will admit that film does not have a place in photography even if he/she chooses not to use it.

In the early 2000s, the world of photography changed forever. Though people had already started using digital cameras from the mid-1990s, the technology could not produce satisfactory, high-quality results for the professional photographers. The question that arose was, ‘Why shoot on film, when digital cameras are so advanced, easy to use and do not have the added cost of film rolls?’ For many, there was an impression that film was an expensive medium compared to digital, which was free, once of course the camera body, the lens and the card had been purchased. Also in digital, you were allowed to make mistakes as you could always stop and check if the image was perfect or had to be shot again. Whereas, with film each shot cost you money.

There’s something about the film look in photography that has its own quality and style which cannot be replicated otherwise. The latest trend in photography is to generate a film emulated look using certain presets. You can see a lot of contemporary photographers on Instagram using this to attract the eye of the viewer. This also helps the photographer maintain consistent tones throughout that adds value to his/her portfolio. The film look basically has a washed out effect in the image wherein, for instance, the levels of black are raised such that it creates this effect in the darker parts of the image instead of a regular high contrast image. Noise is also sometimes added artificially through various editing software to make the image look grainy.

A popular example is VSCO, which offers film presets that users can directly apply to the picture. This allows photographers to use their creativity flexibly. For any new age photographer who cannot afford the expensive practice of film photography, VSCO let’s him/her emulate the look for a low price and experiment with different filters and effects.

Every day, more and more photographers explore the option of film and fall in love with it. Even with today’s technology, professional photographer Dan Winters for instance, shoots a lot on film. Earlier this year, Kodak also announced that it was bringing Ektachrome back to life.

Is film really dead?

It maybe or it may not be, but this is what our Alumni have to say –

The mass move to digital and recent advances in electronics and engineering means that values for films have crashed in recent years. As a young man, I learned the hard way about how to get the results I wanted. I did that on film because that’s all there was in early to mid-2000.

I’m not suggesting we should all be doing this, but the point is that using film does allow us the space to make mistakes. It’s a while before we see the results. The lessons are often learned later and harder, but that’s what makes them hard to forget and I guess more interesting.

But most importantly, the bottom line is, photography — like any art or other creative pursuit — is qualitative, it is subjective, it’s about your visual perception and your eye to see simple things in a unique and more interesting way… thanks

–  Arnab Nath

I was trained almost entirely on film back in 2001 when LLA was founded. So I have a special place in my heart for film. But cut to 2018, if you ask me to shoot a professional assignment on film, I would probably prefer to climb Mount Everest instead. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s bad or wrong to shoot film…. it’s great! But it’s just incredibly difficult to pull off in today’s day and age…. Digital would just be a whole lot faster, cheaper and probably even better…… the “better” part is debatable though.

Film has lived its “commercial” life so to speak and what a life it was! Nowadays it is more a novelty rather than a necessity for photographers. Digital is here to stay.

However, if it wasn’t for film I probably wouldn’t be half as disciplined a photographer that I am today. I have fond memories of my film days and if I had to do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing!

– William Chang



Chander Sundarrajan is a professional photographer based in Chennai. He specializes in architecture and automobile photography. He’s also a part time musician and in his free time, he loves to play football and play the guitar.




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