Digital vs Film : Why More Does Not Mean Less

An ongoing quip in the advantage of film over digital is “film makes you think”.

This implies that a key benefit of film is that having a finite resource increases creativity, and that when liberated from this through digital our creativity is somehow reduced or hampered.

Now I concede the relative low storage capacity of film versus ever increasing gigabytes of memory cards will give film users pause, as there’s more reasons to be conscious of pressing the shutter. After all you’re using a finite non-reusable resource unlike a infinitely reusable memory card. What I don’t buy into is that by being forced to take less shots makes you a better photographer.

A Medium does not make you creative

Firstly, a medium doesn’t makes you creative. It’s how you apply its’ tools. Provided there is intention and thought in an image, then I have no problem making lots of images even if they are of the same (or similar) composition. In fact it can be used to good effect.

Take lots of (well thought through) shots

Landscape photography is a process of omission and I spend a lot of time fine tuning a composition making minor alterations to remove elements through small positional or focal length changes. Now you don’t need to take get snap happy to facilitate this, but there are details in the landscape than whilst you can envisage them, they present themselves so fleetingly that capturing them requires luck more than technique, and that luck can be improved by taking advantage of the ability to take more shots.

This shot of sunset over the Brissions in Cornwall is the product of a sequence of 21 shots of the same composition tinkering with various shutter speeds until I caught the desired level of cloud movement.

Sunset over the Brissons, Cornwall

Sunset over the Brissons, Cornwall

A winter storm front was blowing clouds inland, and it took several exposures to hone down on a shutter speed that didn’t over exaggerate the cloud movement into a blur, nor captured too little movement which wouldn’t achieve my desired motion in the clouds. Knowing the right exposure to achieve the cloud movement and shape to act as a diagonal to draw the eye up out of the frame from the twin sea stacks in a single shot, or even a few, wouldn’t have been possible. I needed to experiment.

Unexpected moments

There are interactions between light and land that are so subtle they are impossible to predict no matter how much time we spend in the landscape.

I spent several days in at Elowah Falls in the Columbia River gorge tinkering around in varying spots in the river trying to create a pleasing composition. Overcast skies helped control the contrast, though it robbed the scene of subtle definition. During a sequence of exposures, unexpected gaps in the clouds poured indirect sunlight into the narrow gorge, side-lighting the rocks and providing much needed ‘lift’ to the scene. Whilst I could see small breaks on the clouds, predicting the moment it pour into the gorge was very tricky. Taking numerous exposures allowed me to compensate for this and ensure I caught a moment as it broke.

Elowah falls colombia river gorge oregon.jpg

Luxury is not laziness

I see no reason to be ashamed or chastised by the advantage that digital memory capacity affords us. We can use it to explore the nuances of a scene, or of our camera settings, within a desired composition to find that frame that achieves our aim.

When used with fast-moving and constantly changing subjects such as a waterfalls, seascapes or storm fronts, we can capture nuances that would be missed otherwise in a single exposures of that scene. With water, even with a single shutter speed, each of your frames could be unique.

Not spray and pray

Some might see this as advocating a shoot and pray technique, but I agree that we should all think more before clicking the shutter. And I wouldn’t support exchanging using gigabytes of memory to aimlessly shoot with no forethought for the subject, lighting or composition in the hope of a eureka moment. But if we have thought our shot through, using multiple exposures to help achieve ti shot shouldn’t be frowned upon by analog users.

You are simply using the tools you have to achieve what you want.

Paul Marsden

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