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The "film look" in digital - what I've learned so far

Discussion in 'Personal Blogs Links' started by Luis Costa, Aug 8, 2018.

  1. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    Hey guys!

    I posted a new article on my blog about my experiences trying to get a film look in digital, along with some tips and tricks. Also includes a fun little game of “guess which photos are digital and which are film”, I'm curious to see how many will be correctly identify. :)

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  2. kevistopheles

    kevistopheles Premium Member

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    That's a very interesting read. Thank you.
     
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  3. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    Thanks, glad you liked it! Care to give it a shot trying to identify which photos are film and which are digital? ;)
     
  4. johant

    johant Premium Member

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    My guess :)

    Film: #1, #6, #9 (but I have my doubts about #1)

    Digital: #2, #3, #4, #5, #7, #8, #10 (but I have my doubts about #8)
     
    Last edited: Aug 8, 2018
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  5. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    Let's see if someone else wants to take a shot at it, if not I'll post the results here tomorrow! ;)
     
  6. specLegacy

    specLegacy Premium Member

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    Enjoyed the article. Thanks for sharing!

    My guess:
    Film: 2, 3, 6, 8, 9
    Digital: 1, 4, 5, 7, 10
     
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  7. Bud James

    Bud James Premium Member

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    Here's what I've learned. Film is different than digital. Both have virtues, but I prefer digital with no darkrooms, nasty chemicals and dangerous waste. Digital is way more capable and the immediacy is hard to give back once you are used to it.

    Regards,
    Bud James

    Please check out my fine art and travel photography at Please login or register to view links or on Instagram at Please login or register to view links.
     
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  8. bacil

    bacil Premium Member

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    Great article. Thanks.
     
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  9. kiwitracks

    kiwitracks Premium Member

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    Great read. My guess:
    Digital: 2, 5, 6, 9
    Film: 1, 3, 4,7, 8, 10
     
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  10. ysarex

    ysarex Premium Member

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    I looked at your blog. I'm going to give you a little grief and hope you take it light-heartedly. Starting a little over 40 years ago I started shooting film and I made a career of it shooting film for over 30 years. None of my film looks like your film-look. Is this the new film-look and I have to use new film?

    Back up a little -- right at the beginning in the 3rd sentence you mentioned learning the basics of the exposure triangle. We didn't have that back in the days of film. We knew what exposure was. The exposure triangle is a recent invention that confuses photographers about exposure.

    Back to the film-look: This might be a revelation of sorts but 35 years ago when we used film to photograph the blue sky, film would actually record the sky as blue -- like so:

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    I have thousands and thousands of transparencies and negatives and I can't find one with a green sky. Lots more with blue skies but no green skies.

    In fact the only way I knew back in the day to get color like you've got in some of your film-look photos was to wait until it was about 35 degrees in the summer and leave some film in the car glove box for a couple weeks before I shot it.

    And as for B&W -- I shot a lot of B&W too. I went to school to get a degree in photography back then and in fact the first thing we learned was that a B&W photo without black in it was going to get you punished. Our B&W photos looked more like this:

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    Getting a full tonal response in B&W was a goal not to be trifled with.

    So I can appreciate special effects and stuff like personal style, but when you do that and then call it a film-look it makes me wonder what the hell, I never shot a roll of film that looked like that and I'm betting I shot a whole lot more film in 30 plus years doing this for a living than you're ever going to shoot. Now I admit I stopped shooting film and gave away the last few rolls I had in the freezer about ten years ago but I sincerely doubt that in the last ten years the film manufacturers have moved to differentiate their products by turning them into garbage.

    Here's some more of my film-look photos from 30 years ago.

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    Please login or register to view links
    Please login or register to view links
    Please login or register to view links
    Please login or register to view links (notice that blue sky again).

    My film-look sure doesn't look like your film-look. ;)
     
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  11. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    Thanks a lot for reading, guys! So interesting to see your guesses, I'll post the results later on tonight but I think there will be some surprises. ;)
     
  12. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    I take it fully light-heartedly, the only reason to share stuff like this online is to get the feedback of others, whatever it may be. :)

    I do understand what you're saying for the most part, but I have to disagree with some of it.

    First, I'm well aware that the "film look" is a pretty vague term... Film photography has been around for over a hundred years, so to talk about one film look is a gross generalization. But that's why I stated in my article what my reference is: consumer photography of the late seventies and eighties. And when I look at my family's film photos from that period, they look nothing like yours, I can assure you. The reason is probably because you were an enthusiast or pro photographer back then and my family photographers didn't even classify as amateurs! My first film photos in the eighties (which I posted a photo on the article) also don't look like yours at all, the colors are all weird in mine, shadows are faded, they're all blurry, etc.
    You can say that's just bad photography - which is true - but it is still a photo on film, and for some reason I prefer those to true-to-life photos. I'm weird like that! :p
    But my point is that the film look can mean a lot of different things to different persons, and that's why in the article I tried to explain what my reference is.

    I also don't get your comment on the exposure triangle; how is that a new concept, did you not use aperture, shutter speed and ISO to get your exposure? Maybe the terminology was different, but the basics are the same, as far as I know.

    Lastly, I already ran this poll of guessing the digital and the film photos on a different platform and you'd be surprise with the results. Granted, probably most of the people who voted never shot film in their lives, but some of them did and still got most of them wrong.
    So my "challenge" to you is: if you feel this "film look" has nothing to do with real film, please go ahead and identify which of the photos at the end of the article are digital. I'm honestly curious to have the input of someone who shot film extensively.
     
  13. F2Bthere

    F2Bthere Premium Member

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    If your film images look nothing like film images to him, I'm curious what purpose this "challenge" would even serve.

    I think that many who are interested in reproducing the film look with digital images (or are complaining about the sterile look of digital) are trying to take the best qualities of film images and combine them with the best qualities of digital. For example, it is rare to find grain being reproduced at the level you would see at ISO 800 or more, especially as it would look on APSC. In most cases, the grain is reproduced at a level more like what you would see with well exposed 25 ISO film on medium or even large format film.

    Trying to reproduce the flaws of film is more like trying to apply Instagram filters because it gives a nostalgic feeling to an image, just as people reproduce scratches, light leaks and toy camera lenses. This can be fun, and there are ways to do it well, but most of the time it is poorly executed.

    Trying to reproduce poorly exposed images, poorly processed images, expired film, poorly stored negatives or prints which have been damaged by time (especially acid, UV, scratching and dust), etc is a specific mandate, but I don't think it is the same thing most of the more serious people who complain about the difference are talking about.

    Embracing the past for the sake of the flaws may be hipster, but it is different from embracing the best qualities of the past.

    The message I get from your exchange with @ysarex is that what you are after is a narrowly defined and somewhat specific vision and that what most professional and serious amateur photographers are after is significantly different.

    In the end, we need to create images which serve our personal aesthetic.
     
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  14. ysarex

    ysarex Premium Member

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    OK, you did make some explanation in the article. What you're doing isn't unique of course. There's been a lot of "film look" enthusiasts out there who make an effort to process their digital images to look like abused, damaged and mangled film often calling it the vintage look. You can even Please login or register to view links that will apply dirt, dust and lint to your digital photos to make them look like film you threw in a drawer for years and then scanned without first cleaning it. I can't come up with a rational explanation for wanting to do that except fear that the photos otherwise suck and so a need for some kind of artifice to hide behind.

    Anyway I just wish sometimes that you all could work something into the title to better differentiate between what you're doing and what those of us who used/use film at all seriously did/do. I'm still proud of some of my 40 year old photos and it can get discouraging to keep coming across articles and products that tout "film look" only to discover that they're clearly not remotely talking about my 30 year career using film.

    "Exposure triangle" is a recent concoction. To set an exposure 40 years ago I adjusted the shutter speed and f/stop on my camera. Today I do the same thing. Consider this set:

    1/250th sec. f/8, ISO 200
    1/500th sec. f/5.6, ISO 200
    1/125th sec f/11, ISO 400
    ---------------------------------
    Are the above three all the same exposure yes, no?

    And again another set:

    1/250th sec. f/5.6, ISO 200
    1/500th sec. f/4, ISO 200
    1/250th sec. f/8, ISO 400
    ----------------------------------
    Are the above three all the same exposure yes, no?

    In the first set the correct answer is yes and in the second set the correct answer is no. If you aren't completely clear about that then the "exposure triangle" may have screwed up your thinking. Here's a proper definition of exposure: Please login or register to view links -- notice the specified determinant variables and compare with the "exposure triangle."

    The "triangle" may have gotten you to think that ISO on a digital camera is what creates noise in a digital photo. In your blog you encourage raising the ISO to get a grain effect. You have an XT-20 and I have an XT-2. Here's what ISO 12,800 looks like shot on my XT-2: Please login or register to view links. It can look the same on your XT-20 if you understand exposure and ISO.

    Sorry but not at all interested. Both your digital and film images have been heavily manipulated to achieve a stylistically faddish anti-quality and, as F2Bthere noted, "hipsterish" look that holds no appeal for me. Have fun and watch out for that exposure triangle, it can bite you in the ass.
     
  15. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    I agree with you 100% on those 2 last statements. The film look that I'm talking about in the article is my very specific vision of film and aesthetics, and I tried to be as clear as possible about that. It's totally different from what a pro-photographer vision of film will be, for sure. But the impression I got from @ysarex post was that he was saying the images on the article looked nothing like film. And I have to disagree on that, I believe they look close to film, just not the type of film that he likes.
     
  16. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    I'm sorry for not being clear enough in the title - I think I was plenty clear in the text on what I was going for though, and I believe no professional photographer was mistakenly lead to believe that I was trying to teach them anything about film.

    As for the reason why someone would like the "vintage look", that's a whole different can of worms which I don't really wanna get into right now. It would've been nice though to see a little more respect for other people's tastes, though. I have zero interest in the type of photographs that you posted and yet you didn't see me making any nasty comments on them or questioning your reasons.

    I still feel there's a terminology issue here: to me the exposure triangle means just that there's 3 factors to worry about that interact with each: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. I don't understand how the way you use them has anything to do with how you call it, but again I'm not a professional photographer and English is not even my language, so maybe I'm misunderstanding something.


    I respect that you have no interest in them, but your assumptions are wrong: all the film images in the article have no manipulation whatsoever, they're exactly how I received them from the lab. And most of the black and white digital images are SOOC Acros jpgs.
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2018
  17. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    For the rest of you interested in thrash photography, here are the results! ;)

    Film: 2, 4, 6 and 8

    Digital: 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 10
     
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  18. ysarex

    ysarex Premium Member

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    When the "exposure triangle" is presented to beginners it is presented as the three factors that determine exposure (which is incorrect) and then it is typically further noted that each of those three factors independently control: shutter - motion and blur, f/stop - depth of field, and ISO - noise (again incorrect). People who adopt that as guidance typically fail to understand ISO and noise properly and lack an ability to control noise more effectively.

    So it really is a new construct for the digital age. Bryan Peterson is credited with coining it in his text Understanding Exposure -- not recommended.

    All film (negative) images are manipulated to reach positive form. In this case your film images are manipulated by the lab which is relying on automated machine processing to do the work for you. They are fair at best. And if you want a good image from film you must anticipate and apply additional processing of the image after the scan. There really is no substitute for a pair of eyes and hands sitting down and getting it right.
     
  19. Luis Costa

    Luis Costa Premium Member

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    So you're saying that the 35-year-old pro lab where I had them develop applied some "heavy manipulation" to "achieve a stylistically faddish anti-quality"? God dang it, you just can't find a hipster-free lab these days! ;)

    It's all good friend, I did learn some interesting stuff with your constructive comments (honestly). But I have to say this - and I hope you take it light-heartedly - next time go lighter on the sarcastic comments, it will get your message across much easily.
     
  20. ysarex

    ysarex Premium Member

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    You're right -- You're having a good time and I'm out of line giving you grief -- my apologies. Looks like the lab just did a mediocre processing job and you did that stylistically faddish stuff to your digital images.;)

    Hope you don't mind -- here's a present for you: Please login or register to view links.
     
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