In Defense of Filters: Why are Digital Photographers so Concerned with the “Film Look”?

Amin

Hall of Famer
Great post and examples, Napier. I use Alien Skin Exposure all the time. Didn't like VSCO as much for my personal use, but I've seen others do great work with it. I really like your use of flare simulation and occasionally do that as well, though rarely if ever as successfully as you've done here.
 

stratokaster

Top Veteran
Location
Kiev, Ukraine
Real Name
Pavel
Great post! Many people crave that "film" look because film response was not linear, unlike digital, and film response curves were deliberately engineered to make images look more pleasant. Most digital cameras and RAW converters by default apply a simple S-curve to the sensor output which does add contrast, but not much more.

By the way, how do you add artificial flare? :)
 

EasyEd

Regular
Hey All,

I admit - I love the ektachrome "look" - I have always thought that ektachrome combined the best of colour with the sharpness and clarity of black and white - but I realize that is just me (ok and maybe a few others). Point being we all come from from different backgrounds and preferences - I still seek the best way to "get there" (meaning a consistent ektachrome "look").

No different than lenses. Why oh why chase faster lenses? Well when all we had was film a faster lens was the only way to take pictures in low light. So why on earth does this mentality still exist? Newer camera bodies with ever increasing low light capabilities via ISO far and away trump faster lenses - yet the mentality still persists - absolutely baffling. Last saturday I actually saw a person buy a 2750 dollar lens for the one stop additional over the F4 they already had while they used a body 5+ years old - talk about unbelievably stuck in an old mind set. Am I stuck? I sometimes wonder if my love for ektachrome limits me - yet I have seen nothing better. I love a lot of HDR on an image by image basis but image by image doesn't have a consistent "character" like film did. Does that "character" matter? Good question.

-Ed-

PS and yes kodachrome generally (but not always) sucked! :biggrin:

PSS If you were to exhibit your photos would you want a consistent "look" or not? That I think is the question.
 

ean10775

All-Pro
Location
Cleveland, Ohio
Real Name
Eric
So after reading this article I got inspired to try to create a film look from scratch using some of the tips napilopez put forward as opposed to started with VSCO as a baseline. For this particular image, I'm pleased with the result although the grain and faded shadow areas don't show up all that well in the smaller size image posted here since its a dark photo to begin with.

11941854876_3efdf37af8_c.jpg

P1131546 by ericarthur, on Flickr

E-PL1 + Fujian 35mm f1.7
 

Ray Sachs

Legend
Location
Not too far from Philly
Real Name
you should be able to figure it out...
No one specific look for me. I use the Nik Suite on almost everything, Silver Efex Pro for B&W and Color Efex Pro (sometimes with a touch of Viveza) for color. Not because of a particular look, but because they're tools I feel very at home with. Usually each image that I find worth processing tells me what it will work best with. Sometimes I do what most would call "overcooking", but if it didn't look right to me, I'd have stopped short of that. I've never been even remotely concerned with "accuracy" - I guess if I was a photo-journalist I might be, but I'm not. Never really have been going back to the film days shooting and processing B&W. I like big blobs of grain in those days, only sometimes these days, but the tools available in any era present different possibilities and I enjoy playing with them.

-Ray
 

drd1135

Zen Snapshooter
Location
Lexington, VA
Real Name
Steve
Film shifted much of the process to the shooting experience and, for many, there was very little in the way of post-processing. You could do B&W darkroom work, but most didn't, and color PP was beyond the capabilities of most people. Film took away many of the decisions we face today. I think part of the problem with the digital workflow today is that people are paralyzed by choices. Programs like PS give the user so much control that many feel they have to process every shot whether they want to or not.
 

Djarum

All-Pro
Location
Huntsville, AL
Real Name
Jason
I generally don't use filters at all. I'm pretty happy with the OOC of my E-PL2. On occasion I'll touch saturation or highlights. If I'm doing night photography I'll do some multi-exposure HDR. I'm lazy and if I can't do it easily with RawTherapee or Gimp, then I usually won't do it.
 

Djarum

All-Pro
Location
Huntsville, AL
Real Name
Jason
Film shifted much of the process to the shooting experience and, for many, there was very little in the way of post-processing. You could do B&W darkroom work, but most didn't, and color PP was beyond the capabilities or most people. Film took away many of the decisions we face today. I think part of the problem with the digital workflow today is that people are paralyzed by choices. Programs like PS give the user so much control that many feel they have to process every shot whether they want to or not.

I'll agree with this.

The other problem I run into is if I take a shot an I have an idea of what I want to do with it, but I have no clue of how to get it there. I've spent hours and days trying to get a shot looking the way I want and never getting it there. Then I see great shots on all the forums and on the face of it, it looks like it was effortless PP done to get the shot there.
 

drd1135

Zen Snapshooter
Location
Lexington, VA
Real Name
Steve
I remember recently going through an old album with a visiting friend. The pictures were of a trip to Tanzania and shot with a Pentax MV1, the old Pentax M40 2,8, and a sigma 100-300 zoom. All I could think of was how I would fix the digital versions of these shots, especially with regard to exposure.
 

Steve Noel

All-Pro
Location
Casey County, KY
To film or not to film

Confession is good for the soul.!? :redface:

When I first saw the "featured" article, I was a less than excited, to see another photo, philosopher, teacher, or whatever name is correct. But, I do try to be fair, in my own brand of "critic", as to what is "good" or "needed", for our family here at SC. So, I read the thread, in it's entirety. And have had to admit to being wrong, ...Again!

While I don't actually like most of the OP's final outcome, I do like the thought and work philosophy process. It has also, revealed the processes and goals of other's, for the final image look. And that is good for us all.

I and my family, have began seeing a certain look, to my photography, both in the shooting and PP. And in actuality, I have begun to be dissatisfied with it. But, being very limited in my shills, knowledge of PS and the tools it offers (and the limits of an old brain, to remember new details), I am struggling a bit to find the "way out" of my "rut". But, I am not prone to quitting any project, that I start. I will struggle on, ....slowly, ....and carefully, to some level of satisfaction. :)

I am an old film shooter of many decades, and still don't know what a certain film is suppose to look like. In the later years of shooting film, I preferred the cheap Fufi 100 for out door/landscape, and Kodak for people. I couldn't afford expensive film or processing. Yea, for digital! Even though, it has taken several years to become, somewhat satisfied with the look, that I am now able to get.

To those of you that have waded through my struggles with grammar and punctuation, thank you for your patience.

This thread is a great learning medium. And to Amin, I say thank you, for seeing the value in adding this feature to this forum.
 

Woody112704

Veteran
Location
Iowa
Real Name
Jared
Another great write up. And I have to agree, but also want to state that I think the animosity towards filters is how 90% of people on instagram and everything use them. They don't really use them as tools but more as I'm gonna slap this on here and its perfect. Which is fine, but to me most of the time it really doesn't do a whole lot for the image. That's just my take on it. I never thought of NIK efex being filters until now but that doesn't diminish what it can do and even for instagram, I'm sure there are people on there that use the filters to make great images. As for me I like some filters and use the NIK suite quite often and especially Silver Efex but in that I never use the presets. I may have to look into Alien Skin or VSCO to add more variety to some of my shots.
 

Lawrence A.

Hall of Famer
Location
New Mexico
Real Name
Larry
I don't use film filters; I use film, the best possible way to get the "film look"; it's what I learned the craft on and a digital equivalent - well - isn't, really, though it may be lovely in its own right. I remember years ago I shot several rolls of technical pan and developed them in its own compensating developer because it was said to give you "almost large format" resolution from a 35mm negative. Well, it gave you tons of resolution, and you could get it to represent a decent tonal scale, but it was no replacement for a 4x5 setup, which I very shortly after bought and learned to use. I have a very stubborn conviction that things are what they are.

One thing: I do not think that photography's dependence on the physical world is a "burden"; it is, rather, its special privilege. When I took up the craft I was a pie in the sky philosophical idealist. I couldn't get enough of philosophizing that pretty much indicated that the world was a mirage. Give me Bishop Berkeley or give me death. A friend of mine told me he thought I was the last living Platonist. Well discovering Alfred North Whitehead and photography at about the same time helped me to connect emotionally and intellectually with the "blunt matter of fact", as Whitehead puts it, of a creative universe. Like it or not, the world is what we have; we make our way, earn our salvation (I do not mean that theologically, something I could not care less about), in it or not at all. It doesn't mean we have to see with vulgar, mean, blunt sight, but it means if we are going to see more, we have to see through, not around, what is there. That's the gift of photography. As Weston said (more or less) "All of Brancusi's forms are there, before my lens." Photography has the great benefit of making us point to the world and helps us to know that to transform it (into art, or justice, or any other thing), or to be transformed BY it, we have to see it and point to it first.

It is not a burden; it is a liberation.
 

pdh

Legend
I am an old film shooter of many decades, and still don't know what a certain film is suppose to look like.

This is one of the big problems; Calling a filter "Tri-X" doesn't make the image look like Tri-X, for instance, because there's no such thing as a Tri-X "look". That is just a name that has become associated in the latterday as denoting a certain grainy, contrasty sort of image. But I could put prints in anyone's hand that were shot on Tri-X that show no grain and have a soft contrast and long scale.

I suspect that relatively few people who are using digital "filters" or any of the wide variety of PP options available have recently handled a wet print. Almost all film images are now viewed on screens and are the result of negative scans. These bear very little relationship to how film "really" looks. (I use the word "really" advisedly)

So what seems to have happened is that people look to make "film-like" images which are in fact redolent of a "look" that is itself created by, and has become familiar from, the digitisation of the film image, and not inherent in the film image itself. Film was never created, remember, to be digitised.

Now, I'm not in the smallest way interested in "filters" or PP, and really it doesn't matter a damn to me whether people process their images with a filter called "Tri-X" or "Velvia 50 RVP", but let's not lose sight of the fact that these are simply names for filters, and bear only the slightest relationship to what film can look like.

And don't get me started on photography's relationship (or lack of it) to "reality". There's some very muddled thinking going on about that, including in the OP; Better to have a read of Barthes, Berger and Sontag as a starting place for clear thinking.
 

napilopez

Member
Location
NYC
Real Name
Napier Lopez
I don't use film filters; I use film, the best possible way to get the "film look"; it's what I learned the craft on and a digital equivalent - well - isn't, really, though it may be lovely in its own right. I remember years ago I shot several rolls of technical pan and developed them in its own compensating developer because it was said to give you "almost large format" resolution from a 35mm negative. Well, it gave you tons of resolution, and you could get it to represent a decent tonal scale, but it was no replacement for a 4x5 setup, which I very shortly after bought and learned to use. I have a very stubborn conviction that things are what they are.

One thing: I do not think that photography's dependence on the physical world is a "burden"; it is, rather, its special privilege. When I took up the craft I was a pie in the sky philosophical idealist. I couldn't get enough of philosophizing that pretty much indicated that the world was a mirage. Give me Bishop Berkeley or give me death. A friend of mine told me he thought I was the last living Platonist. Well discovering Alfred North Whitehead and photography at about the same time helped me to connect emotionally and intellectually with the "blunt matter of fact", as Whitehead puts it, of a creative universe. Like it or not, the world is what we have; we make our way, earn our salvation (I do not mean that theologically, something I could not care less about), in it or not at all. It doesn't mean we have to see with vulgar, mean, blunt sight, but it means if we are going to see more, we have to see through, not around, what is there. That's the gift of photography. As Weston said (more or less) "All of Brancusi's forms are there, before my lens." Photography has the great benefit of making us point to the world and helps us to know that to transform it (into art, or justice, or any other thing), or to be transformed BY it, we have to see it and point to it first.

It is not a burden; it is a liberation.

Wonderful post. Don't get me wrong with choosing the word "burden"! I meant it more as an inextricable connection to the physical world, rather than some obstacle against expression. If anything, I agree pretty much completely with what you say.

This is one of the big problems; Calling a filter "Tri-X" doesn't make the image look like Tri-X, for instance, because there's no such thing as a Tri-X "look". That is just a name that has become associated in the latterday as denoting a certain grainy, contrasty sort of image. But I could put prints in anyone's hand that were shot on Tri-X that show no grain and have a soft contrast and long scale.

I suspect that relatively few people who are using digital "filters" or any of the wide variety of PP options available have recently handled a wet print. Almost all film images are now viewed on screens and are the result of negative scans. These bear very little relationship to how film "really" looks. (I use the word "really" advisedly)

So what seems to have happened is that people look to make "film-like" images which are in fact redolent of a "look" that is itself created by, and has become familiar from, the digitisation of the film image, and not inherent in the film image itself. Film was never created, remember, to be digitised.

Now, I'm not in the smallest way interested in "filters" or PP, and really it doesn't matter a damn to me whether people process their images with a filter called "Tri-X" or "Velvia 50 RVP", but let's not lose sight of the fact that these are simply names for filters, and bear only the slightest relationship to what film can look like.

And don't get me started on photography's relationship (or lack of it) to "reality". There's some very muddled thinking going on about that, including in the OP; Better to have a read of Barthes, Berger and Sontag as a starting place for clear thinking.

I think your point here is largely related to what I was trying to say. I freely admit I am not familiar with what these actual films would look like (which, as you state, isn't just one "look" anyway), and that I don't really care much that I'm not familiar. It really doesn't matter to me what they're called, nor how much they resemble actual film, but it's undeniable that many Amateurs and professionals alike search to somehow imitate the film look for some reason or another. As long as it looks good, it doesn't really matter.

That said, I didn't want to point about photography's connection to "reality" to be analyzed too deeply, particularly because we're only really talking about a PP aesthetic here, and I'd hoped to phrase it as such. A picture taken with a camera is almost unequivocally more connected to the physical world at the moment of its creation than something like a painting is. By that, I simply mean more information from the physical world is directly recorded by a camera in some form. But it's interesting to note how despite this, a photograph doesn't have to be "real", so it lies in this interesting position of being able to get about as real as art can and as fake as art can. It varies.
 

pdh

Legend
A couple of points:

What people seeking a "film look" to their digital images are seeking is often a chimera. What they are attempting to reproduce is the look of film once it has been digitised .

Grain (actually "graininess") is the perfect example. Much of the "grain" seen in film images viewed on screen is due to a scanner effect called "grain aliasing" (also the poor sharpening that Flickr applies when resizing images has an effect - a quick look at any of my own film images posted here at SC will reveal graininess that simply isn't in the negative or indeed in the original-sized scan)

(In the end, this is a bit of a personal bugbear rather than anything else. I'm certainly not going to persuade anyone at this point to stop thinking that these PP manoeuvres bear much relation to film, because it has become conceptually embedded in the discourse about PP.)

However, there really is a problem with the idea that a camera is "more directly recording reality".

A camera does not have privileged access to things-in-themselves. Painting or drawing don't have it either, but they don't have it less than photography.

This misapprehension is probably because a photograph looks so much like what we see, although I do wonder if it also has to do with a sort of scientism that persuades people that the more "technological" something is, the closer to "reality" it is.

But a moment's thought (well, perhaps more than a moment) about how a camera works (it doesn't matter whether film or digital), and how the human perceptual apparatus works, and how one works in conjunction with the other soon makes it obvious we're making a mistake.

We don't even have to invoke all that to recognise the nonsense:

Let's say I take a photograph of a chair, and then I make a pencil drawing of the same chair.
You look at both.
Does it make any sense at all to say that one is closer to the "real chair" than the other?
Does it make sense so say that one is a more accurate representation of what we see than the other?
(The two statements are not equivalent)

The reason why all this might matter - in a discussion about something as trivial as the whys, wherefores and aesthetics of post-processing digital snaps - is that any sort of discussion can only be weighed properly when we understand what assumptions are embedded in the discourse without being made explicit.

In your case, your belief that photographs are "closer to reality" than other forms of representation will make a difference to how you see and what you say about the aesthetics of post-processing.

And of course, in my case, my belief that all representations are more or less equivalently unrepresentative affects how I do photography.
 

RichardB

Regular
Wonderful article. I learned a lot from the technical explanations. The examples were beautiful. The first image, the black and white scene looking out at a rainy sidewalk, gave a distinct sense of indoor vs. outdoor. In the photo of the couple kissing (presumably) with the fake flare, it was brilliant to avoid the distraction of faces and let the sunlight show the woman's heels slightly lifted off the ground. Maybe that's been done before in wedding photography, but I never saw it and I think it's very creative and powerful.

My one disagreement of taste is that I prefer the color version of the bride and groom in the empty hall. The dark blue sky is beautiful, the green tint of the walls sets off the subjects, the chromatic detail is flattering to the subjects, and the wider view makes it more fun to spy the couple in their intimate moment.

I look forward to reading more articles and seeing many more photos from the author.
 

BBW

Legend
Location
betwixt and between
Real Name
BB
Just going for a quick note to say, first - thank you Napier for your thought provoking and well illustrated article.

Each of us has to find our own way and for some that will be sooc, whereas many of us will create the image as it was or has become in our own mind's eye.

I also want to echo Richard on my preference for your color version of the bride and groom (a Naval Academy shot?) in the empty hall. Arresting and beautiful.

Back to the discussion.:wink:

P.S. Oh yes, by the way - welcome to Serious Compacts!!:biggrin:
 

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