4.12.2012

Comparing film and digital for the millionth time.

studio portrait of Carrie C.


I wrote earlier about photographing Carrie in the studio.  In that post I started with a portrait that had been done digitally, with a Sony a77 camera, and then post processed into the black and white image I wanted.  This image is from a roll of medium format, Fuji Acros, black and white film (ISO 100) that we shot at the very end of the session.  I used a 120mm Makro lens and shot a f5.6.  As I was photographing with flash the shutter speed is largely irrelevant.

While the focus on the background falls off much more quickly than the digital versions I think there are few major technical differences between the two images that would make either one a "pass" or a "failure" but it seems that a very strange thing happened, psychologically, on the way to pressing the mechanical shutter button.

Carrie and I had been working on making a portrait for the better part of an hour and a half.  All my work up to this point was done with a typical digital SLR camera.  When we switched to the bigger format camera, and I started loading film, Carrie immediately honed into the changed paradigm.  In fact, I think we both sensed that the larger camera signalled  a change in the balance of studio magic.  The bigger camera slowed me way down.  I couldn't depend on face detection auto focus to do my heavy lifting for me as far as keeping the image sharp went.  I had to do that work myself.  I was much more focused on looking at her face through the lens because of it.

And that meant that Carrie had to sense the longer lag for focusing and slow her global movements down to compensate. She couldn't shift position as quickly and without regard for its effect.  I think we also sensed that there was, for me at least, more skin in the game.  More opportunities to screw up. More real cost to the process.  And she seemed, instinctively, to step up her game, as a subject, in order to help me be more successful.  The larger, slower camera seemed more real and less like fiction; the industrial design and the more measured pace imparted an idiomatic majesty to the process that had been missing.  A fine dining perspective rather than a drop in to the neighborhood Chili's. 


I don't know if you can tell, when you look at this photograph and compare it to the earlier one of Carrie, but there is a more relaxed facial attitude, on her part,  coupled with a more forward and invested posture.  We're more of a temporary team.

It could be just the placebo effect of using something out of the ordinary in an ordinary time.  But most doctors will tell you that the placebo effect is a powerful force.  I won't disregard it in the future.

I ended up shooting three rolls of film with Carrie. I like everything I see on the contact sheets. Furthermore, it was a fun process for me because the performance art of shooting in short, slow bursts of 12 frames came back to me as fast as a freestyle stroke after one day out of the water.  It felt so right.

As I mentioned in my "welcome back" post I will be concentrating more on portrait work as we go forward.  Don't despair if you are only here for the "gear" though,  I have a gear post coming up tomorrow to break the monotony.

17 comments:

Coyotebd said...

More like, break up the awesomotony.

El Ingl├ęs said...

No doubt she is more relaxed here. But as much as I would like to think she was more relaxed in front of the film pistol instead of the digital machine gun, maybe she was just becoming more comfortable with Mr Tuck.

Pim de Groot said...

I also noticed the difference between shooting with a dslr and a film Hasselblad.

The dslr is very automated and after the initial investment, free.
The Hasselblad has four basic settings, but it forces you to think about every one. Which film am I going to use for the next twelve shots? What combination of aperture and shutter speed? Where is my focus? And every shot costs between 50 to 100 cents.

This forces you to think about the value of the shot the moment you start looking through the viewfinder. And only when the value matches the cost you press the shutter. And for a Hasselblad this value must be a lot higher than with a dslr.

Tony's Vision said...

No hair light? Please excuse my true ignorance re studio lighting - I am an ambient light fatalist. But I recall seeing - maybe old time yearbook photos - a touch of backlight to separate dark hair from a dark background. But maybe my monitor cal is too dark ...

kirk tuck said...

Unnecessary hair lights are seem very parochial to me. Your monitor might need a recalibration cuz there's more than enough separation their. I personally hate obvious accent lights.

mikepeters said...

Hey Kirk, as someone who shoots Hasselblads and digital all the time I surely appreciate that they are different animals. One thing that really jumped out at me in the two is how differently the hair renders in the two versions, with the film shot looking much softer and the digital seeming more defined. Interesting. Both work just fine in their own way.

Tony's Vision said...

I love the look of your lighting, so don't get me wrong - I guess my observation was the result of a remembrance of the kind of stilted "traditional" studio lighting look that sent me years ago running off into photographic ambiance.

Paul said...

I just love how the larger format renders the image. The transitions in tone seem so much smoother. As much as I love the convenience of the smaller formats there are definitely times when you need to pull out the big gun. I'm not much of a portraitist, more of a landscape kind of guy and I'm starting to include medium format film in my repetoire again. It feels like I've come home.

John said...

Well, I like both images. Clearly the second image, the film image, shows more personality and a comfort level. Not sure that has anything to do with the camera or not, but who knows??

The biggest single difference I see in the images is the hard vignette in the film image and much more light on the hair. This lightness around the top of her head on the background is completely different than the dslr image, but that is not a result of the formats??

I would love to see the digital file processed to mimic the film and then have another look.

Kirk, any explanation for the much darker background and no vignette in the digital file?

Thanks.

John

kirk tuck said...

They were lit and processed almost identically.

John Taylor said...

Hey Kirk, i always like your "portrait" posts and this one is no exception (and i do rather like this film version) but what prompted me to say hi was as i was aiming for the check boxes… lo and behold a True! option was there! Made me laugh out loud. So to my fellow readers here at VSL I can attest that Kirk does indeed listen to us. Must say i rather liked the Transcendental option… Thanks

Cliff McMann said...

You've got me wondering and thinking back to my early years working in a portrait studio. We used to shoot with a mix of cameras an old studio 4x5, an RB67, and a mix of 35mm cameras. When shooting with the 35's all of us hand held the cameras and looked through the viewfinders as we shot. The RB and the view camera were always on the camera stand and I spent a lot less time with the camera's between me and the person in front of the lens. As I look back at the better portrait's from that time, a disproportionate number were made with the larger cameras. I wonder if the difference wasn't in the gear, but in the interaction. I was looking the subject's in front of the bigger cameras in the eye. Our conversation and interaction was face to face between two people. No barrier preventing them from reacting to my expression or me from theirs. It makes me wonder if I might not be better off putting my digital on a tripod and turning off image preview for a while. Reacting to and interacting with the other person in the partnership instead of chimping every shot and being distracted from the real thing that I like about portraits, the people that you get to meet. Thanks for making me think about the process and not the technique.

kirk tuck said...

Cliff, I think you're on to something there.

atmtx said...

Glorious. I would love to see the actual print of this portrait. I'm sure it is one to add into your square black and white portfolio book.

John said...

Wow! so what exactly do you think was responsible for that quite drastic technical difference in the way the two processes vignetted so differently? And the hair in the film picking up all those highlights and almost none of that in the digital?

John

John said...

Interesting thought.....

John

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

Interesting thought Andy - I had the same thought when looking at Amy's and Renae's portrait with the smaller Leica...