Colin Winterbottom’s freezer is full, but there’s not much there to eat.
Winterbottom, 38, a professional fine arts photographer in Washington, is storing close to 300 rolls of unused Kodak infrared film next to his veggie burgers in case film companies stop producing it because of a lack of demand.
It’s like when CDs became the rage and no one was making turntables anymore, he said. You have to be prepared.
The quality and convenience of digital cameras has led some of the most diehard film photographers to start taking their pictures digitally. It’s a trend many in the industry fear will one day make film photography obsolete.
Even in a digital age, Winterbottom still uses film to create what he calls timeless scenes, like a photo he took of the Washington Monument on a misty, snowy evening.
For me, there is a grain and an aesthetic to film that you can’t replicate with digital photography, Winterbottom said.
But Winterbottom concedes that he is swimming against the tide.
Ron Wilson, president of the Cleveland Photographic Society, still has his film cameras, but that’s only because the money he’d get for selling them would hardly make it worth the effort. Wilson, 64, said it was hard to accept how little he would be paid these days for his once high-priced film cameras.
A friend of mine tried to sell his film camera, Wilson said, and the guy at the store told him to turn it into an ashtray.
Kodak has already stopped producing new film cameras for sale in the United States, and in January Nikon announced that it would produce only two models of film cameras, noting that film cameras made up only 3 percent of its total sales last year.
These companies just can’t afford to keep producing film cameras because the growth is all in digital, said Chuck Webster, the store manager at Dodd Camera in Mentor, Ohio. Basically, the only people who still shoot film are guys who are attached to their old equipment or who just like to take pictures of the family in the backyard.
And for professional photographers, the cost of shooting and producing film is a determining factor. In particular, the cost of paying for photo production can be exorbitant, especially for large jobs like weddings.
In 2004, Amy Elliott started taking pictures with a digital camera after using film for the first eight years of her career as a professional freelance photographer. Elliott, 32, who photographs scenes of American culture, musicians and weddings, initially resisted giving up her film camera. She feared that the sharpness of her black-and-white photos would decline if she went digital.
For me, the transition was like being hit by a Mack truck, Elliott said. These days, I can’t imagine not using a digital camera.
Elliott, who edits her digital photos in her apartment studio in Manhattan’s East Village, takes almost all of her pictures with a Nikon D100, a high-end digital camera. Because her D100 is compatible with all of the Nikon lenses that her film camera used, the transition has been easy.
I still do shoot film on occasion, said Elliott, but it’s getting less and less all the time.
Chris Ocken, a freelance photographer who co-owns Ocken Photography outside Chicago, said, I just can’t justify using film these days. It can double the cost of any project. Think about it. Developing 10 rolls of film can cost $100. With digital photography, it costs nothing.
But film does still have one advantage: getting a finished film photo can take less time. Digital photographers who edit their own work may have to spend hours touching up their photos, a job that used to be done by photo developing labs.
Mike Watson, art director for The Lutheran magazine outside Chicago, says editing his own digital photos can consume a lot of time.
The great part of digital photography is that you have total control, he said. The unfortunate part also is that you have total control. With digital photography, you are the lab. The time it requires can be a real challenge.
Digital photographers seem willing to accept increased editing time in return for convenience.
My old film cameras are collecting dust in my closet, Watson said. They’re glorified paperweights. I love digital quality, and I’m not going back to film.
– John McMurray – Columbia News Service