Pretty In Pink 16. Ed. 2 of 5

Film vs Digital Photography: What’s the Difference?

Photography is a brave new frontier in the art world. It has allowed artists to bring their work to life. Literally. It’s an art form that continues to change and progress depending on the technology available. That being said, despite technological advancements in digital photography, analogue photography remains a very popular medium.

So, film vs digital photography: what’s the difference?

In celebration of the esteemed photography artist, Tamara Dean, presiding over the Bluethumb Art Prize 2022 judge panel, Bluethumb and Tamara have developed a guide to understanding the difference between film and digital photography.

What is film photography?

According to Masterclass, “Traditional film photography captures images by exposing individual frames on a roll of film to light. Film is made of plastic and layered with silver halide crystals that darken when exposed to light, capturing negatives of images. When a photographer uses up all the exposures on a roll of film, they take it to a darkroom and develop the photos using liquid chemicals.”

Why is film photography still so popular?

Tamara Dean explains, “I think it comes down to having a tangible, physical outcome, that being the roll of film. From there you can attain incredible quality with the right type of scanner or printer. The immediacy of digital also can be distracting if you are continually checking what you have shot. There is the element of mystery and a sense of anticipation and
excitement that can come with having to wait to develop film and print an image.”

Tamara Dean out in the field.

Film photography can have a higher dynamic range than digital photography

Film photography can have a higher dynamic range than digital photography. This means there is not as much difference between the light and dark aspects of the photo. This can produce dramatic imagery and powerful artwork.

Analogue Still Life 02 Ed. 1 of 1

See the dynamic range in Rosemary Whatmuff’s Analogue Still Life 02 Ed. 1 of 1

Analogue photography can have higher resolution than digital photography

It’s very interesting to note that film can have a higher resolution than digital photography.

A digital camera’s sensor is made up of light-sensitive pixels which capture the light from the scene. Film cameras are similar except their pixels contain silver halide crystals, which help to form an image. This can produce a higher resolution image, which captures more detail.

At times, the clarity in film photography is self-evident, such as Tweed Heads artist Paul Skinner’s picture Australian Alps #1 Ed. 20 of 25. (below)

Film photography captures great depth and natural colour.

Distinct analogue features

It’s easy to forget that Instagram became popularised because of its analogue photography filters. It’s an undeniable aspect of film photography that makes it so endearing.

Film grain adds texture and natural inflexions to photos that are not easily imitated in the digital process.

Late, 2021' Ed. 1 of 7

The natural grain of Melbourne film photographer, Jack Murphy’s piece, ‘Late, 2021′ Ed. 1 of 7’.

What is digital photography?

Digital photography is the process of taking photographs by using an electronic sensor to capture light rather than film. These images are then stored digitally on a memory card and are easily transferable as a digital file.

Unlimited editing potential

In the analogue film era, editing photographs was difficult and at times permanent. Editing software like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom make editing simple and creative potential endless.
Digital photography and editing software blend together seamlessly.
The capacity for editing makes it easier for simple changes like changing the colour temperature from cool to warm and vice versa. This can be seen in the vast colour range of Victorian photographers Andrew Rovenko and Brett Lukey
The Mariner Mission - (A1) Limited Edition of 15 Ed. 5 of 15

The colder colour temperature of Andrew Rovenko’s photograph The Mariner Mission – (A1) Limited Edition of 15 Ed. 5 of 15.

Editing software allows for limitless experimentation and resultingly surreal and ambitious artwork. This can be seen in Jeff Caulfield’s work, Ascension Ed. 1 of 15 

Ascension Ed. 1 of 15

Editing allows for surreal results as can be seen in Ascension Ed. 1 of 15.

Easier control over camera settings

Digital photography allows the photographer to change settings that are essential to the image like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure, more easily and observe first-hand the impacts these settings have on the image.

Adjusting these settings in film photography can produce miscalculations and unwanted impacts.

For example, having control over shutter speed allows for motion to be captured more accurately. A shorter shutter speed, meaning the sensor is exposed for less time, captures less light and captures motion more quickly and accurately.

This can be seen in Sydney photographer, Benjamin Cole’s image Pretty In Pink 16. Ed. 2 of 5

Pretty In Pink 16. Ed. 2 of 5

A quicker shutter speed allows for the detail in motion to be captured.

On the other hand, longer shutter speed exposure allows for capturing rich amounts of information, which can be seen in cosmic photography. Adelaide photographer, Alex Frayne’s work, We Are All Star Stuff Ed. 2 of 5 (see below) best shows this.

We Are All Star Stuff Ed. 2 of 5

Longer shutter speeds allow for more information to be captured by the sensor. This was captured at 30 seconds of exposure.

What is more important in developing for photographic style – experimenting with cutting edge digital features, revisiting analogue techniques, or a combination of both?

Tamara Dean explains that in her experience, “Developing my photographic style has very little to do with cutting edge digital features, although there are aspects which may have been shaped by learning to work with a medium-format analogue camera.”

“When I shifted from photojournalism to conceptual photography in 2005, I intentionally changed camera format from 35mm to 120mm medium format… This helped to delineate between the two styles and approaches.”

Tamara says that she can use the two in coexistence with one another, “As the digital camera technology caught up with the quality I had been achieving with my medium format film camera I made the switch to help with my workflow.”

A portrait of Tamara Dean.

Film vs Digital Photography: which is better?

Despite technological advances in photography, film photography still retains its popularity and possesses qualities that are still relevant to artists. It’s what makes the medium interesting: different cameras produce different results.

Artistic merit is not judged on the equipment photographers use. Photographers should experiment with cameras, both film and digital and see what images resonate with them. Read our ultimate guide to taking great photos here.

Really, it’s not a matter of film vs digital photography; it’s a matter of film and digital photography together.

Photographers, both established and new to the medium, are encouraged to enter the Bluethumb Art Prize 2022 here

Explore the art prize photography submissions.

New to collecting photography art? Read our ultimate guide to starting a collection.

artist Kathrin Longhurst sitting in front of her artworks.
Talented and Fierce: Kathrin Longhurst is Back to Judge the 2022 Bluethumb Art Prize

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