Sunday, June 8, 2014

Analog and Digital: A Truce

My brief flirtation with digital has gained me perspective on image acquisition and overall acceptance of what each method has to offer.  Digital is seductive, an easy path, and perhaps the best method for image capture. Analog astrophotography is all but dead with very few practitioners, and perhaps justifiably so,  but the subtle, aesthetic qualities of film keep me coming back to that medium.

Analog astrophotography in the 21st Century is as good as it ever was if you had the presence of mind to store the proper emulsions while they were still available, but the clock is ticking on frozen stocks as they will still be limited to about ten years, more so if using silver based products. Presently available materials such as Fuji Acros will be around awhile yet, but the rug on this fine film could be pulled anytime.

Folks see digital work coming from my photostream and wonder if even I too have given up on the craft.  My work will use the two technologies suited to their strengths.  Digital offers mastery of brief exposures at high ISO, film offers mastery over very long single exposures at low ISO materials given medium and large formats.  Digital RAW files give unprecedented flexibility in image editing.  Analog is less forgiving; you must nail it the first time.  For the experienced analog photographer, this is not a problem.

So why film?  For me it is simple.  I grew up with film, love it's aesthetic, and the process.  My negatives and positives contain captured starlight.  In a very real way, a literal way.  It's photo-chemical.  There is an original image.  This is a powerful difference to me.  A file of one's and zero's is symbolically captured starlight, it's signature only.  Being able to go back to the original in tangible form is without equal, as imperfect as it may be.

There is room for both. When making art, I prefer film.  For documentary work, digital is no question, the best. Digital mavens declare analog photographers as almost religious zealots and Luddites.  Fair enough.  I believe we feel strongly about our craft, a craft that was suddenly (within the last twenty years) replaced with a whole different process.  Gone, were the darkrooms, the smelly chemicals, the boxes of negatives, the slideshows.

Being a hybrid photographer, this allows me the best of both worlds - film exposures and digital scans.  Originals with many of the digital workflow advantages.  The more accurate the exposure on film (even if it is for hours), the less "noise" it contains, the only noise is from the scanning process. Here, the limiting factor of film is in the scanning process, as it seems something is always lost here.

For stop action Milky Way landscapes, it's digital all the way.  For majestic Milky Way wide-field photography, certainly film provides my medium of choice.

The vistas of the Northern Milky Way on analog materials