Ratical : Analog Photography

Why Film?

One of the questions people ask when they hear that I shoot with film is, Is it better somehow? This is a surprising reaction to me, because it seems obvious that a different process will lead to a different result. Another question I have received is do professionals still use film? If professional photography means commercial work, then surely film photography has an obscure and specialized role.

When digital cameras first replaced personal and professional photography they were dreadful. Now that digital cameras are very good, it is not obvious why anyone would choose a limited and unreliable medium. Digital, imaging is more versatile in every way, but it is perhaps a mistake to presume that boundless control is what we need.

Ari Jaaksi keenly labeled himself as a process junkie which is a hint that our manner of working has profound implications. Some of our physical movements become rituals or focal practices. Rituals are essential our existence, as they enable us to integrate the fragmented experiences in our lives.

Irregularity and Perfection

Human beings have a strong connection with irregular forms. Wood is challenging because ever piece is unique, and it can only be cut and fastened in a way that accepts this lack of exacting uniformity.

It may even be that the introduction of a defect makes something more beautiful. A table may have an uneven edge for example, but these defects are still in keeping with it's use. By contrast, a variation in the height of legs makes the entire piece unstable and less valuable.

Film is an irregular medium, but as with any material it too fails to fill it's place if the features that matter to a photograph are compromised. My theory is that a photograph is not good because it's analog, it is good because it is as good as it can be in the aspects that matter.

Inherent Properties

All films have a fixed latitude, but push-processing B&W film allows the photographer to trade dynamic range for increased density. When push-processing film, the exposure needs to be more exact, and as a reward you can use a faster shutter speed and create a negative that represents what you really intended.

Color reversal is an even more extreme exercise in precision because in addition to getting the exposure right you have to factor in the color temperature and tint of available light. To shift colors you may need to use a filter on the camera, and possibly on the lights themselves. This entire process is parlous.

Film is a medium that depends on precise manufacturing and careful handling; as such provides a unique opportunity to meld the striving for perfection with humility of material limitations.


For the most part, film cameras are missing features that make digital cameras so versatile: image stabilization, accurate auto-focus, and high sensitivity. In bright daylight you don't need any of these, but on a dark day or indoors these features make composition much easier.

Technologies such as eye-tracking, electronic shutter, and large burst buffer seems allow one to hold a button down and get the winning image. All one has to is scroll through the thumbnails and pick the winning moment. Some photographers work in exactly this way. A medium format camera gives you 8 to 15 frames on a roll; the sheer limitation of the device requires imaginative engagement.


The value of film is not technical superiority: it is the challenge and reward of using a technology that does not have super-human powers. For all of the challenges to film, the limitations of light-sensitive pigments or silver halides provides the basis for authenticity. The capabilities of digital imaging and the software used to manipulate images make establishing trust difficult.

Is film better somehow? As a means of creating a personable, believable photograph, it is. The photographer using a digital camera can accomplish this as well, but it will require a different kind of hard work.

Last updated on July 12, 2023