by Harry Flashman
Digital and film - is the war now over?
I began professional photography, I was a dyed-in-the-wool film
buff, using 6x6 cm negatives and transparencies and 5x4 inch
transparencies when I needed a larger format. Along with the
best optical lenses available, I was always assured of pin-sharp
images. There was nothing to beat it.
Then along came “digital” photography and the photographic world
was split in two. The film and digital groups. One claiming
“sharpness” and the other touting “instant” imaging.
I used to say that I would never go digital, because digital
photographs were not as sharp as film photographs. All that
changed in the past few years, and I took up digital
I had done the conversion rather slowly, initially scanning my
photos and storing the electronic form of the photo image in the
computer, to be manipulated further if needed. This rather
long-winded procedure meant that I was converting a negative
into a positive print, then scanning into a digital image. Two
steps, each capable of losing definition. Which it did.
I then began having my negatives turned into CDs, rather than
printing the images and scanning them. This way I could import
the images in digital form directly into my computer via ACDSee
and then do the final crop, fix lop-sided horizons, etc.,
through Adobe Photoshop.
Undoubtedly there will be those folk who are very computer savvy
who would say I should have used this or that software, but I am
not a computer geek, I am purely a photographer who uses a
computer. My editors need images at 300 dpi (stands for dots per
inch, they tell me) and that is what I supply.
Of course, by still using my film cameras to capture the images,
I was left in the situation whereby I did not know definitely
that I had a usable image until the film was developed. I was
also at the mercy of the boy who changed the photochemicals in
the autoprocessor. Crispness in the final image could easily be
compromised at that stage.
So I finally entered the digital era, choosing a camera with
electronics from an electronics manufacturer and the lens from a
lens manufacturer. This has, I believe, given me the best of
both worlds. If you are going the electro-trickery route, use a
manufacturer who knows and understands all the subtleties of
LCDs and pixels and all of that stuff which I don’t really want
to know, but why then get that manufacturer to make optical
glass lenses? Surely a recognized lens manufacturer would be
Some of the examples of supposed digital superiority include:
Images are free. After you buy a digital camera, accessories and
batteries, the pictures are free. The cost of digital looks high
until you figure savings on film and processing.
Instant feedback. The LCD screen on a digital camera lets you
check photos instantly. The ability to learn quickly from
mistakes is a big advantage.
Exact duplicates of originals are possible. You can store exact
copies of original digital images in multiple locations for
safekeeping. With film you have only one set of original
negatives, which you can store only at one location.
However, the editing process with digital is slow by comparison
to looking at proof sheets, it becomes difficult to discard a
‘mediocre’ shot when you have invested so much time working on
it just to view its potential. Many photographers end up keeping
digital images that they would have thrown out had they been
Shooting digital can mean much more time in front of the
computer both in the field and at home. With film, you spend
less time in front of the computer and more time shooting and
the results tend to be stronger and more cohesive.
Just the physical aspect of shooting images is also different,
and for me, film cameras are easier to use in the field. Digital
still needs much fiddling around in its menu system. Granted,
the five drop-down menus seems to cover everything a
photographer might want, but I still find it fiddly, pushing
buttons to go from one menu screen to another.
Both film and digital have their advantages, but the war isn’t
f8 and be there
Photojournalists can have a problem with morality and ethics. The following
test shows just how much stress there can be for these photographers.
The situation: You are in London. There is chaos all around you caused by a
hurricane with severe flooding. You are a photojournalist working for a
major newspaper and you are photographing in the middle of this epic
Suddenly, you see a man in the water. He is fighting for his life, trying
not to be taken down with the debris. You suddenly realize who it is... it
is a well known violent criminal on the run. You notice that the raging
waters are about to take him under.
You have two options:
(1)You can save the life of this man - or -
(2) You can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize winning photo, documenting the
death of one of the country’s most despised, evil and powerful men!
Now the question, and give an honest answer (nobody can see you)!
Would you select high contrast color film, or just go with the classic
simplicity of black and white?
So now, to be sensible after that little chuckle, the job of a
photojournalist is to get back to the editor with a usable photograph of
some event, be that a fire, a debutante ball or the British Chamber of
Commerce networking night.
The photojournalist’s creed of “f8 and be there,” may have come from Arthur
H. Fellig, known as ‘Weegee’. Born in Poland in 1899, he came to America in
1909. He worked for a few studios and then got a job in the darkroom at Acme
Newspapers. Life in the newspaper business is always exciting and frantic.
Arthur H. Fellig reveled in that excitement. He had found his niche. He was
only 21 years old but he decided he was going to be a freelance news
He soon became known as the first on the scene of any newsworthy happening,
be that fire, murder, suicide or landslide. He was so uncannily aware of
what was happening that people began to feel he had some kind of psychic
powers of prediction. At that time, America was also in the middle of a
Ouija Board fad and from this Fellig was to adopt his nickname “Weegee”.
Of course, Weegee was not psychic, but just used to sleep fully clothed,
with a police radio on his pillow. In the boot of his car was his “office”,
complete with typewriter to knock out the words, spare film and lots of
flash bulbs. Weegee would arrive, record the shot, type the words and have
everything on the editor’s desk within the hour. It was no wonder that
Weegee was so popular with the news media of the day. (He would be even more
By 1935, Life magazine was doing features on Weegee and his work. There was
no doubt about the fact that he had the photographic “eye”, but for Weegee,
the subject was the all important part of the photograph. And the subject he
dealt with was done incredibly directly. Weegee was not one to be horrified
by the sights before him, such as gangland killings. He took the shot that
kept that horror for the eyes of the newspaper readers the next day.
(Interestingly, that direct, confrontational photographic style is still
used in the Thai language papers today - check any front pages for graphic
images.) Another quote from this amazing man, “I like to get different shots
and don’t like to make the same shots the other dopes do.” When asked what
his formula was he replied, “I just laugh. I have no formula, I’m just
myself, take me or leave me. I don’t put on an act. I don’t try to make a
good or bad impression. I’m just Weegee.”
Weegee will be remembered for his record of the seamier side of New York
life. This was put into book form, called the Naked City and was published
in 1945. Unfortunately, the wide public recognition that came from this book
ended the directly grotesque nature of his images and Weegee went to
Hollywood where tinsel-town swallowed him up. He died in 1969.