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As covered in Part 1 of this series, I briefly explained my yearning to work with film and how I was trained to use it, even though my formal education coincided with the rise in popularity of digital photography. Since I am part Luddite and part quality-driven, my embracing of film as a medium has led to numerous digital discoveries which, when combined in a workflow, retain both the quality I desire and the efficiency that is required for optimal results.
After taking into account the inherent time and cost associated with having film developed, the overall timeline and process of the two mediums is quite similar in many ways: there is an importing phase, an editing phase, and an exporting phase. In contrast to working with digital files from a camera, I utilize a scanner to make digital files from my exposed film, which are then edited in Photoshop and printed digitally. As I mentioned in Part 1, I have adopted a method of scanning that will yield digital files that are equal to or better than those created with a digital camera and, of course, the tangible aspects of film will always be available, too. As subjective as the term "better" can mean, it is objective in describing that a well-exposed piece of film and a high-quality scanner can still produce an image that exhibits the same technical fluency as even the newest and greatest digital cameras. The experience of reaching this point, though, is naturally more labor intensive.
The main difference in scanning film and downloading digital files, however, is that you are compelled to interact with individual images during this importing stage. Similar to working in a darkroom, the scanning process requires one to work methodically and is also a "pre-editing editing" stage, in many regards. Rather than sifting through the hundreds or thousands of digital files stored on a memory card after a shoot, scanning forces you to be cognizant of what you shot and make decisions about which individual images you will be importing.
When working on imagery in Photoshop, I try to mimic the same controls I had when working in a darkroom, and typically only dust-spot photos, using the Spot Healing Brush or Clone Stamp tool, and adjust their tones or color using the Curves tool. About 90% of the time, these are the only tools I need, assuming I've exposed the film properly. Some instances will require selective adjustments, where I prefer making Quick Mask selections by painting in regions of an image I want to hold back or darken. The main focus when editing an image on a computer is to do it as naturally as possible, which happens to lead to a process similar to dodging, burning, and manually masking in the darkroom.
"The resulting prints, called digital C prints or digital fiber prints, sum up the entire process in the best way."
Finally, the last step to my hybrid film-and-digital workflow is printing, where again, I use a combination of both digital and chemical-based methods. I work with printers who digitally expose light-sensitive paper and develop using traditional silver and RA-4 processes. The resulting prints, called digital C prints or digital fiber prints, sum up the entire process in the best way. They reap the benefits of the digital editing process—greater precision in color accuracy and the ability to make selective edits—while also utilizing the brilliance afforded by the traditional printing materials.
The result of my entire process, part archaic and part technologically up to date, yields an image quality that I simply have not found a way to mimic in an entirely digital process. The sum of all aspects of film, scanning, and printing results in image quality that is inherently different from that recorded with a digital camera. Beyond the technical differences, the mindset of working with film is, in actuality, the larger obstacle to overcome. The pace and state of mind when working with a film camera is much more simple in practice; there are far fewer variables to be aware of, which permits you to focus much more of your attention on the craft itself.