It is very rare to see a music photographer shooting with film these days. Normally we are restricted to the first three songs of a set, which is not a lot of time (usually under fifteen minutes) to get a great set of photographs. Because of this time restriction, we tend to go for the newest, quickest, high-end equipment least likely to let us down.
This year was my fifth year covering Turning Pirate's annual New Year's Eve Mix Tape in Vicar Street, it’s always the most fun gig of the year for me, but this year I wanted to try doing something a bit different, so, I decided to shoot my first gig in film. I was allowed to shoot the entire five and half hours. I shot with my digital camera too in case the film did not work out. Perhaps my experience using both might help explain why film has fallen out of favour.
The shots on the left were taken on film and the shots on the right taken on a digital camera.
First of all, photographers have deadlines. For agency photographers, whose photos will be available all over the world, a set of images can be edited and uploaded within a few minutes when using digital cameras. Although it was a long night, I had the digital photos ready to go the next day. But the film roll took much longer to prepare. New Year's Day is a bank holiday so I had to wait until the 2nd to get the photographs developed and scan the negatives, before going home to edit them on my computer.
Film costs money: I have already spent the cost of a good second hand car on my digital cameras and lenses. You can pick up a film camera for about €200, but the €20 it costs to buy, develop, and scan your film is a lot considering you could take one thousand photos on a digital camera for the price of the electricity in the battery. Film is simply not cost effective.
Film is also more technically challenging than digital. With digital, you can take a picture, check the screen to see if it is exposed correctly, then easily change the settings to fix it. With my film camera, I am relying on its relatively primitive (40-year-old) light sensor that will set the shutter speed automatically. This can really struggle with the harsh and strobing lights of a concert. The sensitivity of modern digital camera sensors is monumentally better than film, they can see in almost complete darkness.
High sensitivity film is expensive and results in a noisy image. So you need a large aperture lens to let in as much light as possible. Due to the physics of it, a large aperture has a very small depth of field. This means you could have an artist's eyes in focus, but there nose is out of focus. Now imagine trying to manually focus while tracking them as they run up and down the stage. Every frame is precious; you could wait 30 seconds to get the perfect composition before pressing the shutter. In 30 seconds, you could fire off a few dozen shots with a digital camera.
All these limitations and difficulties can actually be quite attractive though. Film has a certain 'look', flaws and imperfections in a forty-year old lens can throw up some unexpected results and give the images a character that cannot be recreated by a tack sharp, colour perfect modern camera. When you have a very limited number of shots, you really slow down and pay more attention. Anyone can take a thousand photos and end up with 20 good ones. But to only have 24 shots in a roll of film is really a test of your skill as a photographer. It is about the ability to create a great image every time, not just by chance.
Here are some more examples of shots I took on the night.