Opinion: The Film Photography World is a Million Times Less Toxic Than the Digital World

If you’re looking for a sphere within the photography world that isn’t a bunch of dudes just complaining about pixels and measurbations, then consider film.

I love film and I love film photography. In fact, I adore it. I am enamored with the conversations around it, with the discipline involved in knowing that you need to be more careful and how that translates into digital photography, with the formats and how much more affordable it becomes as you go for larger sizes, the look, and most importantly its people. There are far less frivolous conversations in the film photography world about megapickles (spelled this way purposely) and one brand vs another–instead it’s more about creative intent.

That isn’t at all to say that the film photography world doesn’t have toxicity. I mean, the fact that the highest rated images follow this simple formula says it all:

  • Pretty woman
  • Portra 400
  • Warm tones
  • Bokeh

Seriously, if you do this in the film photography world you’re bound to be able to get tons of engagement with your photos. But the conversations otherwise are also all about how the images are set up, whether or not there was processing involved with your scans, working with the models, concepts, pricing, etc. There isn’t much of Kodak vs Fujifilm vs Lomography vs CineStill vs Ilford etc. It’s more about the art and the creation process in and of itself. Folks are genuinely more in love with the art of the image than the other aspects. This is all something that I wish were in the digital world but I feel like the lower bar of entry doesn’t lend itself to this.

That isn’t a knock or a diss to anyone about going for lower hanging fruit. Instead, it’s a comment on the society created by the actions of the users and their conversations. I liken digital photography to the folks who buy Toyota Corollas to put spoilers, LED lights and body kits on their cars only to drive them in cities with speed bumps and to pretend that they’re racing down neighborhood streets like they’re in the Fast and the Furious franchise. Film photography on the other hand is more like discussing the intentions of Shakespeare in his various plays. Of course, it isn’t totally to that level, but there are much more intellectual conversations around it all. With film photography folks often ask about cameras, lenses, what film, and usually that’s about it. With digital photography, the conversations are often about how they can make their images look like those of another photographer without knowing how to shoot, hating on presets, why their Sony camera is superior to the new stuff that came out, etc.

For all means and purposes, I liken modern digital photography conversations to tech bros arguing over whether or not their Samsung Galaxy phone is superior to Apple’s iPhones. Unless there are major differences, then the conversations are meaningless and pointless. They’re of a lower intellectual capacity that fuels capitalism and GAS more than really puts the photographer themselves and their creativity at the center. This can go into AI and a whole bunch of other things.

But by and large, film photography is still better as a culture than digital. And I’m not sure that that’s ever going to change.