Photography Blog

James Tarry's photography blog. Ramblings from a photographers over active mind. Email now or call +44 (0)7855 742 633.

Cinema meets photography: Is film really dead?

As Columbia was beating Uruguay in the 2014 World Cup with one of the goals of the World Cup, I was settling down to watch a documentary that I had been wanting to see since its (sadly) limited release in 2012, a documentary by actor Keanu Reeves on the "death of film" and the emergence of digital. Made over the course of 18 months, Keanu interviews a bunch of movie makers from the crème de la crème of directors, to industry innovators and colourists.

Here's the trailer:

"Side by Side" is without doubt one of the best documentaries I've seen in a while, it is well balanced and offers a great insight to the minds of those behind the films we love. For me though, the biggest lightbulb moment (*click*) was seeing how the "death of film" in cinema equally ran side by side with photography, something that I had not really thought about before.

Digital photography has been moving at a pace similar to that of cinema, advances in sensors have improved year on year, while equipment prices have been falling and making it accessible for more people. Similarly as digital prices fall the cost of shooting film and processing film has gone up, making it more specialised as less and less people use it.

The biggest gripe most of the filmmakers had of digital when it first started out was its lack of decent dynamic range, whereas celluloid effortlessly shows the very highs in highlights and the details in the shadows. Sensors now though are so advanced that pulling details out of the shadows has become far easier with far less degregation. Images that sit in the mind of the creatives can now be achieved with ease, manipulation of digital is easier than manipulating film. 

Every day in the photographic world we see manipulated photos that bare no resemblance to reality, but when Keanu prods James Cameron that audiences are now not watching reality in reference to the visuals in Avatar, Cameron responds:

"They never were watching reality. There's a film crew of 30 guys, fake rain, set up lighting, we aren't shooting in NYC, we are on a fake set in Burbank……where's the reality in that?"

I got the impression from "Side by Side" that cinema is going through the same thing as photography. Its about having the best tech, the highest resolution, the lightest camera, the best "look" and pushing the boundaries to the very last inch until the audience starts to react negatively. The advancements in digital are spectacular, but just to what cost? 

"Has digital made cinema releases better? I'd argue (says one contributor) that no, its made them worse, there's movies now being made that should not have been or would never had been made in the days of film"

The main difference for me between cinema and photography is that there seems to be a resurgence of film in photography. A lot of photographers I speak with are going back to film because it slows them down, makes them more careful, that they just prefer the feel. Many are just fed up with the way modern imagery is now looking.

Film usage in cinema hasn't died yet, Christopher Nolan is wonderful example of that, but I wonder how long it will be (if at all), before cinema follows photography and filming "retro" becomes the thing to do again. 

An absolutely fantastic film and worth a look if you have an interest in cinema or photography or just an evening to kill while waiting for the next World Cup game!