March 4, 2022


Informational, Origin Story, Film Photography

TLDR: Film Was Never Dead

Kodachrome [Beginning of Time - 2008]

I can still hear the screams in my head! Every photographer I knew was screaming in horror as the longest color film running was being phased out. Digital Photography had swooped in, and all the photographers that were fed up with lab fees for processing and scanning were ditching their film stocks and gear like they were Deutsche Marks. I'll never forget watching the documentary National Geographic did on Steve McCurry as he shot the last roll of Kodachrome to ever come out of Kodak. The images he produced were just unreal, and when you looked at your digital files next to colors like that, it made you sad to know they were going extinct. Then Digital Photography took hold like a vise clamp on the industry. Films like Portra, Ektar, E100, Provia, and Astia were all still there though. Why was digital becoming such a thing?

Reason 1 - Profit Margins

Film and Lab Services were a long time running cost for pretty much every photographer out there. Suddenly it didn't cost money every time you hit the shutter button. You could shoot all you wanted, and get this, see it immediately. Every film photographer knows that lab lag anxiety. That little voice that says "You screwed up somewhere. Not sure where, but you did!!" Until you get your film back from the lab and you realize you're not a complete moron and they look fantastic. Aside from that, you didn't have to pay the ever increasing lab price while you wait.

See when people flocked to digital, labs flocked to the out of business category. With scarcity in processing, prices went up, and so did turn around time. Why deal with all this BS when you could use a digital system and be done with all the "film crap".

Reason 2 - The "Film Crap"

Film back in its prime required a little bit of care and feeding depending on who you asked. I found this all depended on if you processed your own film, made your own prints, or even scanned your own film. See the theme here. If you took on all the work of handling the film and image, you amassed a collection of what I (lovingly) call "Film Crap". Tanks, Chemicals, Papers, Enlargers, Scanners, and lots of silver tainted developer in bottles. One thing I can safely say I was not going to miss myself, the smell of Bleach Fix aka Blix. That smelled like rotten ass!

Aside from physical things, the "crap" film came with was lack of sizing flexibility like digital had when printing, as well as time that it took to get something usable from the medium. Digital was click, download, tweak, print, deliver. Or was it?

Here's where I call BS!

Digital Photography was convenient, I'll give it that point. HOWEVER, in my experience it needed more post production care and feeding. Nearly as akin to processing and scanning your own film, just not as smelly and program crashy (seriously old school scanning software SUCKED). The image that came out of camera was so flat (by design) that you had to really breathe life and color back into it. Where as film did that all in the film itself and/or in the chemical processing. This led me to (in some cases) spending hours on a single photo to get it where I wanted. I remember shooting Weddings with my friend Mel and spending DAYS looking at the images and color correcting them to look like the Kodachrome, Portra, and Ektachrome I remembered from way back. I remember seeing a photography named Tanja Lippert who was "still" shooting Weddings on film, and her work took my breath away. She also didn't really touch her photos, the lab took on the processing, scanning, and color profiling.

WHY DID WE STOP DOING THIS?! Why was film labeled as "archaic"? Kodak had even redesigned Portra 160 and 400! Weren't they filing for Bankruptcy?

Chase This Light

I decided to see for myself if digital was really right for me. I wasn't really happy with what I was doing, and what did I have to lose? So I purchased a used Mamiya 645 AF, and got some Kodak Portra 400 120 for a concept shoot I was wanting to do. I couldn't unsee what came back from the lab.

I was obsessed with this song by Jimmy Eat World called Chase this Light, and I wanted to do a concept shoot around that. I tested it on digital and it really looked like crap. It was either the light blew out completely or the subject was pitch black. Also, the color was just womp womp, and when I tried to add it back in...woof it was rough looking.

So I shot it on film thinking "what the hell", this is just for me. If it looks like shit, I can scrap it and no one will ever know. I never imagined how it would turn out.

An editorial portrait by Kyle Bromley Portrait Photographer.

From this Moment Forward

I've been hooked on film! It just works for me. My style, my laziness, and the way my brain sees color. Look, digital technology has really come a long way. I also use digital from time to time, sometimes the project or situation just requires that I do. I don't hate digital, it just doesn't fit me like film does. I'll never forget how proud I was when I saw the Chase this Light shoot featured on the cover of a Film Photographer focused Magazine. I was so proud of that work, more so than any other work I ever did.

Optiko Zine

Issue 4

I still have a hard copy of this at my desk that I look at with very fond memories.


If it ain't broke, don't fix it!