Is DIGITAL better than FILM? | How to photograph new landscape locations | Planning ambitious shots
Coming up on this episode of photography online we explain what to do on a first visit to an epic location. Harry tells us why he thinks digital is better than film. And Marcus goes in search of another ambitious shot. Welcome to another commercial free episode of Photography Online. As you can probably tell I am not in Scotland. I have flown to this beautiful medieval village which I'll tell you all about as
well as show you around a little bit later on. Before we begin though here's a quick photography question just for fun.... Have a think about it and I'll give the answer at the end of the show. Okay well since we first launched Photography Online at the beginning of 2020 it's been very difficult, or almost impossible to travel, so the kind of shows that we'd always planned on bringing from various locations around the world has understandably never really materialized... until now. As we can finally travel again, we can at long last start to make this show into the one we had always intended. To prove the point, I am here in Spain and here is Nick in Utah - finally!
As a landscape photographer most of the photos I take are at locations I've been to before. For me, this is an important part of the photo taking process - planning a shot and visualizing it in my mind. It's then just a case of returning to the location when I feel the conditions will allow me to convert my visualization into reality. However, sometimes you don't get the chance to return to a location because we may be traveling like I'm doing here in Utah. We might only get one or two chances at most to get the best out of a location, so after doing some initial research on this area it turns out that the best time to come is dawn and just after sunrise. So because that would mean walking in the dark I've come here mid-morning and
I've been walking around for about an hour now trying to find good viewpoints. Now I've used either my phone which is also just handy in the pocket and also the camera, and it looks like basically you can use almost any focal length from 50mm or wider through to something like a 70-200mm lens and I found this one particular viewpoint which appeals to me and it's a 70-200mm shot and so I've got no foreground and what has drawn me to it is the the different layers in the shot. We've got these beautiful colours of the rock in the foreground going off to the red rock in the background which has got trees in it so there's green there. So now, for me, it's just a case of honing different compositions from this particular viewpoint and yeah see what I can come up with and then I'll continue walking around finding shots that will work also with my wide-angle lens. It's not possible to pre-visualize a scene which you've never been to before, so I'm seeing everything for the first time. To be honest it's a bit like sensory overload and would be easy to run
around and try to get as many different shots as possible, but that's unlikely to produce the best photos. So what I need to do is slow down and identify where the best potential is likely to be. After a while I found what I believed was the best viewpoint, so I set up the camera and explained my thought process out loud... with a 70-200mm lens here you're basically picking up the layers in the scene so you've got no foreground just about picking out the layers in the shot. Pretty much anything from 70 through to maybe 100, 135mm will work here I think. Yeah it's just these beautiful red rocks in the foreground, different shades of red and with those mountains, hills in the background with the trees on it really gives a nice contrast. These are simply a few reference shots which I took to enable me to remember the various viewpoints and compositions I consider to have the best potential, so that I know what to work on when I return in more optimal conditions. Reccying a location is all about taking lots of
reference shots from different angles in seeing what works and what doesn't. After walking around here for a good two to three hours now I've taken plenty of reference shots. I've also taken shots so that if I can't return for maybe one, two, three years, at least I've got something to reference back to, if when I do return here which will be in the dark because I'll need to arrive here probably a good half an hour to an hour before sunrise to hopefully get that nice glow that will hopefully appear in the kind of twilight, so all these notes and reference shots should help me in the future. Spend as much time as you can to explore all the options, taking photos either with your main camera if you want to work out the best focal lengths or you can simply use your phone if you only want to get an initial idea whether composition works or not. A handy app for the iPhone is aptly named Viewfinder, which enables you to select any format camera with any focal length to see what you'll need in order to get the ideal crop of any scene. So yeah, all I've got to do now is to return to this location and hopefully get the shots I want.
And return I did - armed with the information I'd gained during my recce, this allowed me to get straight to the best viewpoints and work on the best compositions without wasting any time running around when the light was good. Here's a couple of shots I got in the morning during the blue hour when the distant lights from the city were glowing in the twilight, but the warmth of the approaching dawn was providing enough directional light to give subtle highlight and shadow detail in the rocks. Next time you visit a photo location for the first time, try not to arrive at the optimum moment when the light is at its best, as you'll end up running around in a panic trying to make the most of it without having worked out where the best shots are. As Ansel Adams used to say... "luck favors a prepared mind" so be prepared and you'll find that luck will more likely be on your side.
Thanks Nick. Now usually I would be green with envy with your location there but this will do me just fine. You might be wondering where exactly I am? Well I'm here with some of the Photography Online team as we prepare for our annual photo workshop here in Albarracín in the heart of Spain. Now if you've never heard of it then join the rest of the world as this place
is well under the radar but as you can hopefully see it is ideal for photography. Team member Marcus discovered this place by accident when he took a wrong turn - so he tells us - on his bike ride 15 years ago (that is actually true) and we've been returning ever since. The village is plastered onto a hillside, deep in a gorge and it's small enough to walk around in just a couple of hours.
Yet despite its modest size, it's got a castle, a cathedral, a church, a fortified wall, endless cute alleyways and crooked buildings, and let's not forget great tapas bars and a bakery as well! If that all sounds appealing and you'd like to join us for three days of photography here next year, get in touch for full details. We'll be showing a gallery of some of the photos that we've taken so far later on in the show. Okay so over the past year or so, Marcus has been banging on about the resurgence of film and how it's so much more rewarding than shooting digitally. Harry has taken slight issue with this and thought he should balance the show by batting for the other side... For a couple of years now I've let Marcus drone on and on about how wonderful film photography is. "Look how big this camera is!" "look how long this one takes to set up" so on and so forth.
But no one's been around to defend the technology that revolutionized the photographic world Many people will sing the praises of film photography and the 'good old days'. A quick search on YouTube is filled with people talking about how film photography changed their lives and has made them a better photographer. Let's just take a quick moment to look at why digital photography revolutionized the world and why it's better than film photography. Now don't get me wrong, I love film photography. It's how I started out and how I built my foundations. I love producing imagery in the darkroom, but let's begin with a simple statement - digital photography (objectively speaking) is better than film photography. It's like comparing old CRT TVs to beautiful slim LCD panels, or wind-up windows to electric car windows - it's no competition.
Let's get the awkward money bit out of the way first. Initially it might appear that film photography could be a cheaper option because there are some fantastic bargains on film cameras. Take a look at what Fford's photographic have at the moment for example. It looks quite attractive at those prices!
On a previous episode, Marcus argued the cost-effectiveness of film photography if you're looking to produce professional results, but let's face it, 95% of people probably aren't looking to produce the top professional results, so frankly I disagree with his arguments. Compared to digital photography, film may seem to be cheaper initially. It's true that most new digital cameras on the market can be eye-wateringly expensive but if budget is a concern then there are just as many used bargains in the digital market. Top-rate second-hand full-frame cameras can be picked
up for as little as £350, plus a lens and your memory card and you're pretty much set to go. An often quoted argument, particularly aimed at mirrorless cameras and their vast array of displays tools and information is that it's making photography 'too easy'. Now making photography easy cannot be a bad thing - simple. I learned many lessons the hard way on film, especially when it came to exposure and composition. It took me several years to make the
same progress I did in just a few weeks when I eventually switched to digital. The instant feedback that a digital camera offers means you can immediately learn from any mistakes. You can directly see the influence of exposure time and aperture on the final image. Having access to a histogram pretty much guarantees getting the correct exposure in any given situation. Imagine being able to do that on film! As a wildlife photographer, having the option to shoot 2000 images of a bird in flight gives me a higher chance of nailing a pin sharp shot than if I only shot 50. Having all the tools directly to
hand to make our lives that little bit easier is a fantastic thing. It makes some aspects of photography just a little bit more simple and that's what encourages us to think more creatively. If you have to constantly worry about exposure, focus, or tiny little technical mistakes, that's a huge amount of your effective processing power taken up. More often than not, this will lead to images with creative mistakes rather than technical mistakes. Personally I'd rather have a creatively competent image with a few technical mistakes than the other way around. Once we worry about the technicalities less, it's the only way we can become better photographers.
And photography, after all, is about the way we perceive the world, regardless of budget, medium or camera. Off the back of my last point then, by making photography a little bit easier, it also makes it more accessible. Film photography was a genre dominated by just a few who had the time to invest in order to get good results. Digital photography has no such barriers and complete beginners can pick up a camera and start shooting immediately. This, of course, does not take away from the time and dedication people put in to improve their skills, but the simple instant nature of digital photography provides access to those that may not have the time to otherwise invest.
Digital photography does not simply encompass expensive cameras anymore. Pretty much everyone has access to a high quality digital camera right in their pocket in the form of a phone. One of the arguments that really bugs me with proponents of film photography is always talking about having a final result to print. Really this just isn't true. There are plenty of people out there with hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film, film that has never been printed or film that has only been scanned into a computer. Having the desire and urge to print a photograph is irrespective of the medium you choose to shoot on. I have just as many prints from my
digital cameras as my film ones - probably more - because digital is easier and more accessible. Now this is the slightly controversial point. Quality can be subjective. There are lots of people that say they prefer the 'look' of film. Does that necessarily make it better?
It's hard to define. It's like saying you like the scratchy quality of vinyl over crystal clear digital. It's all subjective and hard to define. So let me introduce some element of objectivity. If we talk about how much we have to enlarge an image to produce our desired size print, then shooting on medium format film is strictly going to give a better result simply because our image area is larger than most digital camera sensors. However, if i'm photographing fast fast-moving wildlife such as eagles in flight, this is going to be pretty much impossible on a medium format film camera. It obviously isn't going to give me the desired quality. I could also talk about sharpness from the point of view that a higher degree of sharpness results in a higher quality image. As lens and sensor technology advances, it's now easier than ever
before to get sharper results with minimal effort. For many people, this is simply better. However, ask someone entrenched in the previous century and they may say that images that are too sharp are a bad thing and they prefer that soft hazy look of film. I could carry on listing all the advantages of digital over film, such as being able to change my ISO from shot to shot and the fact I don't have to shoot a whole roll of film before processing and printing some of my images. In fact if it were
just a simple for and against checklist between digital and film, digital clearly comes out on top. There is little argument these days against the superiority of digital. Humans though, are nostalgic. We have difficulty in letting go of the past, but the simple truth is we shouldn't be that bothered about what we shoot. There will always be a place for analogue and film photography. And as long as you enjoy the process and the results you get, at the end of the day - that's all that really matters. If i know Marcus, he is not going to let this one lie. I don't know about you, but I sense some trouble brewing. I'll be grabbing my popcorn and waiting to see how this one unfolds
Alrght, well if it looks like I'm on a medieval movie set then it certainly feels like that. Over the past couple of days I've had a great time wandering around the cobbled alleyways of this charming town where there's a photo to be had almost everywhere that you look. To prove the point, here's a gallery of some of the shots that we've taken here... As I mentioned before, if you'd like to join us here for one of our Masterclass Workshops next year, then there is a link to the basic details on our website, but do get in touch if you want more detailed information or would like to reserve a space. We do only bring small groups here so numbers are limited and are likely to sell it quickly. Okay, well regular viewers of Photography Online will be familiar with our Mission: Possible series where we set out to achieve ambitious shots and invite you along on the journey so that you can see what's involved. Three years on, Marcus
is still trying to get his full-moon-rising-behind-a-lone-tree shot - something that does only happen two or three times every year, so he could be waiting for a while yet. The next opportunity to get that shot won't be until this December, so to satisfy his itchy feat, he's decided to embark on another mission which potentially happens on a daily basis, but the problem is where? If you're a regular viewer to Photography Online then you will have probably seen me photographing the Jacobite Express steam train passing over the Glenfinnan viaduct on at least a couple of occasions from a couple of different viewpoints. This is part of the West Highland railway line which runs from Fort William to Mallaig and is generally considered to be the most scenic train journey in the U.K. The viaduct is the obvious place to photograph the train so it pulls in the crowds and many photographers are here each day to catch what can be an amazing shot if the conditions are right. However I've been thinking for a few years now that there may be a better shot to be had. One that's never been taken before because it's from a difficult to access or remote location, where no photographer ever goes because they're preoccupied by the lure of the honeypot location.
All photos start with a visualization, so let me describe the scene I am visualizing here in my mind. I'm looking for a scene which will work well in its own right, with or without a train, but the train will be the icing on the cake, the feather in the cap, the pièce de resistance. Ideally i'm looking for a place where I can get an s-bend in the track, or the very least a curve, to prevent the train from being straight on. The train doesn't want to be too dominant in the scene - I want it to be a small detail rather than the subject itself. That's the good thing about a steam
train - it can be a very small part of the scene but it will still stand out and be obvious what it is, but that's only once I know where I need to be. Until then I can't make any of the important decisions such as what camera I'm going to shoot it on, what weather conditions I need, and what time of year I need to take the shot. So my objective for today and tomorrow is to find that location, but this railway line is over 42 miles in length, so it's going to be no mean feat to find the perfect location.
So armed with my map, I'm heading to the area on a scouting mission only. How can I be sure this will only be a scouting outing?.. because i'm not bringing a camera with me. A camera bag will only weigh me down and I reckon I've got a lot of exploring to do so I'm just going to be using my phone and more precisely my Viewfinder app which will allow me to see the crop of every camera I have with every lens. That way, when and if I find the scene I'm looking for, I'll know exactly what gear to bring and I won't need to bring everything but the kitchen sink.
So according to the map, the railway line is just a couple of hundred meters in this direction, but there's a couple of tunnels over here so they might be quite nice to include in the photo, so... I'm just gonna go for a wander up between the trees see what I find. So this is kind of along the right lines but it's not really singing to me at the moment. What's wrong with this is that the train's going to be too dominant in the scene, So I think I'm looking for something where you can see the train tracks go far further into the landscape and get the train when it's further away what's good about this is that there's a tunnel just here so i could potentially get right above the tracks have the train coming in underneath the camera so i'm going to remember this place because it's useful for other things, but for what I'm looking for today, it's not really cutting the mustard at the moment, but it's good nonetheless, so i'll take a shot anyway just to remind myself. So I've just walked the other side of the tunnel and there's no viewpoint from here but, if you look up on the top up there once you get above the tree line, you'd have an uninterrupted view back down to here. We've got a nice curve of the rail going around and then you'ld see it disappear into the tunnel. And if you
see how many deciduous trees there are here and imagine how golden this would be in autumn, up there is a potential area of interest shall we say. So I'm going to mark this on the map, but for now I'm going to return to the car because there's a much easier way to get up there than from here. It turns out that that viewpoint didn't work due to the trees hiding too much of the rail line, meaning the train would be mostly hidden so it was back on the road to the next location. So one of the places that I identified by looking at the map as a good potential is up there on that hill.
The problem is there's water between here and there and although you can walk round I reckon it's probably a good three hour walk to get from here, from this side up to there, so what I don't want to do is invest that three hours, get out there and find that it's pants because there's something obvious in the way or it just doesn't work compositionally. To save myself a lot of time, potentially, I'm just going to put the drone up there and have a look through the drone, and if it looks like it's got good potential then I'll invest the time. If not then we'll move on. So that's what we'll do now. This is the hill I would need to be standing on, so let's turn the camera around to see what the view is like.
Immediately there's a massive problem - this messy area down here, along with many other issues, means that this is not an option. But turning the camera the other way reveals something a little bit more exciting - these islands and their Scots pines. So I repositioned the drone to include these in the foreground. This now works really well. We have a nice layering to the landscape,
the islands breaking up the large area of water and the bend in the rail lines. The only problem is that there's no hill for me to stand on, so I would either need a very very tall tripod, or accept that this can only ever be a drone shot - something which i'll keep in my mind as I do really like this scene. So that's the end of the first day and.... I haven't been successful in what I'm looking for. However, I have found a number of other good potential spots for other photos of the train, but more importantly, I've learned some lessons. And that is that firstly this is going to be much more difficult than I originally thought.
Secondly, I need to look for an area where the tracks are not embedded in trees because you just can't see the tracks, it just gets lost in the canopy. And another thought I've had is that, just to really make it difficult. I'm also going to need to find a a section of track where the train is going uphill because if it's going downhill and it's just coasting then there's not going to be any steam/smoke coming out of the uh engine which kind of defeats the purpose anyway. So that's my task for tomorrow is to narrow down this 40 miles um and I'm now looking for areas of track which are a little bit more open, uphill, S bend, mountains in the background... but it's got to exist within 40 miles that's got to exist.
so we'll call it a day for today. We'll pick up where we left off tomorrow. Good morning from day two and I think I might have found it. So this scene here is very close to what I had visualized in my mind. We've got a valley running down. We've got what looks like three separate bodies of water - not that that matters (the number) but it's just better than one. We've got a nice valley being framed by both sides there, uh most importantly the train line runs right through that scene. Now from this distance and certainly on that camera you won't be able to
see it because it's too distant, but it's basically running the far side of the water over there. As I was saying before, a steam train is good because it will stand out even though it's only a small part of the scene and that's what I want. I want to take a landscape shot with the steam train in it. I don't want a shot of the steam train in a landscape and there's a big difference between those two.
So this here is ticking a lot of boxes. The one i'm not sure about is whether the steam train is going to be going uphill or not over there because it's impossible to tell from here. However, in a couple of hours the train will come through and so I might go and reposition myself over in that area just to observe and see what's happening - see if it's accelerating or chugging away or just kind of coasting downhill. Now these are the opposite conditions to what i'd want to actually take the shot in anyway because we've got very low humidity. Low humidity means
the steam that's coming out the top of the engine is going to evaporate immediately, so you're not going to get that kind of classic long plume of smoke which we need because it's going to be so distant that that's what's going to be eye-catching about this shot. So with just the train there on its own with no steam and smoke coming out the top we wouldn't really necessarily notice it. So we need that highlight in the scene um and it needs to be big as well. So we're gonna have to shoot this on an overcast day when there's kind of 99% humidity. Clearly that's not today, but that wasn't the object, I haven't even got a camera here today. So, using my phone - the Viewfinder app, because the scene's quite a long way away we're gonna need to use a reasonably long focal length. You can't shoot this wide angle because the train's just going to disappear into infinity. So....
here i'm seeing this as a panoramic format. I don't want all this rock down here. I could go further forward to the next ledge, but even then I've done that already just have a quick look there's nothing of any interest down there so this is crying out for a panoramic shot. So I have two panoramic cameras and my Fuji 617 with the 300mm lens on is giving me that composition there, so that is pretty much perfect. Wouldn't want it any other way even if I had a choice of other lenses and cameras. So this is the same section of track - the other side of the water.
From here, it looks suspiciously like it's going downhill because the water's obviously level and the track on the left hand side seems a lot higher above the water than it does on the right hand side. So that means that when the train's going along, it's going to be going downhill, probably no smoke, no steam. Now you might be asking - Marcus! I've got the perfect answer - why don't you wait until the train comes the other way because then it will be going uphill. I've thought of that. The problem is is that when the train gets to the far end, which is Mallaig, there's no turntable there, so although they put the the engine on the what was the back of the train, which is now the front of the train, the engine is reversed. So when it comes back the engine will be facing backwards and in a photo that always looks really weird obviously because the steam's going the wrong way. So when the train's going in that direction, it's really not an option for photography, so I have to get it going in that direction. I reckon it's going downhill but it's going to be along in about
15 minutes anyway so i'm just gonna wait and see what happens and then make the decision from there. As I had suspected, this section of track is downhill so that rules this whole option out, unless I can accept a back-to-front engine - something which may not be too noticeable if i position the train to my advantage. Another recce will be needed for that. I'll leave you with a few phone shots of some other potentially good locations I found for shots of the train as a main subject. So there you have it - in one show we've brought you the majestic Highlands of Scotland, the other worldly landscapes of Utah and a dose of Mediterranean charm in Albarracín here in Spain. You can't fault us for diversity in this episode! If you appreciate what we do, do give us a thumbs up and help spread the word by recommending us to your friends and anyone you know with an interest in photography. There are many ways you can support the channel but the easiest by far is just to make sure that you're subscribed and you watch all of the shows. We do love hearing from you as well, so
feel free to let us know what you think in the comments section too. Okay, well at the start of the show I asked.... The correct answer was the iphone which, although it's only been around for the shortest time, is used to capture over 1.3 trillion photos every single year. Congratulations if you got that right. We'll be back next week with another one of our PO Live shows exclusively for our supporters of PO Live level and above this live show is brought to you in association with Kase Filters U.K.
and we'll be giving away a £100 Kase Filters voucher which everyone has a really good chance of winning, so it's well worth getting involved - not only for the prize but also just to join in the fun. If you can't make that, then we'll be back here in just a couple of weeks for a lens-themed show where we'll be back in Utah showing you how to avoid flare, telling you how to get the best performance out of any lens, comparing a 1960s lens to an equivalent modern one to see how far lens technology has come in the last 50 years, plus we'll be showing you the extra control that you can get by using a tilt shift lens. If that doesn't get you setting a reminder in your diary then I don't know what will. I'll be there. The crew will be back, as will the various team members wherever they are in the world, so until then, you know what to do... take good care, but most of all take good photos. The fact that I don't have to shoot a whole roll of film before shooting... not shooting.. Harry! Until then, I can't make any of the de deshi shi shi sions...
uh which is a really good tool you know just picking your poo out... picking you p... $&*@! There will always be a place for analogue and film photography.... ah forgot the last couple of lines. I could also talk about sharpness..... uh completely forgotten.
Until then, I can't make any of the de... &$£@ sake. Why is that so difficult? I always struggle with that word - decisions decisions decisions.