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This article was published on July 8, 2014

Film vs. digital: Exploring the balance in an abandoned asylum

Film vs. digital: Exploring the balance in an abandoned asylum
Jonathon Bernstein
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Jonathon Bernstein

Jonathon is a freelance photographer, director, and producer. He is also the co-founder of Action Planet Robot, a boutique production compan Jonathon is a freelance photographer, director, and producer. He is also the co-founder of Action Planet Robot, a boutique production company that specializes in filming, post-production, and visual effects.

Jonathon Bernstein is a freelance photographer, director, and producer with a love for both digital and film. He’s worked with publications, organizations, and bands including MTV, Google, Brooklyn Vegan, St. Lucia, and Cage the Elephant. This post was originally published on the Shutterstock blog and has been reprinted with permission.

I recently spent the weekend with a group of friends exploring an abandoned psychiatric center on Long Island. As always, I made sure to bring a few cameras to capture the experience. It’s more than just equipment that makes great photos—vision and approach are just as important as the location and available light.

Asylum 1

On this particular outing, there were plenty of dirt and dust particles floating around, and I didn’t want to keep any of my cameras exposed for too long. I ended up using my Lowepro Slingshot AW to carry a vintage Canon F-1 and a Mamiya 7 II, while I kept my Contax T3 in my back pocket for easy access. We climbed through windows and around fallen debris as the sunlight burst in through cracked glass and metal bars, illuminating the ever-decaying scene.

Asylum 2

The company I keep around knows to be ready for an impromptu photo, especially with such an expedition underway. Although daytime, it was difficult to find decent light and interesting shadow casts around the interiors. In certain cases, I used the flash on my Contax to either fill in or be the single light source; otherwise it was up to us to wait and follow the light. We ventured all over the building, discovering that rooftops and areas on the west side let us take advantage of the setting sun.

As always, my iPhone was ready for the quick draw to test the scene before utilizing other equipment in my bag. The iPhone has an effective 35mm equivalent of 33mm. I used it as a tool for a wide look at my surroundings. It’s essential for me to share what I’m up to, and since the iPhone is the camera I always have in tow, it makes the most sense to take advantage of its connectivity.

Asylum 3

Enter Visual Supply Co’s iPhone app. Since it’s all about capturing the dynamic range of a scene in-camera and expanding the information in post, VSCO Cam allows me to split the focus and exposure control nodes to adjust the overall luma intensity. Even though this is a pretty common feature for third-party camera apps, I stick with VSCO Cam as it provides options for organizing as well as posting to social-media channels.

Asylum 4

After selecting my best images, I previewed the filters. Sometimes the editing process is pre-visualized, but in the end it’s all about complementing what’s already available to build the aesthetic. Before this app matured to what it is today, I’d typically edit an image in VSCO Cam and then run it through another application, such as Afterlight, Snapseed, or PicFX (which are all still viable).

In Visual Supply Co’s 3.0.x version of the app, the emulation does a better job of reproducing the looks of film by pushing colors around more cohesively, making highlights creamy and dulling down shadows.

Asylum 5

Meanwhile, shooting analog becomes more expensive every day. Yet, I still find myself drawn to the magic of advancing the film through another captured memory, rather than being instantly confined to an iPhone screen. I initially started using film because I found its tonality to be something that I couldn’t reproduce on digital. I’ve been able to get the two closer over time, but film types, camera choices, and light availability ultimately cause a unique outcome in the end.

Keeping an iPhone and other digital cameras in my workflow continues to help in all aspects of shooting, for immediate feedback and especially when an analog device strikes out. Of course, it’s important for me to have enough foresight, regardless of the equipment being digital/film or DSLR/point-and-shoot, to concentrate on the finer side of photography–the art.