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Insights & Thoughts

Is Film Still Relevant In Photojournalism?

By Chris Nachtwey on September 30th 2014

Film, oh film, many say it’s dead, many say it’s a waste of time, and some, like me, still love it. I have film to thank for my career as a photographer and writer. Film was how I discovered photography, spending countless hours in the darkroom in college developing it and enlarging my own prints. Film inspired me to start, a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world, and helped me land my job here at SLR Lounge.


I’m realistic though, and know digital is king – there is nothing that will change that. For many years, film was what everyone used. There was no digital, and from the wedding photographer to the news photojournalist, film was all they had to capture life before our eyes. The question is, can a photojournalist still use film to capture a news story?


In the video below from The Camera Store TV,  Mike Drew accepts the challenge of using film for a day as a photojournalist.


Without going on a tirade about how creating images is about your eye and not the gear you’re using, I believe the short answer is, yes, film can be used by photojournalist, but with the modern 24/7 news cycle, film is irrelevant. I love film, it has a life to it, it’s what I use for personal projects and around town, but if I was a photojournalist, digital cameras are all I would have in my bag.

I worked in TV for six years and know firsthand that it’s not all about the quality of the image or video for that matter, it’s just having it on your channel, or website first. It’s all about showing people as quickly as possible the events that are happening. Many newspapers still have a printed newspaper and I can see where film could be used for print, but let’s face it, many newspapers rely on their websites to report the news. When using film, there is no way you could get an image back to the newsroom quickly enough to beat the competition.



Now, just because film is not the best for photojournalism, doesn’t mean you can not still use it to improve your photography. I believe anyone who is starting out should shoot with film at one point. Using film makes you focus on what you’re doing, from your settings to your composition, because you have a limited number of frames per roll. Using film will make you a better photographer from the fundamentals stand point, and will help you create better images in camera when shooting digital.




Film is not dead, but when it comes to photojournalism, digital is your best and in my opinion, only choice. Mike created some nice images to give readers an idea of the scene using a visual medium, but the wait for his film to develop and the low resolution scans he purchased are just not good enough for the modern everyday photojournalist.

Via: TheCameraStoreTV YouTube Page

Images via screen capture

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Chris Nachtwey is a full-time wedding and portrait photographer based in Connecticut. He is the founder and creator of 35to220 a website dedicated to showcasing the best film photography in the world. Chris loves to hear from readers, feel free to drop him a line via the contact page on his website! You can see his work here: Chris Nachtwey Photography

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Diane Colquhoun

    If you want to get the news out fast then film is dead, but I think long stories that span over a few days film could still be used

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  2. Ralph Hightower

    I don’t think high resolution megapixel images are necessarily needed for newspapers. I don’t think that newspapers are the best media for high quality images. For timeliness, digital rules; however, for monthly publications, film may still have a role.
    I got word this past weekend, that the corner drugstore that processes my color negative film will be pulling out their “wet lab” for a “dry lab”. They will send film out for developing, but it will take a few days instead of an hour. It looks like I’ll be sending my C-41 film out of state like I do now with traditional B&W.

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  3. Kayode Olorunfemi

    Film might not be dead, but thats because some of us are keeping it on life support. I think Steven’s comment hits the nail on the head, the workflow isn’t practical in the modern world. From an event photography point of view, I shoot for my local church, on average I take between 150 – 200 shots which are cut down to 16 -25 shots, do minor retouching and send them to an admin person who puts them on Facebook and Instagram same day. Imagine the cost and time involved if we were using film.

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  4. Steven Pellegrino

    Good article Chris!

    I’m not a photojournalist however I’ve watched the photojournalists for the Post-Dispatch here in St. Louis during the Ferguson protests and it was amazing to see how they worked. During these protests there isn’t constant action. There would be an incident, and then there would be a calm. Up and down all night. So after an incident, they would shoot, head back to their car to do a quick edit and send the photos off to both the newspaper and to their Twitter accounts. This goes on for several hours. It’s interesting to witness the incident and then within a few minutes it’s up on main stream media, including The Associated Press.

    In this scenario film would be impossible and it shows how digital has changed how news is reported. This also applies to video. Chris Wallace, the son of late journalist Mike Wallace was talking about his father reporting from Vietnam. During the war his report and the film they shot had to still be relevant a couple of days later because that’s how long it would take to get it on the air due to the fact the film had to be flown to a different location, developed and edited.

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  5. Chuck Eggen

    I don’t think it’s a fair question. As stated in the conclusion, obviously film has a limitation of time. The days of printing in-house or on demand have gone. Remember all those photo booths that sat in strip malls. Long gone. Now the quickest way to get prints is at Walmart or Walgreens and that’s only if the lab is open. I think film will live on as long as it remains available but to think it may still be relevant in photojournalism, nope. I’m not a film hater like some that never experienced it. But, the writing is on the wall. Like the hard line telephone, it’s days are numbered.

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  6. John Cavan

    Quick note: At the end of the first paragraph you have a typo as “SRL Lounge.”

    I love the look of film too, my first real photography efforts were as the editor of my college newspaper. Back then I was using an old Yashica that my Grandfather gave me and it was such a fun camera to use. I remember experimenting with long exposures in black and white and having to wait with no idea what was going to come out of it. That anticipation was oddly fun, you don’t really have it with digital.

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