What was old is new again. Looking for the film look.
**. Photo by Greg Locke © 2018.

What was old is new again. Looking for the film look.

Frankie and her cat, Samantha. 2024 Greg Locke (Fujifilm X Pro 3 w/ Acros film emulation)

Does anyone else find that the better digital photo technology becomes the more we try to emulate the look and feel of old film photos? We, literally, take modern high resolution, HDR, ultra sharp, colour corrected, high definition perfectly exposed digital images from our cameras and cell phones and purposely degrade them to look like film or prints from the previous era of photography.

When Instagram filters allowed people to alter their photos we all assumed it was an effort to put makeup on bad photos. Or at the very least, make boring photos somewhat more interesting. The age of Instagram users at the time would suggested they were not old enough to be nostalgic for a time of grainy, contrasty film or poorly printed and faded prints from the 1 Hour Photo or even damaged Polaroids.


Why do people still shoot and enjoy looking at Black and White photography? Is it just nostalgia? No, Black and White photos have a different effect on the viewer. It eliminates the distraction of colours which humans are naturally attracted and makes them focus on the content presented in the basics of light, shadow and contrast. Black and White is often associated with deeper more serious photography. Documentary, photojournalism and art.

One of the reasons I keep returning to it is simply this is how I learned photography. Kodak Tri-X  film hand processed in HC-110 developer and printed on high contrast paper. So, maybe a little nostalgic but also the era in which I learned from photographers like Robert Frank and the photojournalists of the 60 and 70s. I would later learn about how to use colour …and when not to. Its always about making the best photo to tell the story. To have the most impact. …or, maybe as Paul Simon says in his song Kodachrome,  “everything looks worse in black and white.” A song about nostalgia.

Cumra, Turkey. 1989 Greg Locke (Fujichrome 400)


In the “old days” we had different types of film, developing and printing to chose from if we wanted a certain look to our photographs The selection and options were not infinite but enough you could create an image to convey a mood to elicit an emotion from the viewer. Black and white was usually used for news up until the late 70s and colour was used in advertising or where it was needed to give an image pop. Cold winter blues or soft orange of summer. As I moved into magazine photography it was all chrome all the time. Transparency films. Ektachrome, Kodachrome, Fujichrome and Agafachrome in various emulsion contrast or saturation types and ASA (ISO) for most any type of assignment.

Today, with technology so fine tuned almost every digital camera gives you the same “look”. Auto Colour Balance, Auto ISO, Auto contrast… Something tuned by an engineer to what they believe the photographer wants to see. This, and Instagram have changed how people view photography today and limits visual literacy to the point where we can no longer distinguish between good and bad photography. It has even eliminated what was considered a professional standard. It is swamped by the millions of mediocre photos we may see daily.


Two things are happening. People relying on the prepacked filters and presets to mask their blah photography and make it somewhat interesting and people trying to get away from the clean sterile image delivered by digital cameras and inject their own emotion, style, character or mood that made film photography unique.

This quest also leads many photographers to seek out old camera lens for their new digital cameras. Less sharp, no auto focus but with characteristics that give a unique image due to the glass technology and multi-coating used in the lenses of the 60s and 70s. They render image with warmer tones and higher contrast.

This quest for mood also extends to the resurgence of all things retro and analog in the current generation. They are looking for something in the past.

Canadian Armed Forces Snowbirds 1993 (Fujicolor 400 colour neg film and print)


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