Although there are a lot of reasons why digital photography has decimated the ranks of photographers who still use film, the “look” of digital is not necessarily one of them. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with how digital photographs look; it’s that there’s a general uniformity of image characteristics—so much so that some photographers make a special effort to post-process their own individual look onto their images. The irony is that this often makes their images look more digital rather than less—but again, there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that, as long as their viewers are generally appreciative and accepting. Even a good thing can be taken too far.
Others take a similar yet different approach: They use post-processing to make their digital photographs look as if they were shot on film or processed in in an old-school black-and-white darkroom. (Products such as DxO FilmPack 3 come to mind here.) Say what you will about film, it wasn’t lacking in variety, especially during its heyday. You could choose from at least a half-dozen B&W, color negative, and color transparency films, each with its own distinct look and feel.
The results of these post-processed film-looks can be quite convincing. Those that aren’t generally fall short because the person doing the processing lacks any real feel or appreciation for how film really looks, what film an experienced photographer would use for a particular subject, or how that photographer might print the resulting image. No surprise here. Cameras and software don’t come with good taste and experience; you have to supply that yourself.
For the sake of reference and discussion, I’ve included a few of my photos that I believe have a convincing “film look.” Were they actually shot on film? (Don’t try to guess from the EXIF data. That can be faked.) More importantly, do they stand on their own merits as photographs? Film or digital, that’s what matters most.