Digital photography vs film: how a visual artist makes digital prints with an analogue aesthetic at home

Fashion and portrait photographer Wanda Martin shares how Canon's professional photo printers have enabled her to make prints that have become a form of art therapy.
Three images of a woman photographed in a Romantic style against a sepia background with text written on it in a self-portrait by Wanda Martin.

Portrait photographer Wanda Martin's first exhibition included a series of diary-style collages, which she created by hand. "Songs of Innocence and Experience is an ongoing collage project on mixed media," she says. "It's a reflection on post-modern love and about the clash of expectations and reality." © Wanda Martin

Professional photographers have always embraced the tools of the future while being inspired by – and nostalgic for – the past. London-based photographer and director Wanda Martin creates editorial and fashion work featuring a vintage look and subdued tones reminiscent of Romantic art.

"I started shooting at age 15 and using digital first gave me the freedom to experiment without the associated costs of developing film," explains Wanda. "I was attracted to an archaic look that's related to my two main inspirations: the mix of painterly beauty with rock and roll subculture."

Wanda's style is recognisable and unique. She shoots the majority of commercial work on her Canon EOS-1D X Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III) and Canon EOS R5, which produce the excellent colour accuracy and quality she needs for high-end clients such as Dior and Louis Vuitton. "These cameras are also amazing in low-light conditions, which means I can shoot at up to ISO 6400 and get barely any noise," she adds.

Having grown up near her father's photography studio, Wanda also loves developing 35mm and medium format films when she has time. "There is something very magical about the process," she says. "You never know exactly what the result will look like."

Here, Wanda shares how her love of film continues to inspire her approach, and how Canon's professional printers have helped her to experiment in the same tactile way as the darkroom for exhibition-worthy prints.

Two figures recline in the back seat of a car in a photo taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III by Wanda Martin.

On location in California, Wanda shot a film starring Zumi and Cole (seen in this portrait) which exhibits a typically filmic quality in its composition. She applies minimal changes to her portraiture, except to check the composition. "I don't support these unrealistic beauty standards that the fashion and beauty industry have created," she says. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 28mm, 1/320 sec, f/6.3 and ISO 800. © Wanda Martin

Photography film vs digital: which workflow is better?

There are plenty of parallels between traditional darkroom techniques and modern photo processing, including editing tools such as dodging, burning and adjusting the exposures in post-processing software. Wanda is well-versed in film, and she first learned about the darkroom process from her father.

"He showed me how to process black and white film and we made prints," she explains. "I went on to study fine art photography in Budapest, where we were processing negatives and making photograms." During her master's degree at the London College of Fashion, Wanda worked on an analogue documentary called Nights Out. "That was strictly shot on film, and I developed and scanned most of those myself in the university lab," she recalls.

Despite enjoying the experimental qualities of film, it's easier, quicker, and more practical for Wanda to use her digital EOS cameras on commercial shoots. "It's important for the client as well as for me to make sure we get the result they want to see," she says. "With digital, we can review and they can give instant feedback. Usually, the turnaround needs to be fast; I have to send previews of a selection for editing, sometimes on the day of the shoot."

But shooting digitally doesn't mean that Wanda's images lose their iconic vintage quality. "When I purposely want noisy images in order to enhance that filmic look, I go much higher in terms of ISO," she explains.

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A figure sits on a chair, leaning forward with their elbow on their knee and their chin resting in their hand in a portrait taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II by Wanda Martin.

Wanda creates her signature look with colour grading during the image processing stage. "I'm interested in a sort of painterly look as well as older analogue techniques that relate to the visual imprints of the 60s, 70s and 80s musical subcultures," she explains. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 59mm, 1/125 sec, f/2.8 and ISO 3200. © Wanda Martin

A figure with bare shoulders is photographed wearing a regal-looking hat in an image taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II by Wanda Martin.

"Usually, I shoot digital-first to find the best possible angles and poses and then I switch to film," reveals Wanda. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens (now succeeded by the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM) at 105mm, 1/125 sec, f/4.5 and ISO 2000. © Wanda Martin

Colour grading in digital photography vs film

During the film era, it was common for commercial photographers to choose a certain film stock because of the look it gave. With digital, tweaking the levels of exposure, noise, and colour balance of RAW files in software like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom* can achieve strikingly similar results.

Overall, Wanda's photo editing is modest. "After the shoot, I use Adobe Camera Raw* and Photoshop, but I try to edit as little as possible," she explains. "I don't like retouching the skin, or taking out certain elements unless the client specifically asks for it."

It's unsurprising that colour grading – the adjustment of hue, saturation and highlights to tell a visual story – makes up most of her processing time. "I love achieving warm, sun-lit tones, with greenish, yellowish undertones," she shares. "Sometimes I also add extra noise if I haven't done so while shooting. Saving these sequences into presets will probably be my next step."

A professional home photography studio containing a laptop, the edge of a large screen and a Canon printer.

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A self-portrait of fashion and portrait photographer Wanda Martin, wearing a black jacket with a pink collar, a long pearl earring and a towel wrapped around her head.

"I was a shy teenager but early on It was obvious to me that I was interested in portraiture, so I started out with self-portraits," shares Wanda. She used a self-timer and a tripod and was able to experiment freely thanks to digital images being cost-free. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/80 sec, f/8 and ISO 2500. © Wanda Martin

A photo of Wanda Martin in an outfit of the Romantic period, surrounded by text in an image that forms part of her self-portrait and collage series Songs of Innocence and Experience.

This image is part of Wanda's self-portrait and collage series entitled Songs of Innocence and Experience. She writes of the project on her website: "Romantic love is predicated on the notion of failure because it's the clashing of expectations and reality and this clashing of the notion of ideal love and pure reality becomes a postmodern 'authentic tragedy'."

Canon's diverse printer lineup

Wanda has been working as a professional photographer for nearly two decades, but her first solo exhibition came in 2021. It incorporated large-scale prints of her professional work as well as a more personal, conceptual project that was created during the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.

"I created self-portraits referencing iconic paintings and heroines from the history of art, and I also started putting collages together using images and paint and fragments of text," explains Wanda. She printed these elements herself, using the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 and PIXMA TS5350 Series.

Although she is yet to try Canon's instant pocket-sized printers like the Canon Zoemini 2, Wanda believes this would be an interesting tool for her self-portrait projects because of the ability to add notes and doodles, and use the collage tools.

Innovative home printing

For larger prints, Wanda uses the imagePROGRAF PRO-300. It has an impressive array of 10 inks – nine coloured and one clear Chroma Optimizer – and she found that these produced vibrant and lifelike results. "The printer gives me stunning image quality, with a wide colour and tonal range," she says. "I love how accurately it replicates the tones I edit so carefully." Despite being capable of A3+ prints, it's compact enough to be used on a desktop.

The PIXMA TS5350 Series photo printer and scanner allowed Wanda to build her layered pieces with mixed media. "It was all about experimentation, trying out different settings, playing around with different sized images for the collages, and different papers," she says. She particularly enjoyed using the Canon Pro Luster LU-101 and Pro Premium Matte PM-101 papers.

Two figures with shaved hair embrace – one with their naked shoulders to the camera – in a photo taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II by Wanda Martin for her Lovers series.

This image from Wanda's Lovers series was shot, like most of her work, with an L-series zoom lens. She photographed the couples, mainly her friends or peers, in gentle daylight, and wanted to capture real and intimate poses. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 65mm, 1/125 sec, f/5 and ISO 2500. © Wanda Martin

Darkroom prints vs digital prints

Making darkroom prints is an incredibly tactile experience, and that's what Wanda wanted from this project. "I was interested in mixing different media, and the analogue feel to the images relates back again to my painterly inspiration and film experience," she says. "I wanted to make the viewers feel like they could peek into my inner thoughts."

Wanda's self-portraits had excellent clarity straight out of her Canon cameras, but she found a way to make them appear more gritty and filmic. "The Canon PIXMA TS5350 can produce great quality 10 x 15cm prints at up to 4800 x 1200 dpi. However, I sometimes used a lower quality setting deliberately to reduce the perfect sharpness of the files." This way, she was able to create a noisier, faded appearance resembling a traditional analogue darkroom print.

Canon's professional printers are compatible with papers from leading manufacturers such as Canson® Infinity papers and Hahnemühle, which opens up even more media options for photographers like Wanda. "Using Canon's free Professional Print & Layout software, I could easily soft proof my images for different papers and select the right profiles to get the exact results I wanted," she says.

In today's increasingly digital world, a continuing trend for the film aesthetic is emerging, as well as a hunger for physical prints. "This project has become an empowering form of self-reflection and art therapy," says Wanda. "As part of that art therapy, it was really important for me to work with my hands, using my printers at home." Canon has a rich heritage of photo printing, and its lineup will allow photographers to unleash their creativity long into the future.

Adobe, Photoshop, Lightroom, and Camera Raw are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

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