Is Digital Killing Fashion Photography?

Norman Jean Roy, film photographer.

Norman Jean Roy, film photographer.

I recently came across a really interesting interview with photographer Norman Jean Roy. It was asking the question “Is digital killing fashion photography?” My personal opinion is that no, I don’t think digital is killing anything but I do think that it hinders photographers from taking their time. I know that when I photograph a fashion related shoot in film, I take the time to perfect every frame. By not having the option to see my photos right away, I give myself the chance to keep everything. Before I shot film on a daily basis, I always deleted things left and right before giving them a chance to sit in my mind. With a negative, you can’t delete anything. It’s there always.

“Though primarily identified as a fashion photographer, Jean Roy describes his work as portraiture. “A great portrait needs to first grab you and then let you sit in there and continue to draw you in. [Whereas] with a lot of fashion photography, it really hits you hard and then it slowly fades away,” he told the Cut. “To me, that’s the fundamental difference between a great photograph and a great picture.” –  as told in an interview with NYMag

I definitely agree. I mean, there are great PICTURES. Ones that are pretty and bright and styled in an aesthetically pleasing way. But then there are PHOTOGRAPHS. Ones that freeze a moment in time and tell you a story, make you ask questions.

Roy says,

“When you shoot film, you don’t have the luxury of seeing every single image coming out. And because of that, you stay very focused. Everything [becomes] hyperreal, so when you get it, you get it another time, and another time after that just to make sure you got it. As a result, you have a much better version of, I think, the moment. That’s much more real, honest, and broken, too.”

“Part of a perfect image is that it is imperfect. With digital photography, it’s very easy to perfect the image. You kill the image when you perfect it. You basically suck the life out of it. An image, to me, lives when you can look at it and it’s just slightly off. Like, when you put a primary red and primary green together, you have that vibrancy between the two. A great photograph, not a great picture, needs to have that vibration. It would be very easy to take any one of my photographs and I can tell you where I could have fixed this and fixed that.”


I think that Photoshop perfection is something that too many great photographers have fallen into. Photography to me isn’t about perfection, it’s about the imperfections that draw you in to tell the story of your subject. Even in fashion photography you can tell stories.

photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy

photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy

photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy

photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy

photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy

photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy

Roy says,

“If and when I have to shoot digitally, I always shoot to card and never show anyone. I usually give myself a day or two before I look at the session. It’s the same thing you would do with film, you shoot your film, it goes to the lab the next morning and you get it back that afternoon. That space in time between [taking the photograph] and looking at it after is a really important thing. It’s kind of like counting to ten when someone makes you really mad. If I said something awful to you and you just counted to ten, your reaction would be different than just [snaps fingers]. We’re in such a hurry to make sure we “got it” that in the process I genuinely think the results today are infinitely inferior than where they were ten years ago.”

I think all photographers who have never bothered to shoot film should at least try the card trick Roy mentions above. Don’t look at your memory card during or after the shoot for at least a day. Taking that time and space could save some of your best photographs. I think that ultimately digital is not killing fashion photography but instead allowing photographers to abuse their power to perfect. Nothing is perfect and perfect things don’t have a background. When I shoot fashion or editorial or creative concepts I have, I do it in film because I like to focus on telling a story not on how I’m going to add in fake light flares or airbrush the model’s skin. I used to think that was ok but the older I get and the more I focus on my subject instead of what the back of what my camera reflects I realize those things are less important.

What do you think? I’m really curious to know everyone’s take.

4 thoughts on “Is Digital Killing Fashion Photography?

  1. I agree. Not editing right away is very helpful as you can clear your head and look at the shoot with fresh eyes.

    That said, there is just so much flexibility with digital. It’s great that you *can* add stuff like that afterwards…or not if you choose to.

    • I agree. Digital is great but I feel that it’s greatness is abused and in that abuse the whole PROCESS is skipped over and the ending is all people care about. I feel like using digital is great for learning and adding things we otherwise couldn’t but having a background in film definitely helps enhance digital photography.

  2. The main problem with digital is exactly what you said, it keeps people from taking their time. Since digital, everyone just seems to think “Oh, I can just photoshop it.” I feel like that way of thinking can hinder the total product’s success.

    • Exactly, I’m sure it angers MUA’s too! I’ve had models show up for editorial shoots with no makeup in the hopes I could photoshop them. -___- My favorite thing to tell photographers is to treat each frame like this would be the final result.

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