What is analogue photography?

Analogue photography. This phrase has gained in popularity in recent years. It seem to be mostly used to identify a photo as being non−digital. We began to wonder if that is all that analogue photography is, or is there an inherent characteristic of analogue photography other than being not digital?

So, without rehashing any film vs digital debate, we put our ‘thinking hat’ on. Our intention was to see if we could find a description and meaning of analogue photography that would satisfy our curiosity.

Here is what we have come up with.

Our definition of analogue photography:

Analogue photography
Analogue photography is the means of registering, recording and storing the levels of light and/or the levels of colour intensity from an object(s) by the combined use of chemical elements, in one physical medium, without requiring electricity.

Woah, quite a heavy description – but we believe, an accurate one.

So, let’s break the explanation up into little excerpts:

Analogue photography (1) is the means of registering (2), recording (3) and storing (4) the levels of light (5) and/or the levels of colour intensity (6) from an object(s) (7) by the combined use of (8) chemical elements (9), in one physical medium (10), without requiring electricity(11).

  1. analogue photography – the form of photography we are talking about;
  2. registering – reacting to the presence of light;
  3. recording – the marking(s) of the the reaction to light;
  4. storing – make permanent the marking(s) of the reaction to light, for future reference;
  5. levels of light – how much light there is at a point of the subject, from totally no light either being reflected or emitted (darkest) to the maximum possible light reflected or emitted (brightest);
  6. levels of colour intensity – what tone of light is reflected or emitted from a subject, from a deepest colour tone to a palest tone. The colour intensity can be at the maximum level of the amount of colour however this does not mean that the colour is at the maximum level;
  7. an object(s) – can be a single thing i.e. a vase, more than one of the things i.e. vases or a scene with many different objects i.e. a vase, table, wall, window, grass, lake, mountain, sky etc.;
  8. combined use of – the act of putting a thing(s) into service;
  9. chemical elements – real substances and elementary forms of matter e.g. carbon (C), platinum (Pt), silver (Ag) or salt (NaCl);
  10. one physical medium – the recorded information stays stored on the same physical item that initially registered the light and/or colour, the actual information is not transferred to other items or things either for use, storage or for permanence.
  11. without requiring electricity – the processes of registering, recording, storing and retrieval do not need electricity to occur.

Our description is deliberately worded in an attempt to include the various ways of doing analogue photography. There are actually many differing ways and means of analogue photography and we will not be mentioning them all as this article would be huge!

The Defining Characteristics

In our considerations, we believe that there are some fundamental characteristics that are applicable to all types of analogue photography.

Firstly, the use of a physical media to capture an image.(2 3 4) Generally, this will be a light sensitive photographic film but other forms of physical capture are possible.

Secondly, the use of chemical (9) rather than electronic means to capture and record an image.

Thirdly, and possibly a characteristic that we hadn’t really considered before; the storage of the initial image on the material that captured that image.(10) By which we mean that the image doesn’t have to be transferred off the capturing material to either be seen, saved (or stored) for future use. Nor to be subsequently worked on to make an interpretation of the image e.g. a print from a negative.

There are defining characteristics of different types of analogue photography, such as colour film negatives, black and white film negatives, sun prints to name but a few. However, all the different types do, we think, share the characteristics laid out in our definition.

The Many Ways of Analogue

Selection of chemical symbols and chemical names used in analogue photography arranged in visual graphics
Some of the chemical symbols and names that can be used in analogue photography – it’s not necessary to know these to enjoy analogue photography!

The analogue photography can include capturing an image on many items. Items can be as varied as glass, acetate, tin, steel, wood, paper, coated with a light sensitive layer of chemical elements. This can be as a ‘positive’ image – a transparency or as a ‘negative’ image – oddly called a negative! Images can be in black and white (or a greyscale) or in colour. In addition to light that we can see with our eyes, invisible light such as x−rays, infra−red or even radio waves can be recorded by suitable light sensitive materials.  Prints of negatives (and sometimes positives) can be made on paper, plastic, wood, metal, even people! Providing the item can be coated with a light sensitive layer and accept the processing chemicals and water wash without deteriorating.

For us at Hand Printed Photos, we pursue analogue photography by using a roll film to record the object (flowers, buds, plants etc) in black and white. That roll film is then optically projected onto photographic paper to make the print. Both the roll film and the photo paper are developed and made permanent with chemicals – and washed with clean water! All of these stages are done by hand, by ourselves.

Analogue photography covers a whole array of ways and means of registering, recording and storing a scene. Can be pursued without a whole lot of techie knowledge or equipment. Also, it is a whole lot of fun! We would welcome what you may have to say about our thoughts – after all, this is only our opinion!


This has been a Hand Printed Photos production