Storm Highway by Dan Robinson
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                   Saturday, September 3, 2011 - 3:24PM CDT

Conceding the end of a film era

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Old negatives and slides

Last week during my trip to West Virginia, I closed out my safe deposit box at a bank in downtown Charleston after nearly 10 years. I originally rented the box as a secure place to store my storm chasing (mainly lightning) negatives and slides (dating back to 1993), back when I believed they had value that justified that measure. Today, two factors have greatly demoted the status of my longtime archive of negative and slide stills. The first being that film is almost entirely obsolete, with my current DSLR able to capture images with more clarity, less grain, cheaper cost, and greater ease of editing, storage and delivery.

The second, and more lethal, killer of film-based lightning photography is evident by doing a rudimentary search of Flickr or any budget microstock site. Anyone and everyone can take high-resolution lightning photos with today's technology, flooding the genre with what used to be a difficult and rare capture. The days of driving 150 miles, burning through four rolls of Sensia or Provia in a night, rushing to get them to the lab the next day, eagerly awaiting the moment where you got the first glimpse of your capture on the light table - are long gone. The capture of a good lightning shot after all of that effort and cost used to be a monumental victory in the days of film. Today, it's happening daily, with ease, in the backyards of thousands of DSLR owners around the world.

And so, the value of my long-cherished cache of lightning negatives and slides has slowly faded into the sunset. I used to shudder at the thought of losing these to some catastrophe - a fire, flood, moisture or theft - motivating the move to a safe deposit box. Sadly, this fear is no longer rational. Furthermore, most of my older film-based shots have been scanned and digitized, then backed up on multiple hard drives along with my present-era DSLR archives. I have a few remaining film shots that I plan to have scanned next week and added to the relative security of the digital archive/backup. After that, the once-treasured film archives will take their place in my closet along with the rest of my storage boxes - no longer enjoying the safety and prestige of a bank vault, but collecting dust along with the rest of my more humble possessions.

Now that I've gone fully digital, there's no turning back. Its benefits, for me, far outweigh the nostalgia factor of continuing to shoot film. But I will always miss the days when shooting lightning photos on film was something special, a positive element of storm chasing that which the loss of has undeniably taken few degrees of class away from the experience.

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