Ben Delaney Comes Full Circle

Ben Delaney of Spokane, Washington, is back where he started. A native of Spokane, Ben shot film before and during his apprenticeship under John Rizzo in Portland, Oregon. In 2001, Ben began to dabble in digital photography with growing interest. Eventually, despite the technological limitations of the time, he went all-digital, and continued to shoot everything from engagements and weddings to corporate clients.

© Ben Delaney
© Ben Delaney

In the winter of 2008-2009, Ben “hit a creative wall,” as he recounts the story. One day while pouring over old film with his six year old daughter, “I was showing her the film, and it dawned on me she had no idea what I was talking about. It was foreign and magical to her that there were little pictures you could see when held up to the light. I knew some of this magic had been lost in the digital world. Right then I knew I had to get back into film.”  Ben got a Mamiya C330 Professional and “loves the purity of it. As far as Mamiya is concerned, I’ve always loved their cameras, and all the photographers I’ve worked with have shot them. There’s a nostalgic quality about them I love.”

Ben Delaney 02
© Ben Delaney

Much of Ben’s portraiture work is close up. He achieves this through both cropping and physically getting near his subject. “I like to feel close enough to the subject. The beauty of film is there’s so much resolution and great texture and detail you can crop if you need to.” His choice of lenses is also critical. “The 135mm is luscious for shooting portraits. The 80mm is a little wider, but I still like it for portraits because it’s a little more natural.”  When working with E6 film as a photo assistant, Ben’s appreciation for film continued to grow. “That inherent texture and grain is what I fell in love with. The way it renders the color spectrum and blacks look different on film… it adds up to something you can’t get digitally. I’ve actually tried to emulate it when shooting digitally. I’m truly one hair away from selling all my digital gear and working in film exclusively.”

© Ben Delaney

Although extensively experienced with utilizing off-camera flash with PocketWizards, he currently shoots “about 90% with available light. That’s one of the great things about film. You can push it a stop or two, and it has that wonderful natural quality. Also, I don’t like carrying a lot of stuff,” he laughs.

About his journey from film to digital and back, he’s noticed something else about his selectivity. “It’s slower. I can shoot a thousand images with my digital Nikon and inundate myself with work afterwards, or I can shoot twelve or twenty-four exposures with film, and be much more happy with the quality.” As evidence of this, Ben cites a current project he’s working on with a client’s library of approximately 25,000 images. “As we were going through and scanning my client’s family archive, the moment at which they started shooting digitally the quality of the photographs diminished by about 75%. It was absolutely shocking. The percentage of good photos shot on film versus what they were doing digitally, well, there was no comparison. Eighty-five to ninety percent of the old photos shot on film were beautiful—keepers. Maybe five percent of the digital stuff was worth keeping, and those didn’t even look as good technically. I’m fast becoming a convert back to my roots.”

© Ben Delaney
© Ben Delaney

In a business where time is money, Ben feels film adds to his bottom line despite the processing costs. The results keep his clients coming back. “The film images have more character. To get the same quality digitally takes a lot of extra work and time. Film gets great results right out of the camera.” The quality-dollar ratio also has misconceptions surrounding the digital/film debate, says Ben. “To get the resolution and color depth of film digitally, well, you’re spending a ton of money. You can get there, but it’ll cost you tens of thousands of dollars. I spent a ton of money on a new Nikon system last year. Now I find myself using much cheaper film cameras and getting better results, and faster.” With less time behind the computer, Ben has time to research his next film venture. A Mamiya RZ67 Pro IID system or the Mamiya 7 II is next on his list. No matter what Mamiya he’ll be shooting with in the future, Ben’s feet are happily planted back in the world of film.

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Written by Ron Egatz

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