I’ve heard a number of folks claim that digital or film provide the best learning tools.
The fact remains that, in the end, it depends on the person as to what pedagogical approach is most beneficial.
Moreover, what the teacher suggested was just one assignment, not a whole realignment of how the students typically photograph for the rest of their lives.
And this brings up the point that one does not have to submit to only one methodology; it’s not a zero sum option.
The following is my own experience, so it is completely anecdotal and personal, and it is not up for debate. It might not apply to anyone else on the planet, but that doesn’t matter since, in this particular case, I’m the only one that matters. However, I have a slight feeling that if something was good for me, it just might be good for a few other folks...maybe.
I started photography on serious level with digital, although I’m old enough to have shot with a Kodak Instamatic and other various film cameras (though never during this time knowing the definitions and functions of f-stop, focal length, ISO, and such).
Digital’s convenience, forgivability, and affordability was so significant that I might not have ever pursued photography seriously without the advent of digital.
And the ability to take lots of photos, good or bad, without the cost or logistical restraints of film certainly proved beneficial.
A few years in, and for various reasons, I switched to film. And yes, this process, for me, also proved instructive. I did have to slow down a bit. Others might not need “film” to put the mental breaks on, and that’s fine…that’s them. And by slowing down, I concentrated more on pre-visualization.
Stepping outside in Tokyo with only 19 exposures remaining was different, at least for me, than doing so with a high-capacity compact flash card.
Actually, even with digital, I was not one to take 15 different angled shots of the same subject, but the use of film forced a further degree of beneficial parsimony.
More importantly, the “effort” at pre-visualization became more consciously engrained and therefor more automatic. This is particularly important for doing candid street shots, where the scene exist for only a second anyway…there is no ‘other angle’ to try even if I was jacked up with 1,000 exposures at hand. So somewhat ironically, the slower approached improved my ability to react quicker, at least more successfully.
Did I get perfect shots always…no, the success rate actually remained roughly the same, maybe a little better, but of course, this is somewhat nominal, since the successful shots improved upon previously deemed ‘successful’ photos.
As for controlling exposure, I got more from reading Bryan Petersen’s “Understanding Exposure” and learning the zone system than I did from the histogram, as immensely helpful as it initially was.
Towards the end of my use of digital, I was shooting partial-spot (350D), pointing it at any object of any color and, based on its relation to 18 percent grey, manually adjusting accordingly. Since much of my shooting was and is outdoors, the Sunny 16 rule would suit fine most of the time.
Even with the DSLR, I was only using the one-shot mode and an old manual focus lens, meaning that I really wasn’t exploiting technology’s latest anyway.
And perhaps the best instruction I received, at least outside the mere practice of going out and photographing, was from studying photos: Good ones, bad ones. Mine, others. masters, amateurs…this is not an exercise codependent on either film or digital.
Also, as I’ve commented numerous times before on this thread, creativity can manifest from the most simplest of tools and methodology, for its greatest tool is the brain. And absolutely, limitations can in fact introduce reconsiderations that may or may not be advantageous, again, depending on the person.
What we do know, or at least as far as I’m concerned, decades of folks used film to take photos that have yet to be surpassed, especially in terms of creativity. Equaled, maybe, but not surpassed. So at a minimum, people growing up with either film, digital, or both have been capable of reaching similar heights. That is, both learning methodologies have empirically proved effective when considering final output.
So as to what each approach or combination of such contribute to or helps expedite the learning process will, once again, depend on the student. In other words, I would not outright dismiss one or the other approach. And if a teacher wants to replicate the ‘limitations of film’ for one assignment or even one month, I cannot fathom how that would be detrimental, but it could certainly prove beneficial.
After all, that simplicity can potentially help one center on the fundamentals, laying the groundwork for greater complexity, isn’t exactly a radical idea.
Finally, outside of learning, there is the experience. One of the main reasons I shoot film, though certainly not the only, is that I enjoy the process; and NO, trying to recreate this on a digital camera (taping over the LCD, low capacity cards, etc) does not suffice; not for me anyway.
We know most everyone is going to end up using digital, while film will remain niche at best. Consequently, introducing something different during the learning process can open options possibility overlooked in the normal course of development. And in this sense, I have no issue with teachers breaking away from the mainstream in the effort to expand the possibilities of choice.