Hybrid photography: the limitless future of photography

For several decades now, technology has played an important role in reshaping every industry, and photography is no exception. With the advent of digital photography followed by the emergence of film digitization techniques, this set the stage for the birth of a new photographic practice that this article will refer to as Hybrid Photography. 

The concept of Hybrid Photography in this article only discusses the technical aspect of the image-making process and does not address other genres or content of photography. So what exactly is Hybrid Photography that this article wants to discuss? Why does it need to be more focused on than ever before? Please continue reading below to find out.

Basic photography processes

To understand what Hybrid Photography is, we must first start with the very basic step: distinguishing the basic photography processes, especially in the development process of photography history.

Photography evolved from the principle of light reflection of the camera obscura. “Photography” in ancient Greek means “drawing with light”.

The mechanism of light reflection and imaging of Camera Obscura.

Therefore, the basic photography process is divided into three main steps:

  1. Taking photos – using light to capture images
  2. Processing/Editing photos – displaying, checking, and adjusting captured photos
  3. Publishing – printing, publishing

According to general classification, current photography processes are divided into two main branches: Common processes and Alternative processes.

  • Common processes:
    • Analog film photography process

      (1A) Light reacts with silver salt on the film to capture the image (2A) Film is developed and edited using darkroom techniques (3A) Image is printed on light-sensitive paper
    • Digital photography process

      (1D) Image is captured with an image sensor (2D) Editing is done using digital platforms (3D) Digital printing is done

Alternative processes

These are processes that differ from the two main processes above. These processes are diverse but are usually less commonly used – they use methods from the early days of photography to newer digital concepts (e.g. digital negatives).

Some processes are introduced as follows:

Distinguishing between basic processes is important in analyzing images and answering the question: “How was this image created?” This helps clarify the role of each step in the image creation process, the subjective/objective factors that lead to the final result, which is the “image”. Thus, photographers can learn and improve their techniques and the quality of their work, while viewers can easily access, appreciate, and evaluate the images.

Hybrid Photography: Revitalising Analog Photography, Optimizing Digital Photography

Based on the foundation of photography processes, this article defines the concept of Hybrid Photography as the combination, substitution, and complexity of image creation processes, with different steps extracted from at least two basic photography processes to produce a photographic work.

Depending on the intention and expertise of the photographer, the image creation process can be customized: how much, how, and in what order. Each person can choose their own way. Understanding of the process, materials, as well as the investment level, complexity, and meticulousness in each step will reflect the level of skill and creativity of each photographer.

A fairly popular application of Hybrid Photography nowadays is film scanning/film digitalization. This technology helps maintain analog film photography practice in the digital age. Traditional photographers have the choice to maintain their profession and integrate into modern photography environments without having to convert completely to digital photography. Nowadays, digitized films are easily shared on the internet platform.

Quoting Stephan Wehowsky (2010) when discussing Hybrid Photography in combining the shooting and storage process of analog images with digital applications:

“The strength of hybrid photography is that most film cameras are smaller than digital cameras. Images are stored on film, not files on computers, so when you store it, you only need a simple, safe, and appropriate file. Therefore, the argument that film photography is slower than digital photography needs to be reconsidered… In addition, there is enormous potential exists for extracting data from digitized film.” (Hybrid Fotografie, Journal21)

Hybrid Photography not only opens up new directions for film photography practice but also creates a potential future for digital photographers.

In the race of constantly changing technology in digital photography, with overwhelming changes in techniques, software, and features, there is always pressure on users to improve their knowledge and master their equipment and tools. The emergence of Hybrid Photography offers them more personalized and less pressured options, with richer expressive possibilities, and most importantly, brings human characteristics that surpass the dominance of machines and algorithms.

For example, digital photographers only need to be proficient in using a specific camera or software, but complicating the image creation process with adjustment techniques and/or physical interventions challenges technology and social aesthetic thinking. This is what represents a breakthrough in photographic art.

Recently, beyond the limits of still images, Hybrid Photography has also been practiced in combination with moving images, presented independently or combined with other formats such as video and audio. This is a new technique and trend that cannot be explored deeply in this article, but hopefully, there will be opportunities for further discussion in other articles.

The Limitless Future of Photography

Currently, photography is an essential part of many professions and our daily lives. The sophistication of technology has advanced in many scientific fields to serve the needs of exploring the world and improving the convenience of human life.

In terms of spiritual life, mainly for preserving memories and cultural arts, photography always has a special place as it is easily accessible and contains multiple layers of messages, thereby having a significant and long-lasting interactive impact. These characteristics make photography not only limited to a single form of art but also have the ability to combine strongly with other forms of art such as performing arts, installation, painting etc., to create new and diverse forms of expression.

In this context, Hybrid Photography is a topic that needs attention, both globally and in Vietnam, due to its diverse unlimited practical methods, along with increasingly widespread and unique coverage. This can be seen as the future of contemporary photography!

Some important contemporary photographers employ Hybrid Photography include Wolfgang Tillmans, Gregory Crewdson, Jeff Wall, Andreas Gursky, Alec Soth… Their importance is not only in their practice of the new form of photography but also because they continue to keep the flame alive for large-format film photography and inspire the development of medium format digital photography. With their ideas and talents, they create positive transformations for humanity’s photography.

When did Hybrid Photography first appear in Vietnam?

Photography in Vietnam started quite early and can be seen as accompanying the general development of photography worldwide. From the Daguerreotype method to the emergence of commercial photography studios throughout the North and South (late 19th century to early 20th century) with countless black and white to color films still preserved. Then the Khánh Ký and Hương Ký brands were at the forefront of technology, as recorded in the book “Early Days of Vietnamese Photography” (Terry Bennett, 2021).

Despite facing many disadvantages due to war, photography continued to play a role in life in the latter half of the 20th century. There were photo studios and darkroom/print labs operating, although they could not access advanced technology and materials available in the world.

The digital age began in the most vibrant markets such as Japan and the United States, corresponding to the time when Vietnam began to open up international trade in the late 1980s. Camera brands quickly entered the market, selling various types of cameras, most commonly family point and shoot cameras. In a short period of time, darkrooms gradually transitioned/were replaced into automated processes, then digital systems for work efficiency.

However, there are still many longtime photographers who maintain the practice of film photography. Therefore, from an early age, Vietnam applied film scanning technology to transfer from analog to digital, retouching on digital files, and then printing digitally. In the early 2000s, there were some preliminary expressions of Hybrid Photography.

Consequently, it can be seen that the darkrooms/photo labs operating in the decades from the 1990s to the 2010s were important links in the process of developing the history of photography in Vietnam, nurturing the potential for Vietnamese photography despite experiencing difficulties, keeping up with international trends.

To inquire about the appearance of Hybrid Photography in Vietnam, the information gathered in this article is not enough. Perhaps we need the support of the community, if you have any information, please contact us via email at contact@dannybach.com

Thank you,

Additional note: Over the past 10 years, the topic of Hybrid Photography has been discussed and debated by the global photography community. There are now some books on this subject, its boundaries and methods of practice. If possible, please refer to them for further information: