Through My Lens: Part One
I have had a number of requests to write more about my approach to taking photos with film cameras and I have been meaning to write something on the subject for a while now. I am by no means an expert but I figure it will be fun to ramble for a while and see where I end up. I split the article in two parts, the emotional side of taking photos and the technical side. In this first article of sorts I will explore my thoughts on why I started shooting film again as well as exploring a little of the emotional side of shooting for me. In Part Two I will be discussing more the technical side of it and my approach and why I use the cameras I do and how I choose them. That should be up sometime next week so check back to read the second half of the article next week and please feel free to leave your thoughts on anything I bring up here in the comments.
The Emotional side:
I see film in the same way that I see vinyl records. Like vinyl, film has seen a recent leap in popularity and I believe the digital revolution has everything to do with it. In buying digital music you have nothing real to show for it and when buying a CD you now feel like you might as well be simply buying digital because you just rip it onto the computer and toss the disc in a pile with the rest of them. Vinyl gives you something trendy and real to hold in your hands and admire. A tangible means to justify your money spent and a way to feel more connected to the music you are listening to because to hear it you have to pull out this large piece of plastic and put effort into its use leaving you feel more connected to the act of listening. This and the lack of elaborate technology to make it function. What could be more simple than a needle running against holes in a piece of vinyl? Film, like vinyl gives us something to connect with. It is something unique and one of a kind to hold in our hands and feel connected to.
In a world where everything is becoming virtual people seem to become more and more disconnected from physical media and while that has its upsides there are also the faults of such a way of life. This leads consumers to long for something physical to connect to when enjoying things they take interest in.
Photography has always been at least moderately popular among younger people and artists. On its surface, photography offers a simple way to create art from your every day life. The thing that distanced people in the past from taking it further than a curiosity was the cost of investing in the photo gear and developing of film. Cue the low end digital SLR and suddenly everyone has an unlimited amount of tries to get a photo just right and therefore are able to learn the medium much faster if they choose to do so. In the process of shooting hundreds of photos, however, they become more and more separated from the process of shooting them.
Another side effect of the digital uprising within photography is the great technology rat race going on. The fight to manufacture the camera with the highest resolution, the cleanest looking images, or the greatest number of bells and whistles to add to the list of unique capabilities of the camera. While this is not a new idea it is having a greater effect on the world of photography than it once did. There is a natural tendency for every aspiring photographer to want to take the most beautiful, sharp looking photos possible and these new cameras make it so easy to achieve such results that a lot of photographers seem to be starting to want to distance themselves from the masses. Myself included.
I have found that I am easily able to capture the photos I always wanted to take with my 5D. Impressive shots of things that I see around me. The beauty of every day life captured in perfect detail. It has become so routine for me that I grow more and more weary of shooting this way. Part of the reason for this is simply because I am not at all unique when I go out and shoot a gorgeous photo of a coffee cup surrounded by big balls of out of focus light (that precious bokeh that amateur photographers have become so enthralled by).
Heres a little secret. Shallow depth of field does not always make for an interesting photo. Nor is the perfect exposure or the perfect focus. It all comes down to understanding the rules and basic concepts within photography enough to capture an image that tells the viewer the story that you are capturing. If you are just snapping a photo to remember a moment you lived to share with others then just aim and shoot but if you want to take it a step further then try to imagine why you are shooting what you are shooting. Think about how best to approach the subject and use what you know about your camera and how to use it to capture what you are feeling so the people you want to see it will feel what you felt when you saw it. It’s certainly not the key to taking nothing but amazing photos but its something to consider.
Photography is not just about being the best technical photographer in the world. The fact of the matter is that just about anyone can learn to take theoretically perfect looking, wonderfully exposed photos. Flickr is a great place to see this. Many of the photos you see cross the explore pages are a photographers one great photo among a hundred but there are also many many photographers out there that know how to take technically great looking photos all the time. Especially with the digital post-processing tools available today.
Like any art form, to find your way to a place where you are creating art that is more meaningful than your average photo of a beautiful sunset you have to discover something beyond simply searching for the defined perception of beauty. Painters, sculptors, and other such artists distort reality and time to create from their imagination or using fragments of reality and using their medium to bend reality into an alternate meaning or feeling but photographers are tied down by reality and being in a form of art so grounded in reality it can be hard to find your way to something unique that is able to pull at others emotions.
Knowing this I think that as you come across a moment or object that you see as beautiful, before you shoot, think about what your looking at. If not for just one extra second to question your motive in shooting it and how you will shoot it. Do you really feel something for this subject or are you shooting it because you thought the rest of the world would relate to it and pat you on the back for taking the photo?
I guess what I’m trying to say is shoot from the heart. Don’t let others define you as a photographer.
Now all this is fine and good but sometimes a technically great photo is a wonderful thing to hold. It marks a photographers ability to find and perfect moments in our lives through this way of recording life. There is something to be said for a really great, impressive looking photo that shows us what is possible within photography. These sorts of shots give many of us something to aspire to and I suggest that anyone looking to step up their photography skills to not only shoot from the heart but to take the time to learn the fundamentals of photography and how it works. Even with digital post processing available getting the correct exposure for your subject when you shoot is important. While this may be obvious its quite true. As I mentioned I will get more into the technical things in my next write up.
Making my way back to discussing shooting with film. I have found that being able to connect with the photos that I take in this way has allowed me to feel much more connected to the photos overall. I’ve spoken of this here on the site from time to time and its just so true. The idea of capturing the reflection of light in a moment of time in such a specific, singular way is so unique and it allows me to feel much more of a link between myself and the moment captured. That light, captured there on the film like a ghost of the fraction of a second that that light graced the earth surface. Such a wonderful feeling but it rarely happens it seems. I go through a roll of 36 exposures maybe once every month or more because with these images I am so much more specific and focused about what it is that I’m shooting.
That said, there is this other aesthetic to shooting film that is the primary reason it has become so popular again in the midst of such a transition as the one we are in now with digital photography and that is the idea that film is the anti digital, it is not perfect and therefore it’s beauty is found in its imperfections. While I agree with this idea I also have trouble with it in some ways because of the way it has been marketed and sold to young photographers. Mainly by the now infamous Lomographic Society that sells any and all cheep “toy” cameras they can get their hands on and through brilliant marketing they sell shit cameras for huge profit to photographers because they have done such a great job of selling the idea that this sort of imagery is so unique and different.
I have a sort of push, pull sort of a viewpoint on these toy cameras because while they are able to take some truly unique, beautiful images they have also turned the use of film into nothing more than a gimmick and in many ways the results people get from these cameras are no more unique than the other thousands of kids out there doing the exact same thing or the people out shooting digital for that matter. They glorify that the images are unique that are captured with these cameras and because anything you shoot turns out in some sort of potentially unknown, always unique way you should shoot without thinking about it to add to the feeling of the photos taken. Its a good idea really and I don’t disagree with it but after doing this sort of thing myself with my digital camera I find it gets old quick. With no real focus at all on what you are shooting you end up with a roll full of photos that have all been seen a hundred times before.
I don’t know. Here is where you can see me start to struggle with some of the ideas I’m mentioning here. I argue one point while contradicting it moments later in another thought process. It’s clear I am not trying to present any sort of solution or any sort of answer to how you should shoot or what you should shoot. I’m just trying to spark some thoughts about it.
I started out writing this part of the article in hopes to discuss my approach to photography overall but quickly realized that they are just as confusing as they are useful in a way. I think the biggest point I wanted to make was that if i see your soul in an image I tend to enjoy it more. Not in an obvious overconcieved poetic way but in a realistic way. A subtle way that shows me that you were shooting not simply to create some grand poetic statement but shooting because you feel something for what you have captured. I suppose I am a fan of subtle photography and this may not be for everyone but still, many of these ideas remain true for anyone taking photos.
Just remember that every aspect of a photo is a means to convey a feeling or the emotion in the moment you captured it and in this vein of thought you should consider why you are composing it the way you are, why you are shooting it with the camera you are using, how you will present it to the world (printed, online, etc.), and these sorts of ideas because a photo of a peaceful moment where you are capturing the beautiful light of the sun coming through a window is just that, yet another photo of a beautifully lit moment, but try looking closer at what you are shooting, try look through it. Is there something else that means anything to you outside of the fact that its just another pretty photo that will grab a few more views of your photo stream on flickr? I can admit I don’t always adhere to these ideas and often I will shoot something beautiful just for the sake of it. May as well admit to it, I’m certainly not perfect.
If you take nothing away from reading this please at least recognize the photos you take are very much capable of being something special and you should have confidence at least in the fact that you are capturing something that no one else has or ever will capture when you press that shutter release and when that moment does happen, realize its something unique and let that click of the shutter be a satisfying one. I know, for me at least, that click.. there’s nothing else like it.