So here I am, traveling with a couple of digital bodies and taking pictures in much the same way I’ve done for the past decade or so.
Much the same, but not the same.
For even though the equipment is what I’ve been using for all that time, especially the lenses (the bodies are of a little more recent vintage), my approach has been moderated by my experiences over the past two years with film.
Taking up film was the best thing I’ve ever done for my digital photography.
That seems counterintuitive, surely. Instead of gaining more practice and experience mastering the intricacies of digital cameras and digital images, I largely put that to one side and instead concentrated on using, developing and printing film. What’s more, with cameras that are completely obsolete by today’s technological standards.
Yet I learned more about photography during this excursion that I could possibly have done had I stayed with digital.
What did I learn?
I learned patience. I learned how to pay attention to the scene in hand and to the camera settings I was using to capture that scene. I learned how to judge light in all its qualities from intensity to color balance using my eyes alone. I learned how to see in black and white. And perhaps most importantly of all, I learned how to admit the entire history of photography into my technique and not just the latest bells and whistles that accompany the newest cameras.
Of course, this meant going a bit further than simply photographing with film. I had to spend some time studying the history of the art. Such study revealed that much of what we think is new is simply the recycling of what has come before, albeit with slightly different clothing. It revealed that photography is subject to precisely the same fashions, fads, and shifts in critical opinion that influence all art forms and that ultimately what remains as worthwhile are photographs that engage both the heart and the mind and do so in ways that challenge the imagination.
Finally I shook off all the nonsense I had accumulated from photography forums and popular photography websites. You know the stuff I mean, from simplistic assertions that one manufacturer’s equipment is superior to another’s to the click-bait lists of tips for better photography that most often convey little beyond the obvious and, curiously, often seem to feature no more than the author’s own work.
For this nonsense is corrosive and deeply inhibiting. The net result is scores of technically good photographers simply emulating each other and following the prevailing fads and completely failing to understand that their work is not art and are never likely to move beyond whatever cul-de-sac they are inhabiting. And those are at least the ones who try; many more are so caught up in the joys of being a technician that all they care about is how their work is sharper/noiseless/HDR-ed/bokeh beautiful/color vibrant – take your pick, all are equally meaningless to what makes great art.
Sadly, these types of photographers are far too common and congregate together, reinforcing their own lack of vision. This is not the way to be.
And I might well be one of them. Or, at least, have been one of them. Everything I describe above once seemed very important to me and led me to spend lots of really unnecessary money on expensive lenses and cameras. And all the while that I did this, I felt inadequate and unfulfilled, yet could not finger the reason just why.
Hence film. Instantly I was catapaulted out of the prevailing trends and into a backwater while most of my photographer friends scratched their heads and said ‘Why?’.
This is why.