#241 – A (slight) change of direction?

Photography is a fairly solitary pursuit, so a recent photo charter I attended brought me into contact with a load of other photographers. I was intrigued to see the variety of equipment people were using. As well as a few high end pro level DSLR’s such as Nikon D700’s and Canon 5d Mk2’s, the majority were using (for lack of a better expression) entry level and mid range DSLR’s. However, there were a few people using film SLR’s, and two using medium format film camera’s. Now I also had a film camera and used it to take a dozen or so shots to finish off a film, but I wouldn’t want to shoot the entire day on film. Why not? Other than the obvious inability to instantly check my results, the poor and changing light made the ability to change the ISO a godsend. And yet, photographers made do with this for years, although the ability to change backs on some medium format cameras does give the ability to change ISO. And the lack of continuous shooting and limited number of exposures per roll demands more thought as to when to press the button, rather than just clatter away and select the best shot afterwards in post processing.

My Nikon F100 – looks like a D700, handles like a D700, isn’t a D700.

Although digital photography is here and won’t go away, there are not only people who haven’t and won’t move over from film, but also people who’ve used digital and either use both or have jacked in digital completely. Going onto film photography forums and flickr groups is a bit deceiving as you get the impression that there’s loads of people using film, when in reality, there isn’t, it’s just that they all go on the forums. OK, so I can’t prove that last statement, but it’s a phenomena you see in any minority community that thinks they are bigger than they actually are because they don’t see beyond the community.

All this pondering brought me round to thinking about using my own film cameras more. I’ve done a bit of medium format before, I even have a Mamiya 645 somewhere that yields nice results but I can’t get used to the lack of a meter and the upside down view in the waist level viewfinder. And although I run a few films through my Nikon F100 a year, it’s very much in support of my digital camera. So how about giving the digital a rest for a while and using more film? The downsides are the expense and the wait to get the film back. And there’s the argument that if you’re going to scan it anyway, you might as well just use digital. And yet, I always find myself thinking a bit more when using film – you’re paying for each shot you take, so might as well make them count. It’s just that digital is so convenient! But there is a question that’s nagging away in my head – am I using the awesome technology of my DSLR as a crutch to support me, or as an aid to improve my photography? There’s a subtle distinction to be drawn there.

With film, there’s something satisfying about getting a packet full of photographs and negatives that you haven’t seen before and seeing how well they came out that I sometimes miss. I think my challenge for myself this year is to shoot 15 rolls of film, just to see if this is a passing whimsy that I need to get out of my system, or something I need to get into more. While I think I’m competent enough a photographer to be able to take a half decent picture on any camera, it’ll be interesting to see how I get round the limitations of film and older camera technology.

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4 thoughts on “#241 – A (slight) change of direction?

  1. Comments about changinf ISO and instant review of shots are agreed. But a couple of points of difference, if I may. Firstly there is no need to send the film off and wait for it to be returned. Develop it yourself to get the job done quicker but you can also tune the developing process to suit the subject and conditions. Also there is no need to scan negatives. Get an enlarger with a decent lens and make the whole process analogue. Enlargers are very cheap to buy, which is probably why I didn’t sell mine a couple of years ago, and It is a completely different experience to using a computer and printer. I wouldn’t bother with colour wet processing but the B/W process is simple enough and these days seen as a craft process which can help when selling prints. Having said that I recognise that if you buy an expensive pigment ink printer and use extremley expensive analogue style paper you can produce fantastic quality black and white prints from large files that matches or exceeds old style darkroom quality – but it is an expensive route to take.
    Anyhow I’ve got my trackside pass for the KWVR and I’ll shoot a mixture of digi and analogue over the three day steam gala starting a week tomorrow and see how they turn out. I already have dozens of digi KWVR pictures that are ok but I think I’ll try and create a 1950/60s look with the film shots and see if they sell.

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    • Thanks Jeff, I’ve done some darkroom work at Runshaw College and other places before now, and much as I enjoyed it, I got nowhere near to being competent! And although processing black and white at home is pretty easy, my scanner isn’t great, and processing colour is a different kettle of fish. So I tend to use either C41 black and white or the likes of Ektar 100 colour negative, and send them away to a good lad like Metro Colour Labs for proper processing and scanning.

      That being said, producing a really good quality, colour cast-free, monochrome print on an inkjet is fraught with difficulties, even with good quality paper and printer profiles installed. My ARPS portfolio looks great under certain light, but has a slight green tinge in others. And as you said, it’s an expensive route to take!

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      • Aha. Inkjet colour casts.
        I have a Canon 9000 A3 dye ink printer which, I think, is brilliant for colour. But for monochrome I find it difficult to get completely neutral or subtle monochrome tones I want. And using only the black ink for greyscale printing produces coarse tonality That is one reason I have kept my darkroom stuff.
        However I have to say the best monochrome prints I have seen were from high res. scans of top quality medium format film printed on an Epson pigment ink printer. They were by Paul Gallagher and shown during a talk by him at Preston PS.
        Have you had your ARPS panel “judged” and if so how did it go. I am starting to think about an ARPS panel but fear it would be a step too far.

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      • I’ve seen one of Paul Gallaghers talks as well (at the Leyland Hotel, possibly the same as you?), his prints are very impressive.

        I had my ARPS assessed last year and it passed first time, I’m glad to say. It’s not a panel of railway images, rather it’s my other passion – grimy, derelict, industrial scenes. I did a series of blog posts about it, first one is here:

        https://thevoicefromthenorth.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/royal-photographic-society-portfolio-part-1-getting-some-good-advice/

        I printed the panel myself on my HP A3 printer, and with Fotospeed paper and custom profiles, the prints are respectable enough. I can only presume the colour cast wasn’t too evident under the lights at Bath!

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