As I mentioned in the weekly newsletter (sign up!), lately I’ve been trying photographing with an old Nikon 35mm camera. I wanted to learn about the whole photography and development process and make the best out of it. So, after I shot about five films, ruined a whole film by not inserting it right, had high hopes and some disappointments, I learned some things about life.
Every picture counts
Buying film and developing it is expensive. Every film has about 36 photos. Check your phone’s gallery and count 36 photos – mine has a couple of days back, with some random silly things I saw throughout the day, and every picture has between 2 and 6 copies or different angles. With a single click I could delete them all, and I wouldn’t even feel they’re gone. Having a 36-photos film made me aware of every frame I shoot and think about every part of it. This takes me to the next part – knowing the mechanics.
Know the mechanics
In order to take good photos, and know how to handle and fix issues with the camera, you need to know what’s going on inside the camera. There are three basic parameters you need to to control in order to create a good photo: aperture, shutter-speed and ISO. These parameters eventually determine how much light will the film be exposed to. A digital camera will show the result right away, thus letting you try some variations until you get the hang of it, but with an analog film you need to come prepared and know exactly how would every change in one of the parameters affect the photo. I generally try and fix stuff on the run, but knowing the mechanics and being aware of the consequences in advance is a really important part of planning and designing. Of course, I don’t think working blindly is the right way, but I do believe being prepared for these restrictions makes you better.
Standing behind your work
I tend to be really shy and embarrassed about my work, and don’t feel comfortable showing it unless I’m sure it’s good, but when taking the film for development, I need to show my work at the most naked and not polished state possible. I can’t know if my pictures are good or not until someone develops it, and sees it, for God’s sake! Maybe it’s just me, but having someone looking at the photos I took makes me a bit uncomfortable. This discomfort pushes me off the comfort-zone towards working harder and making a better job. A job I could stand behind.
Developing photos takes time. There’s a full ritual – you buy a photographic film, take about 36 pictures, press some buttons, rewind the film, take out the film (not in front of the light!!!!), go to the store, give the photos for development, come back a couple of days later and only then watch the photos. Shooting the photos isn’t the end of it, you actually need to be curious and wait. These days of curiosity are amazing. You walk around wondering wether your photos came out good or not and waiting for the store to tell you your film is developed. Curiosity is not a common thing these days, when everything is available and fast, without getting off the couch.
A really small amount of people use film, but the ones who do really appreciate it and invest a lot of time and effort in it. Realizing that made me think about what I want to invest in. In my perspective, some things are supposed to stay a niché.
Like I like my coffee good and expensive, I think some things are supposed to stay expensive, for those who appreciate it, and invest in it. I think working on something that’s targeted to a small crowd as a niché, will be much more rewarding than working on something that suits all.
Hard work is satisfying
The more easy and accessible the job is, the less quality it will have, and the less value it’ll have for you. For instance, when I learned programming, I learned C#, which is a very easy and friendly programming language, and also learned Assembly, which is a very low-level programming language that was horrible to understand. Of course I wanted everything to be coded with C#, but as I learned – C# is far less optimized when it comes to running time, and Assembly is much more fast and effective. The thing is, you can settle and have the easy and accessible way, but this way comes with a price to pay and it’s the quality and the value. Some of this idea is based on The Ikea Effect – a very interesting cognitive bias that claims that if you make something on your own, even if you’ve done a bad job, you’ll value the result much more than if you haven’t put an effort on it.
Photographing using an old 35mm camera made me appreciate the offline. Technology has got us far away from having a connection with physical things and appreciating a process. I think having this niche that requires me to go out of my comfort zone, learn and wait, is an amazing thing that makes me improve slowly (but effectively) in every way.
Do you have any experience in film photography, or another habit that makes you invest a lot of effort in it? How does it affect you? Please let me know in the comments.