My Photography Journey

My journey through photography and how I ended up here - shooting film in a digital age. I started photography amazed that I could take a photo with the eyes sharp and the background blurred. I would try to get the eyes as sharp as I could. Then I would try to saturate the photo and or add contrast. Then I discovered the clarity slider, I could make an image gritty and give it a “real” look. I started on a Micro 4/3 camera and then was given a Nikon D90 from a work rewards program- now I felt big-time. I acquired some lenses to accompany me on my photo walk and trips. I went to Ethiopia and travelled the countryside with a friend. Some of my favourite portraits are from that trip. 

I came home and determined to buy a full-frame D700, within weeks I had one. I could make a image so sharp it would cut your eyes. *lame joke. My gear had grown from a small Micro 4/3 camera that would fit in my jacket to this large body and huge lenses. I stared at my overflowing camera bag and wondered if I was wrong. I questioned if I jumped too far ahead and didn’t know anything about photography?  I would shoot aperture priority because I could control the amount of background blur. Digital Rev TV taught me this is called bokeh. But what else constituted a good photo? Make it sharp, don’t blow out the hi-lites, make it colour unless it is street photography, make sure water is blurred if it is a waterfall, don’t centre anyone in the photo frame. I didn’t know anything. Time for a drastic change. I sold it all and grabbed a Leica M9. 

The M9 would provide no help or correction to my photography. I learned what apertures really do, and that I can make both eyes sharp in a portrait. I learned to take my camera with me places.   I learned to meter the light of a scene and choose how I wanted my photo to look like before I pressed the shutter button. I grew a lot in a short time. I viewed my photography as art. I started reading about other photographers and consuming photo books and devouring the internet. I realized my work was nothing, I needed to work hard to get my basics. I figured the basics should start with film. It would restrict me even further than the M9. Read my thoughts on using restrictions to grow your art here.  I grabbed a Leica M6 since I had lenses for it already. I also snagged a Hasselblad 501C. I was baptised into film that month. After I developed my first few rolls I was hooked. One of my favourite shots of my son was on these rolls.

Tri-X 400 120 was my first roll. I really did have to work at my basics. It helped me visualize a scene and what I wanted my photo to be. It was great, I had a hybrid style of shooting, both film and digital coexisting in my camera bag. I started editing my digital photos to mimic film. I would use Lightroom and I purchased VSCO so I could play around with faders and sliders. It took me over a year of doing this for me to wake up and realize what I was doing. I was doubling my work. I would import my scanned film into Lightroom and check the s-curve and would be done. Compare that to my digital process, I would import my raw files - cull the ones that were no good - start adjusting every slider I could- the whites, shadows, clarity, vibrance, the s-curve, noise, sharpening, apply sharpening brushes and local exposure adjustments. I felt like I was a slave to my computer. I wanted to take a great photo, not create one on the computer.

Here is the most important lesson I learned - “An excellent photo does not have to be technically correct. And a technically correct photo in no way is an excellent photo.” 

When I shoot film I shoot with intent. I select the film I want, put it in the camera and enjoy shooting photos. I enjoy the moment without interruption. No chimping, looking at the back of the camera to see your just taken photo. I find myself more in the moments than watching them through a viewfinder or on the back of a camera.  I get the film processed and scanned by a photo lab. Then I print the photos or put them on the blog. Done. The only editing time I spend on them is about 30 seconds, I quickly check the S-curve and if needed a crop. A simple process, which is what I love. I know many talented photographers who are great at photoshop and create some awesome photos- its just not where I am at the moment. 

Now I realized what made me appreciate my Ethiopia portraits. They were simple, non-distracting and displayed a beautiful subject. Always be in search of good light and good subjects.  I was chasing a good technical photo and not chasing the light.  After using film and experiencing the amazing tonal ranges, the ease of editing and the beautiful colours I decided to move all my work over to film. I love using a Leica MP, a Hassleblad 501C, a Mamiya 7ii and a Ricoh GR1s. For films I am using mostly kodak Portra with some Fuji Pro 400H, they very similar. I am not done my journey yet.