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Mar 16, 2022
Being an old-school photographer has had a profound effect on how I approach my photography. Now just to be clear, when I say old school, I don’t mean that I learned photography working with a large format camera that looked like an accordion and you had to hide under a blackout cloth to slide a photo plate into it to capture the image. Not that I didn’t want to try. Just the thought of the chance to work with a 5”x5” negative…
See, that's why I’m an old-school photographer because when I think about photography my mind goes to loading film, looking at negatives on a light table trying to pick the images I liked, even learning how to manipulate a large formant, (3”x3”) color negative before making a print. Even after nearly 20 years, I don’t think about photography from a digital perspective.
I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a camera handy. I think I was maybe 8 years old and I started with a Kodak 110. The film was a completely self-contained cartridge and the flash was a “flash pack” with 8 flashes on it. It went on every family vacation or trip and I can’t even fathom how much money my parents spent on developing film.
It must have made an impression though, because they gave me a 35mm for Christmas when I was in junior high school. This is when my love of photography blossomed. Working with a 35mm opened up a whole new artistic world for me. And firmly ingrained the habits in me necessary for someone who worked with a precious commodity.
The film was sold in 3 formants, 12, 24, or 36 images per roll. I soon learned that If I was really careful, I could eke out another picture or two off of each roll. Don’t judge, at the cost of developing that was important!
Because the film was akin to gold for me, I had to learn how to do as much editing as I could before taking the picture. I learned to frame the image I wanted without having to crop it in post. Cropping was challenging when you were sending the image out to a film processor. I learned about white balance and exposure and how to make all those judgments in the field.
I recently heard someone refer to all of this quite simply. Crop with your feet. I like that. Create the image in the field before you take the picture instead of overworking it in post-processing.
All of this was important because I could only afford to take one or two images of each subject, maybe 3 if it was really special, before moving on to the next. Developing film was, and is, expensive. I remember I came home from one vacation and spent over $750.00 developing the pictures I’d taken. I actually had to get them developed in batches.
There was so much more too.
My photography bag was nearly the size of a carry-on, (it still is, but for different reasons). I carried greyscale cards to help with judging the light. Multiple lenses, multiple flashes, and a series of different filters to create desired effects in the final image, including filters I made out of different materials because the commercial ones didn’t give me all the effects I wanted.
I worked that way for 20 years before I slowly made the transition to digital.
Okay, okay, I’ll admit it. I carried a digital camera and my old-school 35mm for a couple of years to ease the transition. I just didn’t trust the digital storage media to keep my images safe.
After a couple of years, I made the switch to digital and didn’t learn a new thing until a few years ago. My old school habits were so ingrained that I treated that digital camera like I would have any other 35mm film camera. It took this old dog 18 years to learn new tricks. (And I have to be honest, my 30 year old 35mm developed a light leak and had to be retired.)
But those old tricks allowed me to produce images like this with my digital camera.
To keep it simple, I cropped the image with my feet. And then learned some new tricks to make it my favorite.
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