Slow photography (to get better, faster…)

35mm camera film rolls

As I prepare for Sunday’s photowalk in Chiswick, I’ve been considering which camera to take with me. I’ve plumped for my beautiful, second hand Canon A1: a near-40-year-old film camera, despite having numerous ultra-modern options. Why?

Most of my personal photography (projects, family, randoms) - when not done on my phone (because it’s always to hand, but has a terrible, terrible camera on it!) - is shot on film for a couple of reasons. First, just for the experimentation. I haven’t shot film in years, and back when I did it was just snapshots. Now I’m playing with different films (colour, B&W, different manufacturers, etc) just to see how they come out. The feel of a properly printed film photograph does have a quality that seems to be missing in digital (although this could be imagined!).

But the key reason I’m shooting more film is to slow me down. Digital photography is fantastic for making wonderful photographs, and to make sure everything is as it should be in a shot. But it also allows you to make shortcuts - there’s no real limit to the number of shots you can take and tweak to make something work. And this is a good thing, if you understand how the changes you make between shots are correcting what you see on the back of the camera. But it also means you can shoot with impunity, check the shot and try to fix it.

Film camera

Instead, when I have the time, I want to go back to basics. With film, I cannot immediately see what I have taken (it might be weeks before I get the film developed and the pictures back). And every click of the shutter costs money. That, if nothing else, focuses the mind!

So, before I click the shutter, I think about what I am doing. I think about the light; I think about the composition; I think about the depth of field. And only when I am sure I am going to get the best shot, do I click the shutter. And I take one shot - no bursts, no spray and pray.

It takes me longer. I take fewer photographs. But I learn more with every shot I take (at least, I do when I get the developed images back). For those raised on digital, it’s a big step. But good quality second-hand cameras are cheap and plentiful on eBay etc, and film and developing is still readily available. Try it - it’s the slow way to quickly improve your photography.

(I do make a concession to modern ways: I use Exif4Film to capture the time / location / aperture / lens etc settings every time I take a shot. It’s a pain, but much better than trying to remember the details weeks or months later). (Android app here)

Photographing Chiswick in the cold and grey

Photowalk in Chiswick. With yours truly...