Like many people, new technology opened me up to the world of photography. In my teens I was a bit rubbish at taking photos. I wanted to be better, but could never remember what all the settings meant. Back then I’d run off a reel of film on my dad’s old 35mm camera and send it off to be processed. The problem was that by the time I got the terrible photos back, I’d forgotten what I’d tried in order to achieve a certain effect. Basically I wasn’t learning anything. (n.b. – I’ve looked at some of the shots I captured when I was in my late teens and they were terrible).
When digital cameras started to get affordable and good, I got myself a little compact Canon Ixus. Suddenly I could take pictures and see immediately if they were any good (they weren’t). I persevered, and eventually got a better camera with more settings and learnt what they actually did.
Now, I know I’ll never be a professional photographer, but at least I understood what aperture, ISO and speed meant. My photos got better.
Thing is though, the amount of photos I was taking increased exponentially. Initially this was a good thing. Take more, learn more – or so I thought. However, after a few years I started to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of images I’d accumulated. I couldn’t delete any (just as I didn’t feel able to throw away old out of focus pictures from the 80s), and I found that I was snapping everything. Five times.
This is a one of the problems with digital photography. It makes you lazy. Rather than risk missing a moment you capture everything, many times over. That way at least one of them is bound to be good. Except that I became so fixated on capturing all those moments that I stopped being present in them. I’d fallen into the trap of allowing technology to mediate my experience of the world. To compound matters, I’d inevitably end up spending hours sorting and editing the photos so I could upload them to Flickr.
Eventually I simply stopped taking my camera with me. Another hobby that once gave me joy, that had become a burden.
All this changed last year when I bought an old film camera from Ebay. I wanted to experiment with a more analogue way of taking pictures, but I didn’t realise what the knock on effects would be.
I ran through my first rolls of film pretty quickly, maybe in about two weeks, but this was still only 64 exposures. The first set of pictures were not great. The second were better – actually I’d say I felt pretty happy with half of them – which is staggering for me, when I think how many terrible digital images I have stashed away.
Since the honeymoon period with my new [sic] camera, I’ve probably reduced the amount of photos to less than one roll a month. That’s 36 pictures. Compare this to the hundreds I might take in a single weekend on digital camera and you can appreciate how big a change this is for me. The most amazing thing however is that I really like most of them. The vast majority of the photos I’m taking give me satisfaction and joy.
Quality over Quantity
I might only take one or two pictures a day during a weekend away – or I might take none. The key thing here is that, purely by accident, I’d become more intentional in the way I take pictures, and in doing so I’d increased their value to me.
When I drop the film off at the camera shop to get it developed, I have to wait a week before it’s done. I sometimes forget what’s on the film, so that when I pick them up and look at the contact sheet I’m often surprised and delighted to see what’s in the packet.
The analogue process of using a film camera has made me a better photographer, but more importantly it’s given me the opportunity to spend more time enjoying life’s moments and less time trying to capture them.
Sometimes we get swept along with the possibilities new technology can give us without really thinking how it might get between us and our appreciation of the every-day.
I didn’t buy this cheap little vintage camera because I had high minded notions of reclaiming a more intentional way of taking photographs. Frankly I got it because I thought it might make me a better photographer. Whatever the reason, it’s taught me some valuable lessons, some of which have shaped the choices I’ve made on my Living Unplugged journey.
- It can take a radical change in perspective for us to realise that we’ve fallen into habits that are keeping us from appreciating and really experiencing the details of life.
- Instant gratification doesn’t supply the most fulfilling version of an experience. I found that waiting for those films to be developed is almost as exciting as looking at the pictures.
- We’re not always in control of when we get opportunities to learn, but when they come along we need to make the most of them.
If you’re interested the camera is a 1970’s Canonette QL17. I haven’t used my digital camera in months, and take far fewer pictures on my phone – another great sideeffect. If you’d like to see some of the results, check out my Instagram.
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