Do the bits of photography you like

Jeannette’s comment to one of my posts saying she wasn’t a fan of Photoshop reminded me of something that I have long believed in. Photography, just like any hobby I suppose, is multi-faceted. You can feel pressured into doing all of it or just choose to do the bits you like.

If you frequent any of the internet chatrooms you will have come across the sort of person for whom there is only one way, their way. Any deviation from their way, especially in the choice of equipment is simply beyond the pale and they let you know about it. The reality is that you should do the bits of photography you like and ignore the rest.

Personally, I love cameras; I think they are great bits of engineering. They come in all shapes and sizes; I have everything from compacts to a large format camera and everything in between. I like old cameras for the way you have to control everything and I admire the new digital cameras for being so versatile and allowing even novices to take great shots without having to spend ages learning about f-stops and shutter speeds.

Conversely, I am not a great fan of Photoshop. OK, I admit I don’t have a full copy and wouldn’t know how to use it if I did. But I already work with a computer all day; the thought of spending even more time in front of a monitor post-processing my images doesn’t really appeal. In any case the software I get with my Canon cameras does most of what I want and it’s free.

The bit I like most about photography is carrying a camera, looking for a shot, setting the camera, putting it to my eye, pressing the shutter and waiting for the image, either on the LCD or on film. What I want to do is get the image right first time. I want to try and show what was in front of me, I want to try and capture a moment in time, with as little manipulation as possible.

So choose the bits you like and go with that and whatever you do don’t worry about what other people think, it’s your hobby!

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In Praise of Old Cameras

As well as being slower to use film cameras were also a lot simpler, no menus, very few options, and sometimes a proper f-stop ring!

I started out on a completely manual Carena RSD Micro. Here it is:

It cost me £45 second hand in about 1982. You had to set the f-stop and shutter speed until a small needle in the viewfinder neatly bisected a circle. It worked fine but could be a bit slow; I often missed that once in a lifetime shot! Having said that it served me well and I took it and a couple of lenses around Europe once and I still have the prints to prove it. Here’s one of Michelangelo’s David. It was a colour print but I converted it to black and white as it looks better.

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Why Film?

Why indeed?  In a world that has gone almost completely digital what is the point of film?

I have been a keen photographer for nearly thirty years, ever since secondary school.  In that time I have bought a lot of cameras and used a lot of film.  In particular I enjoyed using my medium format camera and developing and printing my black and white films in the darkroom at work.  Medium format uses a negative that is about four times the size of a 35 mm negative, so the quality in the final print is outstanding.  But then I left that job and bought my first digital camera (a Canon EOS 300D) and found the freedom of taking photos without the costs and delay of film.

A few years later the photo blogger Ken Rockwell started talking about going back to film.  Why?  Well, most cameras use a sensor that is a lot smaller than the size of a 35 mm negative, i.e. they are not full-frame.  Does sensor size matter?  Yes.  A bigger sensor means better quality photos, especially when using wide-angle lenses, but I’ll explain the technical reasons why another day.  A more immediate reason why sensor size is important is that those cameras that do have a large, full-frame sensor are generally expensive.  A 35 mm camera will set you back nearly £2,000 with medium format digital cameras costing £10,000 and more.

Except all the old film cameras of course which, since the advent of digital, have become amazingly cheap.  Old 35 mm film cameras can be as little as £10 on eBay and even medium format ones can be had for less than £100.  All you need to do is to develop your film, scan it and you then have full-frame or medium format digital for a fraction of the new digital costs.

Also, film has a character of its own.  Fuji Velvia is known for producing vivid colours, whilst Kodak Portra is great for people photos.  And then there is black and white, where there is a whole range of different films to choose from.  Nor does it have to be expensive.  I get my films from 7dayshop and get my colour films processed at Asda, where they throw in a CD of scans for the princely sum of 97 pence.  I’ve also bought myself some chemicals and so develop and scan my own black and white films at home.

Finally, with digital it’s very easy to keep taking pictures in the hope that you can choose the best one later on the PC.  With film I tend to take a bit more care over my photos since I have fewer shots in the camera, and I think that helps my photography.  This is especially true with my old manual medium format camera, which is slow to use and so forces me to think more about composition and lighting.  I think that those skills are far more important than gear in making a good image. And that’s what I am after.

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Two Types of Photographer

In my view there are two types of photographer: gearheads and image makers.  Gearheads concentrate on their equipment; how many megapixels, how many frames per second, the quality of the lens.  The logic is that the money spent on equipment will be reflected in the resulting pictures.  There is some truth in that, but not as much as some people would like.  If you are a sports photographer then having fast autofocus and eight frames per second will no doubt help you grab that perfect moment.   But if you don’t know much about composition it could just as easily leave you with eight photos that are pretty poor.

So that leaves the second type of photographer: the image maker.  This is the type of person who isn’t too fussed about megapixels and exotic lenses but does know how to frame a good image, the sort of image that people enjoy looking at.

As a sweeping generalisation gearheads tend to be men whilst women tend to ignore the gear and concentrate on the  image.  I think the best photographers manage to have a mix of both skills.

As a man and an engineer I have found myself all too often in the gearhead camp; I know more than it is healthy to know about cameras and specifications.  So I want to use this blog as a vehicle to improve my image making.  However, I also think I’ll chat about specifications as well, after all I have rather a lot to say on that subject.

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First Post

So, I’ve started a blog. I hope it will be a bit of a journey through my photographic life, looking mostly at film in all its different flavours, but no doubt some digital as well.  I want to concentrate mostly on composition because that is the weakest part of my photography and I’d like to get a whole lot better.  I’ll wait and see what the world thinks!

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Hello world!

Welcome to This is your first post. Edit or delete it and start blogging!

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