Category: Musings

General musings about photography, my creative process, and things in general.

That Film Camera Won’t Make You a Better Photographer

That Film Camera Won’t Make You a Better Photographer

That old film camera sitting up in your father’s closet, or in your grandfather’s dresser won’t make you a better photographer. It’s like a gas range won’t make you a better chef or a fountain pen improving your handwriting. These are things; a thing cannot make you better than you already are. In fact, they might even exacerbate the mistakes you make. Sure, using these might help you eventually, but there’s only one thing that will make you a better photographer, yourself.

400TX:365 - Week 52 - All's Quiet on Christmas Day

I’ve seen of late and even posted articles about these photographers who laud the film camera and how by only picking it up makes them a better photographer. As someone who started off my journey in photography with a film camera, I can tell you, a film camera does not make you a better photographer. I started off with a fixed lens rangefinder, a great camera for a beginner. And you know I got to know that camera rather well, and by the last time I shot the camera before passing it off to a new owner, I was producing good images with it. But it wasn’t the camera that made me a better photographer.

CCR - Review 8 - Minolta Hi-Matic 7s

CCR - Review 8 - Minolta Hi-Matic 7s

About a year (or so I can’t remember) I picked up my first SLR, and it was all move over Ansel Adams. And in my first roll shot through the SRT-102 I got a single, good image. And looking back, even that image wasn’t that good. But if you think about it even the greats that we all laud today started off with a huge trash bin of failure. So if you think that film camera will make you a better photographer by simply shooting with it, repeat after me, no single piece of equipment will make you better. And that counts for everything. So I did what I should have done much earlier. I put down the camera, and I picked up a book, and I learned, and I practised. When I started shooting with a DSLR with flash my first photos were terrible, there were shadows; everything was in focus rather than isolating my subject. But at the time (2007) I didn’t know any of it. I would just shoot and hope the pray. A year later I had figured out how to defuse my flash, use a short telephoto, and use a shallow depth of field. And buying the flash diffuser and the 85mm lens didn’t make it automatic. I had to learn it first and practice it second.

Spoon

Mis

As I said a camera is a tool. An SLR won’t make you instantly learn composition, that 10,000$ Leica won’t make you a top-notch street shooter. Now don’t get me wrong these are fantastic tools to help you along the way but you need to still put them down every so often and pick up a book or read an article on something then put it into practice. Because even with the best camera in the world you can still create a bad photograph. There has only once where better gear helped me, but more important was knowing how to compose the image to better show off the scale of the abandoned power plant R.L. Hearn. Originally I used a Minolta SuperZoom camera, while the second time I shot the same scene I had an ultrawide angle lens on an SLR.

Look Up

i remember you

So by all means, put down your digital camera and pick up that dusty old manual mechanical camera. But please don’t wax poetic and delude yourself into thinking it will make you a better photographer just because of what it is. Because if you don’t make yourself a better one through practice, learning, and failure. Your photos will still suck even with a film camera, and your wallet may hurt more because of it. Shoot film because you want to, not because you feel it will make you better. It won’t, only one thing will make you better. You.

Escaping GAS

Escaping GAS

No, I’m not talking about real gas, but rather G.A.S, or Gear Acquisition Syndrom. It’s a common problem among many hobbies, but for the most part, it affects photographers, that is photographers who use film based cameras. These days shooting film is pretty sweet, there’s a huge used market where many cameras once thought to be out of reach of even beginner photographers are now easily purchased. When I got my first Nikon, the F80, it was the F5 I wanted, and now I got one for under a thousand, and a Hasselblad for 500. But herein lies the problem, we often find ourselves surrounded by so many cameras it’s next to impossible to determine which camera to take out and shoot that day.

All in the (F)amily
The full line of Nikon professional SLRs, the F to the F5, today I only have the F2 and F5

I’ll admit, I suffered from GAS, at my peak, I had over 30 functioning cameras including the full line of Nikon professional SLRs not to mention a handful of other cameras from Nikon. Medium format, more 35mm equipment, and a couple of large format cameras. It was a collection on the verge of being unsustainable. And that’s something coming from one of the hosts of the Classic Camera Revival Podcast, where our motto is “If you don’t have gear acquisition syndrome now, you will after this show.” It was starting to be a serious problem. And then it happened, the cure, the way out. An Escape from GAS. I got engaged and was going to move in after the wedding with my wife into a condo that had 760 square feet to share with two people. Some cameras had to go, a lot of cameras had to go. And before you jump all over my amazing wife, she never said a word, she in fact fully supported my photographic hobby. The decision was entirely mine because I was tired of taking so long to chose a camera. I needed to cut down, badly.

The Collection - September 2012
Yep, I had a Leica, and you know it was a pain to shoot with, so yes, I sold it.

Step One Over the course of a couple months shoot as you normally would but if you don’t normally log your film photography, start doing so, all you need is a little notebook or if you want to get fancy and really dig deep into the data use a spreadsheet. Make sure you at least capture what cameras and what lenses you use. If you already do this, you can skip over this step and go right to step two.

Step Two Look over your camera logs, figure out the cameras you use the most. These are the cameras that you certainly have to keep since they’re your go-to, your old faithful. There’s no hard or fast rule on a total number of cameras. Any camera you haven’t used in a couple months or more move into the get rid of pile, but don’t worry you don’t have to ditch them all just yet.

Step Three Take a look at your ‘to get rid of’ pile, if you have a sentimental connection to the camera, by all means, keep it. Also look at cameras where you only have one lens for or similar cameras in the keep pile. These are ones that you should actively seek to donate and remove. Again, no hard and fast rule, go with your gut.

Step Four Start offering up cameras to fellow film photographers, you can sell them if you want, but price to sell, not to make a buck on. There are plenty of buy/sell groups on Facebook that you can offer them up on. Alternatively, you can visit local camera shops that has a used gear. My go-to is Burlington Camera, Joan is fair on her prices and knows her stuff. And finally, if you have no desire to sell anything, you can always do the donation route the Film Photography Project is always looking for working cameras to help fuel their School Donation Program!

Step Five The final step and the one that continues on well past the first four. You have to remain vigilant. Keep your kit to the final number, add a camera, drop another. Look to expand your lenses, buy more film instead of new camera bodies. If one breaks and it’s a workhorse, by all means, replace it with the camera or similar camera body.

CCR - Review 11 - Pentax 645
The Pentax 645 a long-time workhorse of my collection, replaced in favour of the Hasselblad 500c

So there you have it, the big secret to escaping GAS, you have to want to. You have to realize this on your own. And you don’t have to set a hard and fast number, and there isn’t a bad thing about GAS, but sometimes the gear becomes more important than the art. Besides, just think of it this way, rather than spend hundreds on a new camera, spend that money on film and get out and use your cameras! Today I’m happily sitting on ten cameras, little duplication, and all ones that I enjoy taking out and shooting with, choice of camera is simple, and I find myself shooting more and thinking about it less. Not to mention I now have the room to expand on my selection of lenses to ensure I have enough coverage, no matter what system I take out.

On Photography Projects

On Photography Projects

Most every photographer I know has done some sort of project, I’ve done a good three projects myself. Some over the course of a single year others have lasted several years to see completion. As with any project some will succeed, others will fail. Hopefully I can give some good suggestions to help your photography project succeed by drawing on my own successes and how I went about them.

1. Keep It Interesting
Just like anything, you’ll find you do your best work when you focus on something that you’re interested in. If you have no interest in photographing portraits, or doing street photography, there’s no point starting a project in those areas. It’s just asking for failure, because you’ll become disillusioned with it and give it up part way through. Remember, this is a personal project to help you grow, you’re not photographing for anyone but yourself.

Project:1812 - End of Part One

So far, my favourite project for me has been my War of 1812 project: A Peace Forged in Blood & Fire, that saw my eyes opened to a rather unique and often misrepresented period of history here in North America, as with any multi-year project the focus, style, changed over the course of it, and has now ended up with a fantastic book in the process of being made. Of course like any project, I look back now and think how could I improve, and that answer would simply be consistency in film/chemistry/gear used.

2. Pushing Yourself
Now this doesn’t mean throwing yourself into some new format right off the bat or style, or to challenge yourself to shoot something you’re not interested in. What I mean is that you need to get something out of it for yourself. My fifty-two sheet project, I had been shooting 4×5 for just under a year when I dived into it (see, I learned the format and technique first, then dived into the project). I really set about learning really how powerful large format, how to apply a small part of the Zone system into my photography, and really…how much I love Tri-X! And to really settle on my choice of 4×5 cameras.

52:320TXP - Week 05 - The Lone Tree

But the one thing it really taught me was to slow down, relax, take my time when composing the images, but being quick about setting up and tearing down the camera. Because you never know when you might encounter a bear, right Mat?

3. Get Support
Photography, as I’ve always maintained can be a very lonely hobby. So working with a bunch of other photographers on a project or a group of photographers working within a certain frame work of a theme will often make it easier because everyone is there to encourage and support everyone else. And you may just learn something from one another!

400TX:365 - Week 13 - Don Valley Brick Works

My second 52-Roll project I was joined by a whole group of photographers from around the world, the 52rolls.net website, spearheaded by the talented Urban Hafner became a joint home for both the 400TX:365 and 52:320TXP projects respectively where the photographers agreed to shoot 52 rolls (or 52 sheets) of film over the course of the year. And while I’m not participating this year, I still keep my account active there and still read through this year’s batch of photographer taking the 52 challenge!

4. Be Realistic
I really shouldn’t have to mention this one, but sometimes we miss the obvious. Don’t start something if at the very beginning you know you’re not going to be able to. It’s like the whole 365 project, shooting a photo a day, it’s a stupidly overwhelming project, I know for sure that I wouldn’t be able to do such a project which is why I settled for the easier roll/sheet a week, I mean that’s an easy day out on a weekend.

Project:52 - Week 10

And finally, if you don’t complete your project, don’t beat yourself up about it, sure it sucks, but honestly, it’s just a silly personal project. Best thing to do is look back, learn from it, and keep on going, and try something different next year. So what’s my project this year? Well there are several small ones that’ll filter over the year. A few additions into the continuing War of 1812 project, doing a few print collections (darkroom printing), reviewing my camera gear in blog and podcast form (which will help me pick out the cameras that I use and like the most and clear the fluff from the collection), and maintaining a decent level of blogging here!

All the photos featured in this article were from my four (to date) photo projects

Until then folks…keep clicking
And long live film.

The Magnificent Eleven

The Magnificent Eleven

Even though I’ve been photographing for several years now, I’m still amazing at the power of a photograph, or a series of them, or a whole body of work.

But how about only 11 images? A few people may have heard of these 11, or as they’re called as a whole “The Magnificent Eleven” these 11 frames were shot by Robert Capa during the D-Day landings. Capa was attached to the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. He accompanied them while they stormed Omaha beach. Capa shot the whole landing with two Contax II cameras, both with 50mm lenses, and four rolls of film. Capa was no stranger to war photography having already captured the Spanish Civil War, stating “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Why do I write about this today, well because today is June 6th, it was on this day in 1944, 69 years ago that Robert Capa shot these images. 160,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normany to wreast control of Europe from the iron fist of the Nazi Regime.

But only 11 images from Capa survived, due to an error in the lab, three and a half rolls of film were lost, and the half roll left, 11 frames. One of the most pivitoal moments in history and only 11 frames. With all of our lives captured today in pictures, and the ability to post and shoot hundreds, if not thousands of images at a time. Capa photographed D-Day and got 11 shots, of 106 frames shot originally. He never said anything to the news bureau chief about the ruined rolls.

The Power of photographs.

I would love to post some of the images here to my blog, but in looking up about it, I found they still had copyrights attached to them. But you can view them here: www.skylighters.org/photos/robertcapa.html

June 6th, 1944

June 6th, 1944

Often I will use this blog as a forum for my own photography, but today, today is special as I will feature the photos of others. Today is June 6th, and what sets today out from the other days in this case. Because on June 6th, 1944 saw the start of the end, today is D-Day. Europe was a fortress at this point, the Nazi regieme had rolled over the entire place annexing and occupying territories, and terrorizing the world. But 6:30am, June 6th, 1944 saw the start of the end, Operation Overlord was the hammer that would smash open Fortress Europe.

So today, I feature the photo of an unknown photographer, a soldier maybe, or a civilian who snapped this shot of Canadian troops heading into landing craft.

Photo: Troops of the Highland Light Infantry of Canada going aboard an L.C.I.(L) at dawn. 9 June 1944. Southampton, England
(Library & Archives Canada; PA-129059)


http://veterans.gc.ca/eng/feature/d-day

The Day the Guns Fell Silent

The Day the Guns Fell Silent

Nov 11th, 1918, the 11th hour the Armistice with German ended the Great War, the war many today know as World War One. Today we use the day to remember the brave men and women who fought in all conflicts both past and present, and hope for the day when war is no longer needed to work out our differences.

Until that day I will continue to remember them. So today I will give you two photos and two stories. Tales of two men, branded hereos by their respective nations and awarded the highest honour for their action.

John Basilone
If any of you have watched the HBO mini-series “The Pacific” you have probably heard of John Basilone. John, having already served three years in the US Army and saw action in the Philippines joined the United States Marine Corps in 1940. After the deadly attack at Pearl Harbour in 1941, the US Marines, including Basilone landed on Guadalcanal, a small island near Australia that had been seized by the Japanese. During the battle for Henderson Field 3000 troops from Japan assaulted Basilone’s unit. Basilone, a gunnery seargent commanded a couple machine gun squads, and soon found himself under attack from Japanese mortars. Over the next two days Basilone was reduced to himself and two other marines, yet they still maintained a constant fire, causing a lot of havoc to the Japanese attackers. And even as ammunition became low, and supply lines cut, Basilone using a pistol and machete, fought his way through the attackers to get the much needed supplies back to his crew. His actions at Guadalcanal earned him the US Medal of Honour. Basilone was held up as a poster child, and returned to the US. His hometown of Raritan even held a parade in 1943 for his homecomming. But Basilone was a Marine, and he wanted to get back into the fight. The Marine Corps wanted him on the homefront, offering him both a commission and instructors role Stateside. He refused both. His second request to rejoin the war was approved and he shipped out to Camp Pendleton. It was during his station there that he met his wife, and shortly after they were married he returned to duty in the Pacific theater. Iwo Jima. On Feb 19th, 1945 on the inital assault on Iwo Jima, Gunnery Sargent Basilone was in charge of a machine gun section, he fought his way through and destroyed enemy blockhouses, aided an American tank trapped in a minefield while fighting through to Airfield No. 1. As he moved along the airfield he was killed by mortar shrapnel. He was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions at Iwo Jima.

The Aubry Cosen V.C. Memorial Bridge
If I have ever cornered you with this photo, of if you have a print of it hanging on your wall, you have probably heard me talk about one Canadian man. Sargent Aubery Cosens, a native of Latchford Ontairo and former railway worker for Temiskaming & Northern Ontario Railway joined up with the Canadian Army during the Second World War. Feburary 25th, 1945, Cosens was a member of the Queens Own Rifles, his platoon along with some tanks were ordered to take the Germany Crossroads village of Mooshof near Uedem. The units defending the village easily held back the initial attack, then launched one of their own. Leaving Cosens, two tanks, and four other soldiers left. With the officer commanding the platoon dead, Cosens did what any good Sargent would, take command, and held back a second counter attack before leading his own. Taking up a position on one of the surviving tanks he orders it to ram the nearest farm house while he proceeded to flush out the defenders, then using the other tank for cover fire along with the other four survivors proceeds to move through the rest of the village, killing twenty and taking at least that many prisoners. Single-Handedly. After ensuring the prisoners were secure he started to make his way back to the Company Headquaters to report the nights actions. On the way, he was shot and killed by a sniper. He was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Two men who proved that one man can make a difference. So today, take time, two minutes, and remember them.

Polaroid Love

Polaroid Love

Two guys in New Jersey. They’re really the ones to blame for this obsession, this obsession on instant photography.

SCAET

You might know it better as Polaroid. Now I had already tried out Polaroid a couple years back but never really interested me, and of course the news that Polaroid has gone belly up, and was no longer producing film. As millions of cameras suddenly became useless. I never gave it a second thought.

It was shortly after listening to some of the early episodes of the Film Photography Podcast that I learned about a group called Impossible. This company had purchased from Polaroid the last factory in the Netherlands, their mission, to recreate the integral instant film that made Polaroid big. Yes it truly was a Mission:Impossible for them as much of the chemicals were long expired, and the notes shredded.

Well they did it, producing a first flush of PX100 film designed for the SX70 type Polaroids, and started selling off whatever parts and pieces they could find in the property they now owned. Old Artistic TZ films, Type 100 pack films.

Downtown

The PX100 film, at least the first version was a rather interesting film to begin with, it suffered from tearing, pulling, and generally being a pain in the ass to use. As you can see from the photo above, it’s not a very good image. But I could take it out of the camera (leave it in the dark for several minutes) and pull out a print.

Let’s see your digital camera do that. Sure you can view the image on the screen, put you still have to take it to either a print shop or home before you can hold that image in your hand.

I decided to wait on getting more film from impossible. And then from the FPP guys I got a Polaroid Colorpack II, this was even older than my SX70 coming out in 1969, and it took…pack film! (Something that Fuji still makes!) and Mike Rasso was even kind enough to include a pack of said Fuji FP-100c film. You take the shot, pull the tab, pull the image, do the count, and crack and peel it open. The chemicals smell awful. But you have a print, a unique shot, never to be captured that way again, in your hand.

How Awesome is that?

The QE

Then I noticed that Impossible has some of the “Type 100” pack film up for sale, so I put in another order, grabbing in addition to the two packs for the Colorpack II, some of the new PX70 colour film for hte SX70 and a pack of the second flush of the PX100. The second round of PX100 seemed to turn out much better than my first.

Willow Path

It was just rather warm that day, so the images really showed it. The colour shots however, those turned out much more interesting. I think the cold and damp really affected them.

Ladies of the Canyon

Yes, very experimental, but rather interesting at the same time. And I still have two more packs of the stuff to shoot. And recently at a photoshoot I ended up bringing along my ColorPack II as a secret weapon, so that the couple each could have a print right there, in the park. They thought it was a pretty neat idea.