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Relearning things from the past


Not long ago as part of spring house cleaning, my wife had me rummaging through one of our closets. I happened upon a relic from the past – a film camera.

Upon seeing it, nostalgia completely overtook my mind and I quickly loaded a roll of film into the camera and was out of the house and ready to take a stab at it the “old way”.

After years of using digital equipment, I felt a strange sensation going retro and having to set things manually. I was no longer comfortable shooting without the help of today’s “take in for granted” modern features: zoom lens, auto exposure, and autofocus.

Instead I felt compelled to plan each shot by positioning myself at the desired distance from my subject, picking a specific pair of shutter speed and aperture settings and carefully focusing before pressing an almost silent shutter button. Afterwards, I instinctively peeked at the back of the camera and felt slightly silly – there isn’t an LCD on the back of a camera from the 1950s.

I shot only one roll that day. Then I dropped off at the photofinisher and had to wait an entire day before I could see the results. Of course, the film is returned in an envelope with the proofs. But I find it hard to judge a photo from a 4″ x 6″ print so I scanned the negatives to see the results up close on a computer monitor.

Here’s a few of the shots.

For this photo, I first estimated the exposure and then I asked her to remain still for a few moments while I slowly focused the lens. I like the result.

Having scanned the negative, I used Lightroom to turn the color image into a greyscale. I prefer this photo which removes the somewhat distracting green color.

It’s been a few days since I’ve reviewed the 4″ x 6″ proofs. I am now able to deconstruct the process that I experienced that day.

Knowing that I was limited to 24 exposures, I carefully selected, posed and composed my subjects. Rather than snapping off six or eight shots of a single subject, I settled for one or two.

Since I was shooting without the convenient features of late model cameras, I found myself checking and double checking the focus and exposure.

I’m able to report that there’s a slightly liberating feeling of not having to (or being able to) instantly review each shot. I didn’t feel hurried to snap away. Instead, I took a few extra seconds so I could try to get things right in the camera.

I was able to catch the family dog resting so I didn’t have to rush my shot.

I was so pleased shooting film after such a long respite that I retrieved these other cameras from storage. I bought a few more rolls of film and so I’m ready to go at it again the “old way”.

Caution: I quickly rediscovered that I need to brush the dust from the negatives before scanning. This is what happens to poorly scanned negatives. Don’t let this spoil your day.

Armed with a couple of these older cameras, I’m planning to go out and shoot more film.

I’m hoping to adopt this method of working more deliberately when I’m shooting with digital equipment. I’d like to improve my goal of getting it right in the camera. I think we can all learn a few things from shooting with film. Why not grab your trusty film camera and shoot a few rolls? It may do you some good.

Written by Arnie Lee