I dug out my heavy, reliable Canon AE-1 last month and popped a roll of Ilford HP5+ black & white film in for kicks. Yes, I had to watch a few youtube videos to jog my memory on how to shoot manual and be mindful of the exposure triangle. What did I remember? It’s hard. It takes patience. I was pining for my beloved Canon T2i aperture priority mode that I almost always shoot in. It’s a crutch. Really, are the photos I’m taking on my DSLR that great? More often than not, I’m underwhelmed by my photos and feel I haven’t really challenged myself of improved in the past few years. I could blame the camera (as I often do: it’s old, small sensor, blah blah blah), but really, it’s user error. User inexperience.
Oh, how I missed this. The solid thunk of the shutter and winding to advance to the next frame was satisfying nostalgia. The slow, arduous process of deciding the depth of field, shutter speed, and composition was a fresh challenge I had become overly reliant on my digital cameras to accomplish. The hardest part of all this for me? Manual focusing. I know time and practice will help, but it still feels like that perfect, crisp shot is always out of my reach, especially when the subject is moving or unpredictable. Things are always just a hair off. I try focusing on the eyes of a subject and their nose turns out sharp.
But in the end? There’s something a bit magical about not having a clue if your pictures will come out properly exposed and waiting to see if your effort was all in vain. I didn’t even know if the camera was mechanically sound and functioning since it’s been sitting in a case for the past 10 years. Having a couple of weeks to completely forget about what it was that I shot on film while it’s sent away for processing helps me bring a fresh, critical perspective. The sending away of film is a necessary (emotional and mental) disconnect.
I’m starting to be mindful of my pictures. They’re not just snapshots. What am I trying to capture? Is it a feeling that I’m having about the setting or the way the light is hitting an object? Taking a breath, reflecting on the moment through the viewfinder, and resisting the urge to be trigger-happy is helping my photography move forward.