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For a few days now, I’ve been trying to wrap my head around how this damned camera chooses just how it’s going to expose. I kept telling myself that this thing is just a machine. It must be predictable based on how it it programmed to function within it’s limitations of shutter speed and aperture. But let me tell you…this has been a real puzzle to try to figure out. I think many people after a few packs of film would rather just get out the 10 pound sledge hammer.
This is what I know:
The film speed is 800.
The camera will choose either of 2 apertures – f8 or f22.
At 1/30s shutter speed, the camera will always choose f8.
The auto setting will expose anywhere from 10s to 1/250s
Right away based on these parameters, we know the camera will overexpose by one stop based on the sunny 16 rule. I always chose to shoot in bright conditions with a cpl screwed on to the lens for that reason. I just wanted something that would block the light coming into the lens by about a stop.
This is what I didn’t know:
Why do we get so many over exposures with this camera when it doesn’t seem like we should?
How does it select which aperture it’s going to use? Why do we get underexposures of our foreground?
I took a handheld Sekonic light meter with me each time I went out to take some test photos. And we have to remember that the built-in light meter on this camera does not look through the lens at our subject, but it measures the light where the camera is. So if your subject is in grossly different light than our camera, well guess what? You know what will happen.
Bearing this in mind, I always took an incident light reading at the camera’s meter location before I did a test shot. I thought this would be the most accurate way to predict the exposure from the camera’s perspective.
1.) The camera seems to opt for the higher shutter speed if possible. So if the shutter speed measured at f8 (at the camera location) is 1/250s or slower, it will always choose to use f8.
2.) If the shutter speed measured at f8 (at the camera location) is faster than 1/250s, it will choose to use f22 of course.
3.) the dynamic range of the prints are very very narrow. Thus, when you take a photograph you have to decide ahead of time if it’s the foreground or the sky that is the most important. Many times one of those things is going to go. So choose one or the other.
4.) Be prepared to use your exposure compensation switch to adjust for the foreground brightness. Most of the time during the day, I would have to shoot at -1, and if it was quite gloomy out, I may have to use 0 or even +1 to bring the foreground brightness up. And remember, I still have the cpl screwed onto the lens.
5.) If you’ve measured the exposure at 1/125s @ f8 or brighter and you are shooting a scene with sky in it or objects near to the sky that are important to see detail in, setting -1 on the exposure compensation often is not enough. You should use a cpl or 1 stop ND on the lens for sure. Otherwise, if you’re shooting a scene with no bright areas in it, you don’t really require a cpl. Just adjust your exposure compensation accordingly often setting it to 0 or +1.
6.) When you compose a photo, try to make sure that your subject is in decent light. Shadow areas quite often because of the dynamic range of the prints, will go to black.
7. As far as the flash is concerned, I found that the exposure compensation switch only had an effect on ambient light, not the flash. No big surprise there. But the flash was too bright in most photos I took of people 6 feet or so away. The only way to fix this would be to back up to 10 or 12 feet and try another shot. We know that aperture affects the brightness of the flash, and shutter speed controls the ambient. Therefore, you most need the flash when light levels are low, when the camera is going to choose an aperture of f8. So having the flash being too bright 6 feet from your subject really sucks. You’re probably not going to use the flash if your shooting at f22. Or are you??? Well, the flash when shooting at f22 seems to have very little effect on the photos. It’s just not powerful enough unless you’re very close to your subject. But here’s the weird thing about this flash: it seems just fine if you get in close and set the lens to focus to .6 meters. Maybe the flash sensor works fine at close distances. But it sure seems like if you’re at 6 feet or more, it fires at full power every time.
Wow. If you’re like me and like to know what your camera is going to do before you take a shot (daaaa), then this can be a really confusing camera to use. I’ve done some tests and have a much better idea of things to look for now when trying to predict the outcome. But even still, it’s more hit and miss than I really care for. Luck will really enter the equation with this camera. The images when they work, I really enjoy. If you like the unpredictable nature of instant photography, then you will enjoy playing around with this camera.
So I’d say that you need to understand that the dynamic range of the prints is very narrow. Once you’ve gone through a few packs of film, you should be a little better at knowing how to choose your compositions and how to set the camera accordingly, and when and if you need to use a filter on the lens. The flash threw me for a loop, but I now have a better idea of how to use that.
But here’s the thing: are you really going to carry a light meter around with you and measure the exposure at the camera before you take a shot? Probably not! So just get used to using film to zero in your exposures.
I know a lot more about the unpredictable nature of this machine now than I did before, but I still intend to do some more experimenting with it…at least until I run out of film or get too frustrated – whichever comes first haha.
Note: all the horrific shots you see in this post are completely unedited in any way…straight up scans.
People enjoy photography I think because it is a challenge. If it was easy to produce an exceptional photograph every time you pressed the shutter, no one would be interested in it.
There are mysteries. There are problems to solve. There are unknowns. There is luck and there is error.
But what separates good photographers from poor ones is effort. Good photographers are the ones who are always working. They are the ones who are possessed. They are the ones who go to bed at night thinking about the next image, and thinking about how they need to change themselves to get to where they want to be.
And there is this zen in photography where you just see. You notice things that others don’t. You are often overwhelmed with imagery…with light…with shadows and contrast and colour and form. You are consumed with geometry and finding a poetic order to something without it being any where near perfect.
Yet even with all these things that are enough to drive you mad, a camera in the hand can set you free. It can release you from self awareness. It can unburden you from rule and restraint.
And the mind of an artist is a very strange thing. We think we’re starting to grasp something until we come to terms with knowing nothing. For every question, there is another question. And just like for every thing we think is true, the opposite is often also true.
The ultimate zen though is being free – free from too much thought…free from technology…free from constraint…free from worry about what others may think…and free from needing any acknowledgement that what you’re doing is valid. That’s when art happens.
Be free. And and enjoy the art of the image. That’s all that matters.
It must have been sometime around the year 1973 when my interest in photography really started. The reason I remember this is because my father brought home a few photography brochures from the office he was working in. On the cover of one of those brochures was the brand new Canon FTb SLR film camera. What a beauty. I can remember how much I would have liked to have been able to use a camera like that, but unfortunately, it was just not in our budget. Advance to the year 2016 and I am now the proud owner of a mint FTb with a 85mm f1.2 lens. It only took 42 years but I am finally shooting with that dream camera of my youth.
Film photography was how I started out as a photographer, and I still enjoy shooting with it today. I taught myself how to develop, scan, and print both black and white and colour negatives. I can honestly say that shooting with film has taught me more photography skills than any of my digital cameras will ever teach me.
I suppose though, that it’s the process of shooting with film that I enjoy the most. It’s getting away from that instant gratification thing that has made me have more of an appreciation for producing an image that is interesting and meaningful.
Today I’m a hybrid photographer. I own and shoot both digital and analog cameras. I cannot however, tell you how thankful I am that I started out with film and using film cameras. I guess I’m a dying breed as the new generation has grown up with digital. But it sure is nice to see so many younger people shooting with film SLR’s and really enjoying it.
So why then, do I think that I’ve learned a lot using film cameras? Here are some of my experiences:
1.) Shooting with film has taught me to think about what I’m doing with the camera. I’ve got 36 frames on a roll and I want to make them count.
2.) I have learned how to really evaluate exposure. Many of my film cameras either don’t have meters or have meters that don’t work. As a result I’ve taught myself how to carefully measure light using an external light meter or the sunny 16 rule.
3.) Film cameras have taught me the basics of understanding that photography is really the ability to see as well as having a good grasp of ASA (ISO), shutter speed, and aperture. Most film cameras have shutter speeds and apertures in full stops so they are easier to understand how different combinations work.
4.) I have learned that careful developing and film handling is critical to producing a good undamaged, clean negative.
5.) Shooting film has really taught me a great deal about how to see colour in the world. I’ve learned all about primary and complimentary colours, and how they manifest themselves with different film stocks. Thanks to film, I have a better understanding of what to look for when shooting colour.
6.) Film has taught me that sharpness and focus are often way overrated. A good photograph is not the sharpest photograph or the one that focused precisely.
7.) Film has given me an appreciation for the film aesthetic. I love the subtle differences in various film stocks, and I embrace grain like I couldn’t do with digital.
8.) Shooting film has made me patient. I’m no longer in a hurry to see my images. In fact, usually by the time I’ve developed the roll of film, I’ve completely forgotten that I even took those photos. That just makes it all the more sweeter.
9.) Film photography has led me to learn all about photography history. If you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going.
10.) Large format photography has brought the joy back into shooting. I think the reason for this is because it requires a great deal of effort. And looking at an image on the ground glass that is upside down and flipped left to right, has forced me to pay attention to the edges of the frame and carefully consider my composition. The satisfaction I get from seeing a large format print beautifully composed, exposed, and handled is like no other.
So there you have it. There are many more reasons why shooting film has helped me as a photographer, but I think you get the point. If you are a new photographer and have never tried film, I encourage you to do so. Even if you buy a used SLR on Ebay and shoot a few rolls a year and have a lab develop them for you, you’re bound to enjoy the experience and learn a lot about photography.
Taking a photograph for the sake of taking a photograph rarely leads to producing something worthwhile. It can by luck, but more times than not, it’s just an image of nothing.
As you scroll through the barrage of photos that come to us by way of social media, you will notice a great many that seem like they were taken just for the sake of taking some kind of image to post. And although they may be visually appealing, I’ve come to realize something very important: really good images are rare even for seasoned photographers.
Photography history has taught us that compelling images are indeed something that may only come along a few times in a lifetime. And many of the great photographers have said you’re doing well if you get ten good images in a year.
So this brings us to then ask, “Just what constitutes a good image?”
There are many images that are well done. There are many images that may appeal to us one way or another. And after all, this is art. It’s subjective. What one person likes another dislikes. But a compelling image has to possess a quality that the others don’t: that is, it has to be significant.
Significance at least in my mind, means that the image must have something to say.
Ask yourself these questions:
Is the image poetic in some way? Does it represent a commonality of a shared experience?
Does the image contain irony or humour or something that makes us actually want to stop and consider what’s going on?
Does the image describe a place and a time? And if so, does it do so without error or false representation?
Does the image say something about human nature?
Is the image something more than technically proficient, or visually appealing?
Understanding that it is the very nature of still photography to leave you with questions when you look at a photograph, it would help then to try to take photographs that have something to say, and that can describe a time and place, but not quite explain everything that may be happening.
A photograph is only a very brief moment of time that is still, has been frozen, or has been extruded from our life lines. And this is why it is so hard to make a photograph that is not only visually appealing, but also has something to say that is worth saying.
Make your images significant.
Today I was listening to a radio show which chronicled some of the works of the great Russian writer and playwright Anton Chekhov. It was fascinating to say the least, to hear scholars, teachers, and interpreters speak of his life, how he fell in love, how he saw the world, and how he really experienced life.
And, I thought it’s always a good thing for photographers to explore other arts like literature, painting, cinema etc. You can only come away from these things a better person – perhaps more worldly, more creative, more passionate, and more grateful for the little things that complete our lives.
I’ve been photographing a different aesthetic lately as you might tell from my Instagram feed. Some would call it “new topographics”, others might prefer “contemporary landscape.” However I’ve been thinking about a certain lesson I learned in photography a long time ago, and how it applies to this style. That is, no one expects perfection in photographs. They simply want the photographer to describe to them the “significance” of the place in a way that is easily understandable. And, you do this in part by learning to embrace all the imperfections in life. Very often, the most beautiful images are the ones that pass along some kind of shared experience to the viewer. And even though in most circumstances you can never really believe anything you see in photographs these days, there is a genuineness in a good photograph that displays life’s flaws. There is I believe, always a way to find a composition based on a beauty and a truth. A good photograph should be poetic, metaphoric, and significant…but yet flawed.
Life is like that it seems, in that we can’t always predict what is going to happen to us. We can’t always control the events that shape our futures. And, in every thing I photograph I see that. The older I get, the more profound this fact becomes.
So my photography tip for this month is this: learn to embrace life’s ambiguities. Appreciate imperfection and loss of control. You will be a much better photographer and a seeker of truth.