The Winds of Change

The other day, a Timehop from 5 years ago popped up on my Facebook page.  (How this happened I will never know.  I've never posted a Timehop, #tbt, etc., but it was there nonetheless.)  At this time (July 2010) I had just picked up my first camera and was beginning to learn how to use it.  It was a Canon 40D by the way.  It was an absolute noise machine beyond ISO 800, but it's still a camera I remember fondly.  As is usual for people just starting out, I asked a lot of questions to my more experienced photographer friends.  So, five years ago I posted this status/question:  "If photography were still film-only, would you still be doing it?  For me the answer is no.  Film is too unforgiving and the results aren't immediate.  In short, I think it would be too hard for me."

I literally laughed out loud when I read this in present day, especially the "unforgiving" part.  I took some shots recently in the Smokies on Kodak Ektar 100.  I carefully metered, calculated an exposure time, and then randomly gave it about 15 more seconds of exposure...just because of reasons.  I'm waiting for the film to return, but I know that the exposure will be perfect.  

As someone who now shoots exclusively film for landscapes (I still have a full digital kit for people photography) I think it's safe to say that my opinions have changed a bit over the years.  My photography has changed as well.  That particular Facebook post made me scroll back through my timeline circa 2010.  At that point, I was strictly a people photographer.  There are still some shots I consider to be good in there, but the consistency wasn't there.  I cringe to look at my overall photoshoots!  Now, regardless of the situation, I know that I'm going to come away with good, consistent results.  So I think I can safely say that my skill level has changed in the past 5 years.

My tastes in photography genre have changed as well.  Somewhere along the line I got hooked on landscapes.  (To back up for just a second, if you found my photography blog through my YouTube channel or any other type of recent search, it may be a bit shocking to know that I have a completely different body of work floating around out there.  Check out for something TOTALLY different that what I post on this site!)  Honestly I have no idea what first attracted me to landscapes.  I wasn't a particularly outdoor oriented person.  Whatever it was, something clicked deep inside me, and I knew that I wanted to be a landscape photographer.

Of course there was the minor detail of me being a terrible landscape photographer in the beginning.  No planning, unrefined vision, and a complete reliance on software tricks to come up with a "good" image.  And believe me, I'm using "good" in the absolute loosest sense.  I knew another change was in order, but at the time I didn't know what that was.  I just knew that I needed to become a much better photographer.

I've written previously about some of my reasons for changing to film.  One experience that I've yet to mention was that one of my good friends Ben Finch (of Finch Photo seen in the link above) picked up a Mamiya RZ67 a few years back in a storage unit sale.  He started to shoot it occasionally, and this was really my first exposure to the film world.  Of course, at the time I thought it was stupid to waste money on something so outdated, and as friends do, I let him relentlessly know about my opinion of shooting film at the time.  (This is something he rightfully throws back in my face from time to time!)

I started to see his results though.  And even though he wasn't shooting landscape, I was taken by the methodology.  Working the scene carefully, taking a single shot, and getting good results without software trickeration.  This was what I wanted and NEEDED to become a better landscape photographer.  Add to that my discovery of Rodney Lough Jr. and the rest is history.

Today I find myself a large format landscape photographer.  I sometimes hike miles and miles with upwards of 50 pounds on my back to take a single shot.  I may wait for hours for the light to cooperate, and if it doesn't, I do not take a shot.  I may not know the results for weeks as I wait for color film to be developed or develop the black and white on my own.  I take fewer shots, but with better results than at any point in the past.  The changes I've gone through have made me a better photographer without a doubt, and I'm enjoying photography more than I ever have in the past.

So last week, Fuji (in what has become an annual summer event) announced film cuts and price increases for remaining film stocks.  Now fortunately, none of the film I shoot was cut, but this definitely did not seem like a change for the better.  Velvia 50 in 4x5 already costs around $6 per sheet (not including developing) and that is set to see a 20% increase.  Most people think that it's only a matter of time before Fuji cuts Velvia 50 as well.  As recently as a year ago, this would have sent me into a panic.  However, it really doesn't bother me that much anymore.  (For what it's worth, I actually think Fuji will keep around Velvia 50 and 400H for MANY more years.)

Here's why.  First of all, I've got enough Velvia 50 in my freezer to last me several years, so that definitely eases the pain a bit.  More importantly though, I don't shoot large format just because of Velvia 50.  Sure it produces stunning colors in the right circumstances, but I shoot large format because of the process.  It slows me down and makes me think before I shoot.  I've taken 4 shots this year, none on Velvia, and I've been very pleased with my efforts thus far.

Secondly, I've found that I really, and I mean REALLY, enjoy shooting black and white.  Again it has to do with the entire process of shooting it.  I enjoy the hands on aspect that I get by developing it myself.  There is something very satisfying about producing a tangible negative after shooting.  A year ago, I had shot maybe 4 sheets of  Now, I'm considering only shooting black and white in Zion this fall.   Talk about change!

Part of this change has been necessity.  Black and white film shows absolutely no signs of ever being discontinued.  I better learn to like it if I want to keep shooting!  But there is more to it.  In addition to the process, I believe there is a certain nostalgia and classic feel to a well done black and white image.  It's something I've learned to appreciate more and more as my style has continued to evolve over the years.  I can honestly say that I would be just as happy shooting monochrome for the rest of my life.

So fear not; change can be good!  It took me from a terrible photographer to one who at the very least now has passable results.  Embrace change, even the seemingly bad changes of film cancellations.  It can take you in exciting and unexpected directions.