Aadarsh – GSAL Alumnus (2019 Leaver)
Editor’s Note: Former student Aadarsh (2019 Leaver) was an editorial member of Salutaris, the Sixth Form academic journal, during his time at GSAL. This fascinating essay and accompanying photographs were originally published in Salutaris 2019, a project led by Mrs Gray, E-Learning Designer. CPD
My first ever experience with analogue photography and why I adore it
I believe that in the 21st century, humans are beginning to take cameras for granted and frankly, I suspect most of us pesky millennials are probably guilty of this. After all, the invention of the camera phone only further facilitated this and we often tend to forget their profound ability to take a moment that is happening in real-time and freeze it within a single frame. I always relished the convenience of digital photography and its user-friendliness; however, having always been fascinated by the works of Henri Cartier Bresson and Fan Ho who are both pioneers of street photography, I decided to dabble in the art of shooting 35mm film.
At the beginning of January 2019, after much deliberation and apprehension, I purchased a Pentax K1000 Single Lens Reflex, fully mechanical camera from 1976 with a 50mm Prime Lens (that appeared to still be in excellent condition!) as well a roll of Ilford HP5 Black and White 400 ISO film. On a particularly cloudy Saturday morning in early January, I embarked on my first ever street photography excursion; I sat in a café learning how to load the roll of film in to my camera, and one thing I immediately noticed about analogue photography is the physical process and effort it necessitates from the user (which was also, incidentally, one of the things that sold it to me).
As an analogue photographer, you must load the film yourself, manually select the shutter speed, aperture and, if you use a prime lens, manually adjust the focus to choose your subjects. These elements, combined with the whole process of developing the film yourself, really cause you to feel as though you are ‘making’ a photograph rather than taking one because it is ultimately the you, the photographer that is making the artistic choices that contribute to the composition of your shot rather than a computer built in to the camera.
To those reading this article who, perhaps, aren’t familiar with the exposure triangle (i.e. aperture, shutter speed and ISO), I will briefly explain these concepts below:
- The ISO or the ‘film speed’ determines the film’s level of sensitivity to light. The darker the environment you wish to take photos in, the higher ISO film you need. For example, in sunny or overcast weather, because of the brighter lighting, the film need not have a high sensitivity to light so using 100-400 ISO will attain perfect exposure for that lighting. For night photography, however, using a higher ISO Film such as 1600-3200 would attain better exposure because there is less light and the film must try to capture the most of whatever little light is available.
- Shutter speed is exactly what you might expect; the photographer can manipulate for how long the shutter stays open and how much light is exposed to the frame. In brighter lighting, a faster shutter speed (1/500 to 1/1000 of a second) is recommended so that too much light isn’t exposed to the frame resulting in an overexposed photo; the opposite is recommended for lower lighting (1/60 of a second) to avoid an underexposed photograph.
- Finally, aperture is possibly the more complicated element of the exposure triangle. It controls the width of the diaphragm of the lens and the unit for aperture width is the ‘f-stop’. A wide aperture such as f/2 means that the diaphragm will be almost completely open and, as a result, allows more light to be exposed to the frame. A narrower aperture such as f/16 or f/22 means that the diaphragm is barely open and less light is exposed to the film. As you might expect, the former is recommended for low light situations and the latter for very sunny or bright days.
It is important to note that only the shutter speed and aperture can be adjusted by the photographer after the film is loaded and that the latter two elements of the exposure triangle are entirely dependent on the ISO. For example, for low ISO film such as ISO 200, darker lighting necessitates very wide aperture or a very low shutter speed; however, when using high ISO film such as ISO 1600 or 3200, you can use a faster shutter speed and a narrower aperture in the same lighting.
You are also able to deliberately manipulate these elements in different ways to achieve some particular artistic effects. If, for example, you want the ghostly blur of cars headlights or people walking past in your photos, then you can use a slower shutter speed such as 1-15 seconds; on the other hand, if you want to capture a moving subject, you could use a faster shutter speed such as 1/500 – 1/1000 of a second. If decide you want to take a portrait of someone and blur out the background, using a wider aperture means there is more focus on the subject and less on the background which achieves the ‘bokeh’ or ‘portrait mode’ (as put so eloquently by Apple) effect. The opposite must be done in order to ensure that as much of the shot is in focus as possible (a feature important in landscape photography). It is vital to consider, however, that if you manipulate one part of the exposure triangle, you must compensate for the excess (or deficit) in light by adjusting the other. For example, if you are deliberately using a fast shutter speed to capture a moving subject, because it lets in less light, you must compensate for this by widening the aperture so that the photo does not become underexposed.
While a lot of what I have just explained is also possible on a digital camera, there is one crucial difference that sets apart analogue cameras from digital: analogue photographers cannot immediately check after taking the shot whether or not their settings resulted in a good photo because they have to wait for the roll of film to be developed and printed/scanned before they can view it which subsequently means there’s a slightly bigger learning curve. While this could be considered an inconvenience by some, others see it as the beauty of film photography. Usually, film photographers have 24 or 36 shots on a 35mm roll of film which means that they have to be more sparing with their photographs and have to choose the perfect opportunity to use up a precious exposure. This inspires a ‘think first, shoot after’ mentality as opposed to the ‘shoot first, think after’ mentality of some digital photographers who have fundamentally as many shots as they like. In essence, every shot counts for a film photographer and the fewer shots available to the user really slows you down and forces you to plan your composition.
Two weeks following the aforementioned street photography trip, I collected my prints and scans from my local photography shop and was absolutely blown away by how they ultimately turned out. The most gratifying part of the experience was the fact that I could only try to visualise how the photos might have turned out prior to my receiving the prints; when they finally arrived, the nervous anticipation before and the feeling of elation after looking through them for the first time really encapsulates the beauty of film photography. For me, the most fascinating thing about photography is trying to understand the story behind every single photograph among the 36 in each roll. I will include a selection of my personal favourite photographs from that roll and their description further down in this article.
To summarise, I absolutely adore shooting film and it really is an incredibly gratifying hobby. The ecstasy inspired by seeing your newly developed prints is unparalleled and it is something that makes you feel as if the whole process was worthwhile; I also occasionally discover new things about my photos post-development that I hadn’t known at the time I took the photograph such as someone interesting in the background or if I find that the subject is looking at the camera without my noticing as I pressed the shutter (see the second photograph) which is always a pleasant surprise! This article is not to say, however, that digital photography is inferior in any way; rather, it is a different experience with slightly different perks. Be warned, however, that shooting film is a hobby that requires a lot of patience and commitment (and it is slightly expensive!). In spite of all the costs of buying chemicals for developing, rolls of film, getting your film developed at a shop and getting it printed, there’s just something about film that makes you forget about all of that!