Life

Taking photos – the old-school way

By Syd Bolton

(Eduard Titov/Getty Images)

(Eduard Titov/Getty Images)

I remember the feeling of disgust my best friend in high school had when it came to digital cameras. “They are just toys,” he said. He explained to me why his 4x5 camera was such a better choice and I even remember us literally trashing some disposable point-and-shoot cameras. “They’re all junk” he claimed, definitively. He was right, of course. In 1993.

Today, the digital camera has evolved tremendously. Gone are the days of the Sony Digital Mavica, which stored its grainy 640x480 pixel images on a 3.5-inch floppy disk. Now most of us carry around powerful digital cameras in our pockets via our smartphones, offering resolutions, such as 2,448x3,264 on my iPhone. That is so much more detail than the old Mavica but, of course, it’s not just about the resolution. The lens and sensors make all the difference.

Economies of scale have made it possible for all of us to have the opportunity to become great photographers. But just having the tools available doesn’t mean you’ll become the next Ansel Adams. You need talent, patience and a keen eye.

The one thing that I have noticed lately is that “old-school” photography (you know, the kind that has been around since forever) is making a bit of a comeback. I am not sure if it’s because it’s cool to go retro (the way long-play records are making the rounds again) or if it’s for other reasons. An interesting article I read recently lists 12 reasons that many photographers still prefer film over digital and I have to say I agree with many of them.

I think we often forget, with digital photography, there is rarely a sense of caution or speed when taking photographs. “Space is cheap” is often the phrase that comes to mind, and as such we take many photographs without thinking about the space consequences. It rarely feels like you have to be careful with what shots you take since they are essentially unlimited (at least, in our minds) in a digital sense. A roll of film usually has 24 exposures, so you are more likely to be careful about which ones you take. You slow down the process, looking for the best shot (or any shot at all) and go from there. It’s a byproduct of our disposable society. Going back to film helps us remember to get the right shot at the right time, often resulting in better quality.

Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to go back to photography the old way is just because now it is “different” to do so. All artists have their own way of expressing themselves. Going back to our roots in terms of capturing moments can be one way to be different. The process is different, sometimes leaving undeveloped film to “marinate” for example over time can change how we view and share the end results. Social media has enabled us to share our captured moments at virtually the same time as we take them, whereas selecting only a few from developed film may change how we feel about them and the moment over time. What we share, when we share and how we share have all been affected by the digital world and not always for the better.

You can still get film developed at a handful of outlets, both local and nationwide. Henry’s Camera, for example, or some Costcos as well. If you are thinking about getting back into film photography, (or are considering it for the first time) make sure you know where you can both get supplies and where you can develop the results - unless you want to try and brave it yourself which is also an option.

As a member of my camera club in high school and developing black-and-white photos by hand, I find it quite fascinating now that we have completely changed how we take and develop pictures. It’s one of those cases where technology has made things better in so many ways but, as it turns out, the original way was pretty perfect as it was. Fortunately, both can coexist in our society. Happy picture taking!

Syd Bolton is the curator of the Personal Computer Museum and the Manager of Information Technology at ACIC/Methapharm. You can reach him via e-mail at sbolton@bfree.on.ca or on Twitter @sydbolton.