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From Film to Digital and Back

My Personal Journey Through Photography

Man holding a camera to take a photograph. Credit photocollections.io for Pexels.com

My dad was a photographer. Amateur, but he understood all the moving parts. He had been involved in photography through 4-H and shot for his high school year book.

He gave me my first camera. It was a pretty basic point and shoot 35mm and loading the film cartridges was the bane of my existence. I destroyed three rolls before I put the camera away, when I think back, never to be seen again.

I still loved taking pictures but I decided that, as a very untrained hobbyist, a Kodak 36 exposure disposable camera was all I needed.

I should probably own stock in Kodak for as much money as I spent on those stupid things!

My senior year in high school, I discovered digital photography. I took an elective class somewhat arbitrarily named “Publications,” where we produced the school year book and a weekly “newspaper.” Which was also, side note, my first taste of journalistic writing and even though I earned first place in a regional contest for student journalists in the “sports writing” category, I abhorred the AP Style Guide. When I got to university and decided to get my degree in English, the idea of combining that with journalism and being married to that insipid book for the rest of my days was more than I could stand. No one told me that a degree in journalism could lead to a real living writing things I enjoyed, as well. Que sera, I suppose.

I spent hours shooting for the year book and newspaper. Any chance I got to duck a class and check out a camera, I took it. Volleyball team warming up for an after school game? I’m there. Biology class doing a nature walk behind the school? Sign me up. As a result, I graduated high school with a very low C average and thousands of unused photos deleted from the school’s DSLRs.

But none of that translated to a career. I chalk it up to a sheltered childhood and lackadaisical adult guidance but things like photo-journalism and “writing for music magazines” were never presented as options for me. So I remained a hobbyist. I continued to buy those stupid disposable cameras, although on the shoestring budget of a university student, I shot far more sparingly, choosing to capture the “important stuff” and leaving chance artistic photos behind.

A few years following university, I bought a little digital pocket-sized point and shoot. It had a champagne gold body, 2gb memory card, and three whole megapixels! It worked really well outdoors, taking stationary “still life” style photos or indoors... with the flash. Even if flash wasn’t necessary, somehow using the flash kept motion blur to a minimum. Even breathing was sometimes enough to blur the shots. But it was digital so it no longer mattered if one shot out of 100 was worth looking at. I just learned to snap a dozen shots every time I really wanted that picture.

I have steadily upgraded from that little point and shoot. I am currently engaged in a quest for a “real,” professional-grade DSLR. I just keep finding other things I want to spend my savings on. I’ll get there. Some day.

In the meantime, I had the dumb luck of finding a 35mm film SLR at Goodwill for $15. It came with a monstrous telephoto lens but not a basic wide angle lens. Regardless, it has been fun. I recently discovered one of the strange side effects of film photography is film canisters. What the heck do I do with all these little plastic bottles!? I don’t want to throw them away. For starters, there’s enough plastic in the landfills and ocean as it is and second, they look vaguely useful. They’re too small to hold beads (I also make jewelry; Jane of all trades, master of none!) and the lids don’t really fit securely enough to fill them with Aspirin in my purse. But they really do seem like they should be useful.

This discovery has also highlighted that in the eight or so months that I have owned this thrift store treasure, I have burned through more than a roll of film each month. That’s a lot of film for a hobbyist photographer who still has to pay to have it all developed.

That’s also a lot of random photos of random things. Unfortunately, in the past few years of shooting digitally, with the freedom to just delete anything that sucks, I have forgotten how to shoot sparingly on that shoestring budget. If I am “out shooting” I can devour 24 exposures in anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes.

In this digital age, priorities — my own included — have shifted. When cellular phone technology took its first big leap in the 1990s or so, the priority was a phone that got good reception and didn’t drop calls. Durability was also important. “Does it have games?” was a superficial level concern. Today, the top priority is “What kind of camera does it have?” I’ll admit, that has been the deciding factor in my two most recent phone purchases. “These three phones are almost identical, for basically the same price, but this one has the best camera? Sold.”

I have a tendency to run out of storage space.

There is a lot to be said about the instantaneous nature of digital photography. If for no other reason than it’s easier to learn when you are teaching yourself, as I am, how different settings work. A higher ISO allows me to close down the shutter and get less motion blur but a higher ISO also creates noise. If I set the ISO to X and the shutter to Y, the exposure is the same as it would be if I set the ISO to A and the shutter to B. Learning curve. But I think it’s important to note that my cellular phone does all of that. I have completely manual capabilities.

On.

My.

Phone.

A device intended for letting my friend know I got home safe or calling to make an appointment and I have all of the control of the camera that I would have with an actual camera. Sometimes it’s a little mind-boggling.

But having that convenience and freedom to delete whatever doesn’t come out just right has actually made me appreciate shooting on film that much more. I have enjoyed every second I’ve spent with that “antique” (let’s be real) 35mm SLR. Even when the film broke off its spool and I was only able to salvage about six shots off the roll. Or when I went on a photo adventure and only brought three rolls because surely, I wouldn’t need more than that!

I still use my phone for a lot of things — and I still have every intention to, someday, buy that DSLR — but I feel more official roaming the streets snapping off street photography with that monster lens than pointing my phone at things. Even if I do shoot with my phone, I still have the SLR on a string around my neck. I think I look less creepy that way.

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