Digital photography is rather new to me. And my journey into digital photography started in 2008 when my father loaned me a simple digital camera. Stuffing it in a drawer, I insisted on continuing with my 35mm film camera which I acquired back in the 1980s when I was a high school senior studying photography.
By the time I began studying photography in college, I learned about the history of photography as well as, eventually attending photography shows at art galleries. Black and white photography especially grabbed my attention, as it did my younger sister. I come from a family of photographers and only the youngest member of this extended family, my ten-year-old nephew started out with digital photography and a laptop computer. To even consider taking photographs with a phone back when I attended high school or college would have seemed crazy–yeah, and pigs can fly.
And while I enjoy digital photography and its instant gratification, I learned many invaluable lessons from film photography, shooting photographs, working with negatives and developing film and prints in a darkened room (yes, full of toxic chemicals). Here are a few lessons I learned.
1. Turn negatives into positives. Yes, that’s right in photography we see negatives as creative opportunities. If you shine enough light on a negative, you can develop a positive situation. This also applies to challenging situations in our lives as we see as negative. In every challenge lies an opportunity waiting for us to cash it.
2. Dodge and burn areas in a photograph to create a better composition with more depth. Dodge those areas of our lives which bring us too much contrast or too much denial (as we chase the light instead of facing our reality). The Abraham Hicks teaching, for instance, teaches us how to dodge those areas of our lives that cause us to stay stuck in darkness through obsessive thoughts and not seeing the positive areas of our lives. Miraculously, when we focus on more positive aspects of our lives, those pesky problems disappear most of the time. Which brings me to my next lesson.
3. When I first started working with film photography I had to focus my camera lens manually. I also had the power to choose where to focus my lens and create a composition with light, shadow, depth and form right there on the spot. I could also choose to close down or open up the aperture to either bring in the background clearly or to blur it, depending on what I wanted in my composition. (This is possible on the more complex digital cameras).
In life, the quantum physic experts tell us that we get more of what we focus upon. So if we spend our time focusing on the problems in our lives, mulling over them, talking about them, and not accepting solutions that our higher guidance brings to us, then we create more of the same drama. We can choose to blur out the background (chatter in our heads or our past that keeps cropping up for release), or we can bring in the background so that we can understand our life lessons and release what no longer serves us.
4. With film photography, we took pictures, and if we didn’t develop the pictures ourselves, we took the film to a lab and then waited a few days for our prints. We could pay more and get our prints done in one-hour, but still, that is a long wait for digital photographers who have access to their pictures the moment they snap their camera. Sure there is the downloading process on the computer for some of us, and other photographers still like to have their digital photographs placed onto a disc at a lab. But for people with cameras on their phones, they take and send photographs with a click of a button and a few keystrokes.
The lesson I learned with film photography was patience. I recall reading a blog post by another blogger, a photographer who also commented on the patience aspect, but also anticipation. It was actually fun to pick up a packet of prints from a lab and then look at the photographs with a family member or a close friend over coffee or lunch, and have a few chuckles. I actually miss those human and photography interactions.
5. With film photography, we enjoyed the sounds of the camera in action, a whirring sound if we used a regular camera and a fast whirring and staccato sound when the camera had an automatic winder on it. And winding the film each time to advance the film in the camera had a certain physical quality that I miss with digital photography. We became a team with our cameras and we performed rituals of a type when we loaded the film into the camera, advanced the film, set up our shots, and when the roll was complete, remove it and start the process again.
We need these rituals in our lives and when I say rituals, I’m not referring to the sacred kind, though if someone took a Zen-like approach to film photography or photographed nature, I guess you could bring in the sacred. And every creative process possesses some sacred quality especially since we are creating something out of nothing.
Now, I’m not dissing digital photography since it has its place too. We can even practice mindfulness with digital photography such as asking the souls of what we take pictures of permission. Respecting other people’s private space (politeness we have lost), honoring those images that appear in our lens, and also giving reverence to the spirit of photography which allows us to see greater beauty in the world.
With digital photography, we also release less toxins in the environment. But even so, I hope film photography never completely disappears. This type of photography shaped my young adult years, gave me pleasure and taught me important life lessons. I feel disappointed that younger generations are growing up without these photographic lessons and I hope they are still learning the history of this art of shadow and light.