One of the wonderful things about photography is how broad it is as a pastime. The options are absolutely endless, from capture media, camera type, process to display. In fact, with the revival of film photography, combined with what digital photography and computers have brought to the table, not to mention all the other traditional types of photography, we as photographers are spoiled for choice.
The wonder of this endless array of possibility is that it gives us photographers immense opportunity to carve our own path. We have the ability to find the workflow, tools and goals that work perfectly for us by cherry picking from any of the given options. Yet despite this, there are also endless mantras that get peddled ad infinitum(/nauseam) that seem to exist to arbitrarily push the masses in certain directions. For example, within film photography circles it is often said that developing your own film is a must and that darkroom printing is a natural progression that somehow completes the discipline.
Now, I should say, I don’t really have anything against any of these sentiments. Darkroom printing and home development can both be highly enjoyable. But are they essential to enjoying photography? I don’t think so. I don’t do much of any of these things, and apart from a photography-low-ebb that I had last year, I get on just fine. In fact now I’m largely out the other side of my grump, and now have I a bit more clarity of thought when it comes to what caused it, I realise that actually it was likely brought on by not doing exactly what I wanted to do and trying to follow some ideals and mantras that I’d picked up from other people.
What’s seen a recovery from my negative mentality is simply doing exactly what I want to do. Photography as a hobby is almost entirely a self indulgence, so why would I do anything other than what I want to do?! I can’t really answer that, other than to suggest that maybe I was trying to challenge myself or somehow force myself to learn something. Neither of which ideas are inherently bad, I just think I might’ve gone about it the wrong way.
It’s sort of moot now anyway, the reason I mention it is that the process of feeling crap about my photography has helped me realise that actually just focusing on what I enjoy about both in terms of the photos I take, and indeed the approach I take to taking them is very important. But, since there’s a few things that I do that go against what I see as commonly held ideals about photography, I thought I’d write a bit about them in a bid to promote the idea of finding your own path, and not just doing what’s perpetuated as being a more “true” path.
My workflow (and all the naughty things I do)
Probably the first thing to mention about my workflow is that it’s very much a “hybrid” approach to photography. I’m not a huge fan of that word, but the community doesn’t seem to have found a better one to better one describe the combining of film shooting and digital workflow, so hybrid it is…
Why I shoot film
If you ask 100 film photographers why they shoot film, 99 of them would probably tell you that first and foremost it’s because of the aesthetic of the result. Well, I’m the other guy. I do like the way film looks, but I also like the way digital looks. For me shooting film is about the process. I like the linear experience of the outcome being defined by the choice I make at the beginning and I like the feeling of relying on my imagination when it comes to the outcome whilst I’m shooting and making the onward choices.
In short, when I’m clicking the button, I like to imagine what the final photo will look like. So for eg, if I’m shootings a black & white higher contrast film for the benefit of the higher contrast I will be imagining how that higher contrast is going to play out in the look of the results when I’m clicking the button. Having an illustration of that on the camera doesn’t so much distract me, it just takes away something of the complete experience.
The problem with film photography from this point on for me is that in many ways it’s too time consuming and inconvenient. I like it in theory, but in practice I just don’t have time in my life for many of the time consuming processes.
As such, I outsource my development. But, that’s not to say that I don’t also like the idea of being connected to the process of development. As I wrote in my recent review of SilverPan Film Lab, I use his service as it let’s me feel in control of the development stage of the film without actually developing the film myself – I can give him instructions if I need to to help realise what I had in my imagination. I could do this myself, but unlike a lot of photographers, I have little to no interest in home developing the film. I don’t have the time for it within the context of my home-life, I know I’d waste more chemicals than I’d use, and – as I said in the SilverPan Film Lab Review – I find it a little tedious. I know that finding home development tedious doesn’t fit with the common consensus about how to get the most out of film photography, but honestly, I just don’t care. I do it this way as this way it fits best within my lifestyle and goals etc.
Scanning and the computer bit
I’ve talked about my scanning processes too, here and here. In short, when I get my negs back, I scan them flat with my Noritsu. I spent an absurd amount of money on that scanner, not just because of how good quality it is, but because I wanted to be in control of the scanning process without said scanning process taking hours out of my life. Scanning is boring, really boring, and too noisy to do in front of the tele at home. With my Noritsu, I can feed in a roll make some quick adjustments to get a flatter result, then leave it for 10-15 minutes and it’s done.
I then take those scans and post process them to look as close to what I had in my imagination when I was taking the photos. Significantly though, this process of taking the photos is something that I can do in front of the TV in the evening with my wife sat near me on the sofa. People say “I shoot film because it gets me away from the computer”, well, I don’t mind the computer bit. In fact, the computer bit is where I get to join the dots between my imagination and the final outcome. The computer bit is where I get to realise my goals.
Depending on my film choice and development choice with Duncan, sometimes this takes more work than others. As I get more used to the films I shoot with that amount of work gets less. I create presets in Lightroom that take the scanned images and turn them from the flat scans into my expected/imagined look. If me and Duncan have got it right further up the chain, this takes no effort at all. If we haven’t it takes more work, but provides an opportunity to reflect on the choices we made and work toward a smoother workflow.
My photos then get outputted from lightroom, uploaded to Flickr for purposes of archive, backed up on a HDD somewhere and then shown off on this website, sometimes Instagram and even more rarely I get around to putting them on hamishgill.com. I then print a few of the choice photos of my kids into a photo book for my wife for Christmas. Otherwise my photos languish online destined to only ever been seen on a screen. I sometimes think about printing some of them, but for the most part I can’t be arsed.
Binning my negs
My negatives then get piled up on my desk (as you can see above) or in a drawer until they begin to get in my way, at which point I unceremoniously put them in the bin. I don’t archive them, store them keep them in anyway. They are useless to me one I’ve digitised them as I don’t darkroom print. And if I did, I wouldn’t bother going back through the archive even if I did have one because I know that I couldn’t be bothered.
I also don’t have any interest in leaving folders full of negatives to my children as I wouldn’t want to burden them. I’m sure people will tell me that’s daft, but my step brothers Dad died a few years ago which left him with loads of negatives he now doesn’t know what to do with. That’s my point of reference here, and no one is likely to convince me otherwise.
In short, I don’t shoot film because of the way it looks, I don’t home dev, I don’t darkroom print and I don’t archive my negs for “future generations to enjoy”. Or in other words, I do what I want instead of following a lot of the commonly peddled mantras about film photography.
Now, I’m not telling you lot any of this to highlight how much of a rebel I am or how I don’t follow the conventions through some sort of contrarian attitude against them. I do these things because they fit within my lifestyle and they are a reflection of my own life experiences. And moreover, I do all these things the way I do them because it’s how I choose to enjoy photography.
Enjoy your workflow
Now, I hope it’s clear that I’m also not suggesting that anyone reading this should do what I do, or even follow my way of thinking. God only knows there’s enough content online that tells you how to think… More than anything else, I wouldn’t want anyone to take too much notice of my methodology as the way forward, not least because anything I do at any given time might change. Someone might open a community darkroom in Worcester and, god forbid, my wife might leave me. I might then find solace hiding in away the dark for the rest of my days regretting binning all my negs. Life has a funny way of turning things upside down for us like that once in while…
In all seriousness though, I’ve just spent over half a year getting myself into a bit of a mental battle with photography just because I started to think a little bit too much about some of the oft-peddled mantras. Lots of other people gain something from following this path or that, so why wouldn’t I?! Well, bluntly, because those paths – those mantras – weren’t the right fit for me. And the more I tried to make them fit, the more of a mental quandary I found for myself.
So yeah, whilst I really must insist that you don’t take too much from anything I write on this website about my processes, if there’s one piece of advice I would really suggest you at very least take onboard, it’s to enjoy the broadness and wealth of possibility photography as a pastime brings in whatever way you wish. Or in other words, don’t be afraid to own your own workflow and goals! …and try not to get to distracted by the ever-peddled mantras of others’.
(Edit: Even in the week since writing this, I have loaned my Noritsu to Duncan, so for a while at least he will be scanning for me to my specification…)