Own Your Workflow and Goals (and don’t get too distracted by the mantras of others)

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.

Minolta Riva Pano
A shot I took whilst out on a walk with Hannah my wife – I loaded a camera I like with a film I was intrigued to shoot and thought nothing more than clicking the button.

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.

Outsourced development

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.

My most commonly used scanner settings – I apply this to one image then copy it to all of them.

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.

The output

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.

A rebel…?

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.

Pentax P30 & Pentax-M 135mm 3.5
A shot of Connie I took over xmas – there’s so much of her little personailty here. This image will definitly make the cut for the 2020 anual

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…)

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43 thoughts on “Own Your Workflow and Goals (and don’t get too distracted by the mantras of others)”

  1. Excellent write up! I really enjoyed reading this as I do photography on my own terms. Nobody has the right to prescribe their own choices on others and like you say, technology has created a range of useful of ‘hybrid’ opportunities. I use the word ‘fusion’ instead of hybrid to describe the digital/analogue mix. Cheers for a good read!

  2. The way I like to think about mantras & prescriptions is that “Ansel Adams[1] did it” is not a reason to do something , but it is a good reason to investigate it. The reason for doing something is that it works for you.

    [1] or any other famous photographer

  3. This is very similar to my workflow due to time constraints as well with one exception: I keep all my negatives.
    The reason I decided to use film as one my main medium was the joy and magic that came from finding my grandfather’s negatives from the 1960s and scanning them into the digital workspace, bringing them back to life essentially. After losing a whole vacation due to failure of one of my digital mediums, I realize how important it is to have the negatives or at the very least print those photos.

    I’d love to have time to go into the darkroom to do prints and to get back to developing but like you, Hamish, I just don’t have time!

    1. How many negs did you find – just out of interest?
      A darkroom is something I plan for later life – after I get past this busy bit…

  4. Interesting to read other peoples workflow, mine involves procrastination then hours spent filing a backlog. Whatever works for you, but the binning negatives bit brought me out in a cold sweat.

  5. Hi –
    A very good read – I too, am a fan of doing things in your own way for whatever reason.
    I do want to encourage you to store your negs, even if carelessly. This summer I discovered a trove of my own negatives from the late 70’s, and also a trove of my father in-law’s negatives from the 50s. In both cases these were a gift. They waited decades for someone to come along and digitize them. They would not have been found on a hard drive, or in a book – and they were very moving – not nostalgic. So save the negs! Toss them in a box for person unborn to find – that person will get to see the world through your eyes – and not just the “keepers.” They’ll get the whole roll.

    1. Cheers John, I’m just not sure it’s worth it. I don’t think there is enough value vs the burden. Do future generations need to see my lens test photos out of that context… I’m just not sure they do

  6. What a great article. I’m sure a lot of people gasped audibly when you said you toss your negs. But they’re your negs, and you consider the scanned/post-processed image the true image, and that’s what you’ll work from forevermore. You’ve got me thinking about my own negs, boxes full of them. Some of my earliest ones were scanned at 1500px on the long side, when I prefer a 3000 px or greater scan. I might go back and rescan those. But otherwise, will I ever use those negs again? Probably not. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    1. Yeah, a good few people have mentioned that it’s a travesty that I throw my negs away. Like they are sacred… I think it’s easy to get to attached to material stuff for odd reasons

      1. Is it material stuff though? The film/negatives is the actual image. The real physical thing that can last forever. Archiving them means you have a chance 10, 20, who knows how many years from now to find something that you may want again. Or for your kids to discover something from their past. Scanning – what’s going to happen to those electronic files once you lose them/delete them/corrupt them?
        I guess it matters if you care.
        If I’m just going to throw the film away, I’d just shoot digital.
        Each to their own

        1. As I say, I don’t shoot film for that property, I shoot it for the process I outlined. Also, I’ve been taking photos for 28 years already – I don’t want for anything I’ve not kept so far…

  7. Great post Hamish. I don’t think I’ve ever admitted to this, so I’m happy to see you’ve done it first, but I throw away my negatives too. From about 2014 through 2017, I saved them, but after realizing that all they did was go from one box to another and take up space in my basement that I’ll likely never need again, I made the decision to throw them away, and so far, I haven’t once regretted my decision.

    I have a pretty good process of saving digital scans on a backed up server in my home and then again on an Amazon AWS cloud server so in the event I need those scans again, they’re there.

  8. Archiving negatives may be a good idea for people wanting to do gallery shows at some point. My scanner’s optical resolution is around 5000dpi, so in order to make large print around 1.5m wide/long, I’d need to drum scan them first. Also, many people use flatbed scanners that don’t have great Dmax specs, meaning that their digital files could confine the quality of the negs when the right moment comes.

    Just my 2 cents in case someone decides to throw away their negatives after reading the article.

  9. Hamish, I will be the contrarian and urge you to keep some of your negatives safely stored in quality boxes. The reason to keep your negatives:
    1. They are tangible piece of history. They were there on the spot. They collected photons. They were not manipulated. They are real (and how much else in this world is real?).
    2. Future scanners may be more sophisticated then present technology.
    3. I am dubious of the long-term storage of digital files, even among sophisticated computer users. (Believe me, I worked for the US DoD, and we lost digital data that could not be retrieved – and we had professional tech guys on staff).
    Sure, do some purging; you do not need to keep lens tests or experiments and you can reduce the kid and pet pictures. But keep many of your negatives. They are a tangible chunk of your life.

    1. Thanks, Andrew – I’m not ruling it out forever, I’m just not into it now. For now the books I make of the girls each year are all I need

  10. Throwing away negatives? The most archival material available? How very dare you?
    Or rather, well I wouldn’t do it, but HEY, IT’S YOUR THING…..RIGHT? And if it works for you, well yar boo sucks to every one else. Thanks for posting. It highlights the dangers of letting other peoples’ ideas into your own head without the necessary criticism. If it works for you, then great. But if it doesn’t, well, it’s not who you are. And other people are not you. And if they can’t deal with that, it’s their problem, not yours….

  11. You might be next Vivian Maier Hamish? imagine someone discovering your negatives in a thrift store and finding this archive of investigative work. What was the 50mm sonnar like on kodak portra? Future generations would know…

    It can’t be that hard to store them surely?

  12. Do you pitch slides too? Just my two cents, but finding old family slides and holding them up to the light is close to magic. That being said, it is also awesome when an uncle sends a link to google drive where the family slides are stored.

      1. If your family is anything like mine, the will hound and badger you to eat right, see your docs, take your meds and wear a hat when you go out to keep you healthy! AND, the guys who fixed my M2 told me it’s good for 30 years & I’ve got 12 more to go. I guess I’ll munch on some Kale.

  13. Apart from being an old fart, the reasons I use film cameras are because I like their simplicity and the tactile nature of film itself.If all I wanted was a print or file on a computer, digital has it all.If you’re going to chuck away the negs then what’s the point? Just go digital with a Leica.
    I know you and get your totally pragmatic/unsentimental approach but don’t fully understand how that fits in with the analogue thing. I’ve been using film for 45 years and all of my negs/slides take up only a few litres of space. Compared to all the other crap I’ve amassed it’s nothing.
    I was wondering if your thinking about the physical medium is about just moving on, a continual decluttering process

    1. My point is, analoge doesn’t have to be about the physical medium – it can be about the other parts of the process that make it enjoyable without the need to hang on to something

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  15. Goodness. It’s not just me then. I shoot both film and digital. I enjoy film because you have to think about what you are doing; it’s the actual act of taking the picture I find absorbing. And then checking how close to right I was. I tend to use digital when I’m feeling lazy!
    Once the film is developed, scanned and fiddled with I rather lose interest…….
    And yes, I throw the negatives away!

    1. Shooting film should be not much different from digital if you do it right. No slower or quicker. It doesn’t make you think more. If it does then that means you are not shooting ‘digital’ properly. With a P&S film camera it is just as easy to be lazy.

      1. Yeah I agree, in theory 100%, in practice it doesn’t stop me getting what I get out of the process of shooting film though

  16. Mate, I cannot disagree with you more about the negatives, but I do completely agree about doing your own thing and being happy with that. I’m glad that works for you!

    I, too, shoot film because I prefer the workflow (and the cameras). I’d be hard pressed to tell you the difference between a good film scan and a digital photo, but that doesn’t really matter to me. I like it, and that works for me.

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