Photo-Philosophy Shooting Ektachrome E100

Forgetting my Expectations and Embracing a bit of Failure

A little while ago now I shot a roll of Ektachrome E100 in a camera that turned out to be broken. The camera itself feels pretty irrelevant to this story, other than the fact that it was a manual focus SLR, it was broken and was quickly sent off for repair after I saw the results. What is more relevant is my reaction to the images verses my wife’s reaction when she happened to spot them on my computer. And then, more significantly, how my response changed to them after she commented so positively about them.

I must admit, I’m not one to embrace the idea of serendipity in my film photography all that often. As you’ll read in next week’s post, sometimes I take risks, but more often than not I like to feel like I’m in control of the outcome. That said, one of the big factors that makes film photography satisfying to me is finding out that I got it right takes a little more patience. That’s not to disparage digital at all, getting it right can be just as hard, but with film you have to wait longer to see if you got it right.

This wait has always been part of the joy for me. When I was a kid waiting the few days for my dad to bring home my envelope of prints was exciting. When they arrived and they were good, or at least not terrible, I was happy. When they came back and something had gone wrong, I was sad.

This mentality has followed me into adulthood. It’s taken me a lot of effort to appreciate cameras (such as the Lomo LC-Wide) that respond best to allowing large chunks of luck dictate the “quality” of the results. Of course, to a certain degree all point & shoot cameras – especially in an age when they are all fairly old – require the user to let go and trust the camera a bit. I certainly set my expectations slightly lower when shooting a point & shoot compared to when I’m shooting fairly high quality SLR camera for example.

In fact, when I’m shooting higher quality cameras, it would seem that I can sometimes set my expectations too high. That was certainly the case when shooting this particular high quality camera. My expectations were set to near-perfection. And actually, short of the fact that I’m still struggling to focus SLR cameras a little, I think my expectations were warranted. If you can see passed my missed focus and the massive light leaks, and look at the images and parts of images that did come out, you can see good qualities and exposure.

But, of course, most of them were largely ruined by the camera no longer being light tight! The camera had failed and I’d lost my precious photos… or at least that was my gut reaction when I first saw them. It wasn’t the end of the world, I’m not saying the images would have been particularly fantastic, but my disappointment that the camera had failed blinded me to any sense that the images themselves were anything other than a massive failure.

The Hannah factor

Ok, it’s no secret that some people love light leaks. You can even buy film that is pre-exposed in such a way to guarantee a light leak effect on every frame. In fact, there seems to be an unstoppable trend for this sort of thing at the moment – and more power to those who enjoy it, I say!

It’s not for me though. I don’t like leaving that much to chance, and when I see a lightly leak in my own photos I don’t thank the gods of film photography for the wonders of serendipity, I curse the broken camera, either bin it, or send it off for repair, and never let the photos see the light of day.

On this occasion though, they did see the light of day, or at least – as I said – my wife saw them. And what did she see…? Well, of course, she didn’t see a broken camera or even my missed focus, she saw pretty photos of her kids with random streaks of vivid red and orange… and she liked it.

I dismissed her at first, but as she got me to flick through them, cooing at how pretty they were, I stopped seeing the failure and started seeing what see was seeing, and I found myself liking it too! I was no longer seeing a broken camera, I too was seeing the aesthetic of the images and not the failures that created them.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is here really, but I suspect there’s a couple of personal learnings for me around sometimes letting go a little more… Not least when it comes to my desire for control over things, but also perhaps that sometimes deviation from the expected outcome isn’t always a bad thing. As to whether or not I will pursue light-leaky photos in the future… well, I’m not sure I’m ready to let go that much, I certainly don’t regret sending this particular camera off for repair. Next time something like this happens though, I hope I won’t write the photos off quite so quickly and fervently.

Do you enjoy reading 35mmc?

For as little as $1 a month, you can help support the upkeep of this website. The more people chuck me a small amount of cash each month, the more time I can spend building and improving upon it - simple as that!
Or, for $2 a month you can get access to my behind the scenes micro-blog over on Patreon!

Either way, want to help out, become a patron of 35mmc here:

Become a Patron!

Alternatively, if you just enjoyed this post, or like the odd post here and there, please feel free to chuck a few pennies in the tip jar via Ko fi here:


Write for 35mmc: read more here, about how you can help build upon this ever growing resource
Subscribe/Follow: click here, to discover all the ways you can follow 35mmc

Advertisement

You Might Also Like

14 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Tom Sheppard
    August 12, 2019 at 10:47 am

    We all know that our children are blessings from above, but to have that divine light singling them out for illumination is simply spectacular.
    I can see why your wife liked them Hamish.
    I am like you, and sometimes need different eyes to show me what is there for all to see.
    Thanks for sharing these

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 17, 2019 at 6:36 pm

      I suspect we are all like it to a degree, fresh eyes are useful things!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Loris Viotto
    August 12, 2019 at 12:11 pm

    con quei PAZZI che ci sono la fuori, che comprano pellicole scadute decine di anni fa, che usano attrezzature che come minimo hanno vent’anni, Tu ti preoccupi delle macchiette rosse??? ma daiiii,
    ps: uno di quei pazzi, sono IO !!!
    Ciao a Tutti.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 17, 2019 at 6:37 pm

      (Google translate: with those CRAZY out there who buy films that expired dozens of years ago, using equipment that is at least twenty years old, do you worry about red spots ??? but daiiii,
      ps: one of those crazy, I’m I!
      Hi everyone.)

      The film was new, but yeah the camera was old … it didn’t appear to have any issues though

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Khürt Louis Williams
    August 12, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    Don’t be so hard on yourself. I think if every shot you took were “perfect”, assuming that perfection can be defined, then the whole endeavour would soon become boring.

    I recently tried using Kodak Ektar 100 film in my college film camera, a Pentax P3, after over 20 years of shooting digital cameras. I didn’t notice the problem with the door, that it was ever so slightly ajar; just a crack. The results were flawed: https://islandinthenet.com/2019-08-11-09-19-13/

    But it seems I am so partial to the subject matter, that even a flawed image has value to me.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 17, 2019 at 6:38 pm

      Ha yeah, very similar outcome!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Alex T.
    August 12, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    Your wife is so absolutly right on that! These pictures have the mojo I like. Especially the last one is just plain perfect.(maybe because of it’s technical imperfection… can’t describe it better) And this statement comes from an analogue Leica user. I begin to really understand the saying that sharpness is overrated! Thank you!!!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Mike Hinkleman
    August 12, 2019 at 2:40 pm

    Hamish, like your wife I think you’re photos are wonderful. I didn’t know that people are now deliberately looking for light leaks. Of which there are different types like the hundreds of shutter pinholes in my first leica years ago which produced photos although not the ones (I thought) I wanted. Your photos with the leaks are reality just not the same reality you saw through the finder.

    Couple of Winogrand quotes: ” I photograph to find out what something will look like photographed.” “A photograph can look any way ”

    Not sure what the Hannah factor refers to but it linked up with ‘Hannah’, the linguist’s daughter in the remarkable movie Arrival which i saw again last night.

    The one other Winogrand that i like to keep in mind, ” when I’m reloading my camera, there are no photographs.”

  • Avatar
    Reply
    petergreyphotography
    August 12, 2019 at 4:23 pm

    I lke the photo’s too. Your ‘luck’ is that he leaks are so nice and vividly red, orange and yellow, that match the pictures wonderfully. If they would have been green, I don’t know 🙂 It is an interesting thought. Expectations versus actually looking. Something for me to dwell upon a bit of time.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    David Hume
    August 12, 2019 at 11:47 pm

    Hey Hamish – Thanks for the discussion!
    Leaks aside, it’s Interesting to see this roll of E100. I like your colours and the DR looks pretty good. I reckon you exposed Hannah’s face well and made good use of the interior light. Good to see these, as I’m about to head off on a trip with a roll of E100 to kinda test but hopefully use.
    So – light leaks. I reckon your wife is right no question. (Wives are always right regardless, but she’s doubly right eh?) To test this hypothesis imagine you’re pulling these out of a drawer in 20 yrs having not looked at them in the mean time. I propose that you’ll see firstly Hannah and the moment the shots recorded, think “wow” and then think, “Oh, that’s the light-leak roll.” And there will no regret. It’s not like this was the roll with the Afghan girl on it; it’s personal stuff.
    In a more formal sense, I think what light leaks do is reinforce the nature of photograph as object. i.e. you know you’re looking at a photo when it has a light leak in it. It puts an extra layer between you and the subject, if you like. It becomes more “here is that photo of Hannah” than “this is Hannah” if you get my meaning. Art-wank optional here, but yeah.

    All the best

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 17, 2019 at 6:46 pm

      Yeah, I totally get that – to a lesser or greater extent, that’s what shooting b&w is about, I think.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    John O'Donnell
    August 14, 2019 at 10:44 pm

    You didn’t take bad photos Hamish, you just gave them the Lomo filter… 😉

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Kevo
    August 17, 2019 at 12:50 am

    I agree – there are some “failures” in a technical sense in my own rolls that have turned out to be some of my favourite pictures after spending some time thinking about what I’ve managed to distil.

    I think your wife’s reaction shows that it’s more important to catch the moment than to be technically perfect and when it’s a picture of someone as important as a loved one it’s the moment that really matters in the end. Many of us have childhood (or teenage or adult) pictures that are in no sense technically perfect but are cherished for the capture of that moment, and all of the associated things we felt at that moment, in our lives.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 17, 2019 at 6:51 pm

      Absolutely! I certainly wouldn’t look at a photo of my late dad that I took when I was a kid and question my composition …

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    Pin It on Pinterest

    Share This

    Thank you for commenting

    ...now share the post with your friends?