Shooting film with a digital camera

Sunset over Westminster

When I made the transition from film to digital one of the greatest benefits seemed to be the ability to take endless quantities of photos and to see the results immediately. However what seems at first to be a blessing can turn out to be a curse. There is nothing worse than arriving home to be faced with hundreds of shots to import into the computer and when you go through them none seem to hit the mark. Digital photography has brought with it the great benefit of immediacy but by so doing it has for many people removed thoughtfulness and consideration from their photography. When you have only a small number of potential photos to take, and every time you push the button you know you will have to pay for the developing and printing, it tends to force you to take more care with composition, exposure, impact etc.

So some time ago I decided to try a new project, I would pretend my digital camera had a roll of film in it and restrict the day’s shooting to only 24 frames. No deleting and no second tries. The aim would be to get the shot first time and once the 24 shots were used up I would have to put the camera back in the bag just like in the olden days.

Winter tree on Hampstead Heath

The first thing I noticed when trying this out was that everything slowed down – if I only had 24 shots then I had to make every shot count. Composition became better, more considered, and I started spending more time on getting the exposure just right. If the subject was moving I had to wait until they were in just the right place before taking the shot.

The Palace of Westminster - last shot on the "roll"

The Palace of Westminster – last shot on the “roll”

So what have I learned from this project? I think one of the first things to be rammed home is that I should stop taking photos of things just because they look like they may be ok when I get them on the computer. The old adage “rubbish in, rubbish out” holds true as ever for photography – if it looks like junk in the viewfinder then it is junk. Don’t press the shutter unless it is something worth photographing.

Love on the rocks

Love on the rocks

Of course it isn’t practical to use this approach all of the time – after all why buy a digital camera if you are going to constrain yourself in this way? It is, however, a very useful exercise to try out if you want to focus on slowing yourself down, really thinking about the composition, and working towards taking that elusive great shot that seems to evade all of us.

The Dead Man's Hole - a mortuary beneath Tower Bridge

The Dead Man’s Hole – a mortuary beneath Tower Bridge

All of the shots on this page were taken using this technique and it has made a real difference to the way I now approach photography. I am taking fewer shots but have a higher hit rate of acceptable photos. My hard drive is no longer getting clogged up with mediocre shots and post processing has become a whole lot more fun!

Parliament Hill Fields

Parliament Hill Fields

So what do you do if you have taken 24 shots and there is a great subject just crying out to be photographed? Well you could do what I used to do with my old Olympus OM4 – I could just squeeze one extra shot on the end of the roll if I was careful and sometimes they would process it for free…

Dark contrasts

Dark contrasts

About photoponica

A documentary style photographer - started with film now shooting digital with the Fuji X system.
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