The reasons I photograph are very straightforward, whether I use a film or digital camera, an SLR or a compact.
I wrote about this in more depth recently, but the short version is – to roam the English countryside, to feel the immersion of the moment and the whole world being in the viewfinder, to capture things I find beautiful, and to enjoy using vintage camera gear.
I’ve realised how easy it is to complicate these simple aims, most usually by obsessing over which kit to use, how to set it up and use it, then how to process the images afterwards.
So over time I’ve found (and I’m continuing to find) how to keep this to a minimum, and so maximise the raw pleasures of hunting, camera in hand.
With digital, I’ve found this harder than with film.
Although the cameras themselves are generally less appealing (I’m far less easily seduced by clever technology in a plastic shell than genuine mechanical craftsmanship and elegant, timeless design), the options are more abundant.
With film, once you’ve chosen a camera, you then just have the choice of lens and film, essentially.
Shooting digital, once you have your camera, you still have the lens choice, but it’s usually a wider one, as adapters available for digital cameras open a whole world of vintage lenses, as well as the native, modern, AutoFocus lenses.
For example, my Pentax K10D DSLR can use any Pentax K mount lens (which began in 1975 and are still being made), plus with a simple adapter I have the pick of the vast vintage M42 world.
There’s no film to choose of course with digital, but instead a plethora of customisable settings, arranged in a myriad of menus.
Then, once you have your negative (with film this is the physical negative, with digital the RAW file) you then have further options to extract your final “product”, the photograph. Or, many photographs – of course any number of variations can be created from that negative.
Again, too many options!
I generally feel in my life I spend too much time at a computer and not enough out in the fresh air.
So the thought of having to spend further time at a computer editing (ie choosing my favourite shots) and processing once the photowalk is over can be daunting and demoralising.
So, with all these choice to combat, and options to overcome, here are the main ways I try to keep this whole process as simple as possible, so ultimately as much of my photography time as possible is spent exploring the countryside and immersed in the beauty of the world according to my viewfinder.
1. Simplify lens choices.
After a few years of experimenting with dozens of lenses, I came back to what I realised very early on. You can’t go wrong with an Asahi Takumar or two.
Once I’d narrowed down to M42 as my predominant mount, the Takumars were the obvious choice. I do have a few others, some Zeiss, a few Russians, but mostly now it’s Asahi’s finest I own and use.
If I’m in doubt as to which Takumar lens to use, I just default to the one that started it all for me, the humble yet wonderful 55mm f/1.8.
2. Simplify settings.
On the digital front I’ve honed down to two main cameras. The Pentax K10D, and its smaller (but older) sibling, the Samsung GX-1S, a clone of the Pentax *ist DS2.
The K10D is bigger, sturdier, has more functions, is 10MP rather than 6MP and feels near perfect in my hands. The GX-1S is smaller, lighter, simpler and still handles great. In reality they’re 95% the same in function, once initially set up, so it’s easy switching between them.
I could just shoot the JPEG mode on the camera, then simply upload them to my computer so no further processing is required.
But the problem is there is no “neutral” JPEG. Even with all settings at neutral, natural or zero, the cameras still process and compress the image.
I’ve had excellent results (for my tastes and needs) by shooting RAW with both cameras at their native ISO (100 for the Pentax, 200 for the Samsung), then simply importing into LightRoom, and exporting those I want to share or print as JPEGs that way. I’m very happy with the outcome, so I’m sticking with this approach.
3. Simplify adjustments.
Once each camera was first set up I can shoot with hardly any adjustment. When I got them, I chose Auto White Balance, centre weighted metering, single shot, the base ISO, RAW, and so on.
Then, the only adjustments I need to make when shooting are slight tweaks to the exposures. I do this with the exposure compensation button, and the exposure lock button.
Typically on these cameras, M42 Takumars seem to need slightly over exposure wide open (I start with +0.5) then 0 compensation a stop or two down, then -0.5 or -1.0 once you’re three or four stops down.
Arguably my Sony NEX is simpler on this front where virtually every exposure is spot on, but it lacks a number of other things the Pentax and Samsung DSLRs have, so overall seems more complex and more work.
I have the “blinkies” switched on which show over and under exposed areas on the screen when you’ve taken the shot, and a histogram on the review mode so again I can see at a glance how the exposure is, if I can’t tell purely from looking at the photo on the screen.
4. Simplify editing.
By editing I mean choosing the pictures I want to keep and which I want to discard. I find it much easier with digital (than film) to be very brutal with editing.
The first step is to import all the RAW images into LightRoom. Then I cycle through, and simply export (as full size JPEG with no tweaks etc) the ones I like most. I then usually delete all the RAW files. Then I cycle again through the JPEGs I’ve kept and cull further, so I’m left with just the best of the best.
On a great day this might be 15 or 20 images from 100, sometimes it might only be a handful. Sometimes none! I usually make a 50% size version to share online, as well as keeping the original full size file.
5. Simplify processing.
Processing for me is so simple it’s virtually non-existent. A while back I used to shoot with my Sony NEX then go through the editing process above to keep the best images.
Then I’d import these back into LightRoom and use a favourite one or two film presets to try and get the photos looking more like I wanted. Plus I might also slightly tweak the contrast and exposure settings. Processing for a single image might take between two and ten minutes.
With a good batch where I might have 10-20 keepers, this equated to 20-200 minutes of processing time. Interesting results, but not fun.
Once I’d discovered the Pentax and Samsung and the beautiful rendering of their CCD sensors – particularly with Takumar lenses – I eliminated the whole world of presets, and just do that simple export to JPEG.
Hopefully it does. But maybe to you this might all still sound a bit complex, I don’t know.
But for me, after years of searching for a way to use beautiful vintage lenses to create photographs I’m really happy with, with the minimum of fuss and fiddling, I’m delighted with this current approach.
How do you simplify your own photography process?
Please let us know in the comments below.
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