Seven Steps To Simplification – My Seven Year Photographic Journey

Around seven years ago in 2012, I was shooting predominantly 35mm film. I greatly enjoyed using the cameras, but much of the surrounding processes and equipment I found frustrating to the point it was spoiling my overall pleasure in photography.

This started a journey to simplification, and over the following years, I evolved to where I am now – photographing almost exclusively with compact digital cameras, with little or no post processing.

And I’m enjoying it more than ever.

Thinking back, I realised there were significant landmarks along the way, which I’ve broken down into seven key steps or stages. 

For anyone currently finding their own photography too complicated, laborious or time consuming, I hope one or more of these seven steps to simplification can help.

1. I stopped scanning film.

I started scanning film to save money and gain more control. The trouble was, scanning a single roll would take me a minimum of an hour, even if it scanned ideally the first time. Multiply this by the 10-12 rolls of film I was shooting a month, and I just couldn’t go on wasting (in my eyes) 10-12 hours a month hunched over a scanner.

I reached the point where I was avoiding taking so many photographs or going out so often, because I was preempting the dreaded scanning ordeal.

One day I just decided I’d rather pay the lab a few extra pounds to save myself those 10-12 hours a month and didn’t look back.

2. I chose just one lens mount.

Even once I’d settled on 35mm SLRs as my cameras of choice, I was still flitting between brands and mounts. I ended up realising I had perhaps a dozen 50mm lenses across five or six different mounts, all performing very similarly.

Whilst I loved lenses in Minolta SR, Konica AR and Pentax K mount especially, my favourite lenses were the Helios 44 series, Asahi Takumars, and Zeiss. All of which were M42 mount.

The fact that these were easily adaptable to my film and digital cameras, made it an easy decision, and streamlined my kit and my decisions no end.

3. I gave up film. 

In my heyday with film I adored it, partly for the experience of using beautiful cameras – like the Asahi Spotmatic F, Pentax ME series and Contax 139 Quartz and 167MT – and partly for the look of the final images on film.

Once I’d simplified the lenses down to just M42, and started shooting this mount on digital bodies extensively too, the gap between the experience of film and digital became less and less. Once I sat down and wrote out why I photograph and what it gives me, I realised that most of the top reasons were independent of whether I used film or digital.

So my film usage wound down, and eventually stopped some time in 2017 (a huge factor was buying a Pentax K10D DSLR which made wonderful images with my old M42 lenses), saving me a not insignificant amount of money on film and processing every month too.

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4. I went compact. 

I loved the K10D, and its smaller cousin the Samsung GX-1S, both cameras delivering lovely images with their CCD sensors combined with M42 lenses.

But again I started to question, and found three factors were bugging me.

First the size. The K10D could double as a sledgehammer, and the GX-1S was smaller but still bulky and couldn’t be carried in any pocket, or via a wrist strap.

Second was the metering. I wanted to use manual lenses (the M42s) but it meant shooting manual mode and the process was just a bit fiddly, and quite often required a second or third shot to get the exposure right.

The final element was that after shooting for an hour or so with the DSLRs my eyes would really ache and I’d feel headaches coming on.

These factors combined meant my enjoyment was suffering.

So I started to research smaller cameras with DSLR performance (I’d previous used a Sony NEX extensively, but it was still bulky with an M42 lens and adapter, and I struggled to get colours I liked, unlike the DSLRs).

Which led me to the Ricoh GR Digital series, and settling on a GRD III, then a GX100s, which is essentially its sibling with a zoom rather than prime lens.

Both cameras blew me away with their design, handling, and performance, and my DLSRs went into storage almost overnight.

A further foray into the world of the wonderful little Pentax Q, and I could no longer see any need to use a DSLR, or even a mirrorless body like the Sony NEX.

5. I switched RAW for JPEG and LightRoom for Snapseed. 

With the two Ricohs and the Pentax Q I was predominantly shooting black and white. The Q has a fantastic high contrast mono mode that gives me images I like straight out of camera, but the Ricohs needed some extra help.

For a while I persevered shooting RAW images, then importing to LightRoom, running them through a contrasty b/w preset, then exporting as JPEGs again.

Whilst I was loving the shooting experience, I got frustrated with a few things about this post processing work flow.

First the cameras were much slower to use shooting RAW, especially the older Ricoh GX100.

Second I was becoming increasingly disillusioned with LightRoom and the subscription only restrictions. I was paying over £10 a month to use about 2% of the functionality of the application. When I tried to cancel they said I had six months left (despite having been a customer for years) and offered three free. I took this then cancelled as soon as I could after.

Lastly, I just didn’t think I needed to have such a long winded process to get to the final images I wanted, plus two sets of images – RAW and JPEG.

So I tried out Hipstamatic on my iPhone and iPad, and using just JPEGs instead of RAW. Which was great.

What I didn’t like was the fact that whilst the film/lens/flash permutations gave plenty of scope for creativity, it was very hit and hope. Everything was trial and error and I struggled to do something simple like just increasing the contrast a little.

Upgrading my iPhone to a Sony Android phone meant Hipstamatic was no longer a mobile option. So I tried Snapseed, after hearing nothing but praise for it from others.

What I love about Snapseed is you can do simple tweaks like adjust the contrast and brightness or you can go all out with some of the more radical and “lomo” options like light leaks and grain and scratches if you wish.

It’s also simple to set up favourite “Styles” with your preferred settings. I soon set up a couple of b/w Styles for the Ricohs and haven’t looked back.

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6. I gave up keeping a meticulous file hierarchy. 

My system for saving my images arose from those film days, where because I was rarely using the same film/camera/lens combinations twice, I had to save them very thoroughly so I knew which combos led to which images.

Once I’d given up film, this was easier, but I was still saving images from different cameras in different folders.

I think I just reached a point where I was only using three or four cameras, and didn’t really care which one made which image – there was a consistency of look across them anyway, especially with b/w photos.

So I just decided to have one folder for each month of the year and save all images made during that month in the one folder, regardless of camera used. Vastly more simple.

7. I started using images straight out of camera. 

With the Pentax Q, and a couple of Lumix cameras (LX3 and GF1) they all make lovely contrasty b/w images straight out of camera with their respective dynamic mono modes.

None of them quite managed to deliver on the colour front though so I was still using Snapseed to experiment.

Then about a month ago I bought a Canon Digital IXUS 870 IS (which I call the Golden IXUS, after its champagne gold finish). It has a range of colour modes, and one of them called Custom Colour allows you to set a range of parameters between -2 and +2. I’ve found that with a little extra contrast and saturation, the camera gives me colours I really like. Natural, but somehow slightly enhanced, slightly warmer.

So now I have cameras that give me photographs I love straight out of camera for b/w and colour.

As you can see, each of these seven steps was a step towards simplification.

Fewer formats, fewer cameras and lenses, smaller, simpler cameras, quicker and simpler processing, and finally, often no processing at all.

I think I needed to go through all of these phases to know what I wanted, and what I didn’t. If, after first discovering film in 2012, someone had handed my the Ricoh GRD III or Canon IXUS 870 for nothing, I don’t think I would have just ditched all of my film aspirations.

I needed to experience the aspects I didn’t like with each of these stages of my photographic evolution, to be able to move effectively in the right direction to the next one.

And here I am now!

How about you? How have you evolved and simplified your photography in recent times? Have you noticed distinct phases? 

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

Thanks for looking. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too. If you’re interested, this is what I’m into right now.

24 thoughts on “Seven Steps To Simplification – My Seven Year Photographic Journey”

  1. Yep, the common arc ( outside of the insular Leica Anchorites, et all, that is).

    My Paleo/FilmAge 196?-2005+/-, fixed-lens RFs, 35mm ICL SLRs, MF TLRs & “box” cameras – fun, time-eating, increasingly expensive, and film choices start to vanish; total investment in sunk gear costs approach the price of a fine, gently-used automobile, but, you know, there’s nothin’ like Classic Hardware;

    HybridNegativeScan Era 2004-2009ish (rarely) – local, commercial lab develop/scan, ah, not-so-good, and costly; self-scan of selected negs with a matte black cardboard tube and a light table via a digi P&S on macro is acceptable-to-excellent, buuuuut…time-consuming, and who has time anymore? 120 film costs get dire and 220 goes slowly away;

    The Reign of Instant Gratification and Traveling Light (2005-Present Day)- when a diminutive Sony A6000 became just too bulky and obtrusive; after 40-some years, one grows weary of impedimenta, of carrying even a small bag AND, through the weening miracles of microminiaturization, p&s digitals start to reach realms of very high spec n’ function while shrinking away to the truly miniscule.

    The Hunt for Retro-oid Technical Balance – The looking-back quest for that perfect point in the Dead Zone of the recent past where makers did not try to cram too many mp into bitsy P&S sensors (which roils up way too much noise) but achieved a Zen state of excellent glass and tuned processors with a judicious 8-10 mp, and a bit of manual input. Low-light Nirvana; hand-held interiors without flash.

    And then there’s phones, which instantly erased the traditional milieu, the zeitgeist & feel of photography. Directors & DPs shooting full-length films on phones – for this hoary dino, a step too far for cultural comfort, but our Age is ending; the next should only do art by whatever means and be well.

    1. Very interesting as always to read your thoughts William…

      Even some of the film compacts in the past were fantastic, like the Olympus XA and Mju 1, but digital compacts have taken us to a different level of image quality combined with compactness and convenience.

      I agree with you about phones, whilst I use mine extensively for family shots, it doesn’t feel anything like as enjoyable to use as a proper camera, even a humble digital P&S.

  2. Love reading about the evolution of your photography, Dan 🙂 my path has been similar to yours (although with a lot fewer cameras!). Also I tend to go all in when I favour a particular format, so I’ll spend weeks shooting only film, and then weeks only digital. I’ve just been through a film only phase, and can already feel myself shifting back into a digital one. I had a great time today with my GX7 and it’s made me question once again why I shoot film and whether it’s truly worth it.

    1. Thanks Mel, yes I know we’ve often had similar paths, it’s reassuring!

      I don’t think I oscillated so much between film and digital, really, once the appeal of film started to wane, it never really came back.

      I do read your posts and think “ah, no more film for Mel then” and a week later you’ll be gushing profusely over it again. : )

    2. PS/ I’d really like to see how you got on with something really compact. This is why I mentioned the Lumix TZ series previously. I know you use your Pixel phone for shots with great results, but it’s still a phone in terms of handling, having a tiny sensor, limited adjustment etc. I’d be very curious to see how you found a compact digital that fell somewhere between a phone camera and your Lumix GX7.

  3. I take both film and digital pictures, but my approaches to each are so different that I think of them as two completely different activities, just as a painter might with oils and watercolors.

    On the film side I use only black and white film. I started shooting film in 1952. I revel in the complexity of my thread-mount Leicas and my meterless Nikon F. My principal light meter is a no-battery Weston Master IV. My evolution on the film side is in scanning – a digital camera setup that lets me scan a 24-exposure roll in about 10 minutes, including setup and breakdown – in processing – a set of Affinity Photo scripts that let me process 90% of those 24 frames with about.a dozen mouse clicks – and in printing – the default values of Epson’s ABW are brilliant! Most of my film prints are 8 x 12.

    On the digital side I take only color pictures. I started in 2002 with a Sony Mavica that recorded its 0.3MB (yes, 0.3MB) images on floppy disks, I worked my way up (in file size) through a few other point-and-shoots to a Nikon D300, and then down (in camera size) through a few Fuji digital cameras to my iPhone X. When Apple finally put a 50mm equivalent lens on an iPhone that was the end of my interest in any other digital cameras. My digital pictures are in Apple Photo. Most of them are printed directly with no manipulation at all. Most of my digital prints are 4 x 6.

    1. Very interesting Doug, thank you…

      It sounds like with film you are more into the process from start to finish – using complex cameras, developing, scanning, making prints…

      Whereas with digital, I’m assuming as your iPhone now meets your needs, you are not particular interested in the process or the feel of the equipment – the final output with the minimum of fuss seems your main objective.

      When I started to use DSLRs with vintage lenses, the two (35mm film and digital) became closer than they’d been before. So I started asking why I was still shooting film, when digital ticked many of the boxes for me. Which led to a further evolution into digital.

      I can see the two for you are very separate, very different processes.

        1. So Doug do you feel less attached to the final print via each process? Do you treasure the film photographs more as they’ve required more work, and see the digital ones as more disposable?

          1. The digital pictures are not disposable at all. They are most often records of events involving family and friends. I make the prints with the intention of giving them to the people in the pictures. I use a digital camera for these pictures because it lets me concentrate on the subjects and not worry about focus, exposure or holding the camera particularly steady..(I have hand tremors.) And camera phones have become so ubiquitous that I can take pictures with the iPhone just about anywhere without attracting attention.

            The film pictures are intended for display. They are most often representations of places or objects rather than people. I make the prints for myself, and only make a print for others if they see a print they like at our house and request one.

          2. My main take away Doug is I’d like to make more prints of family photos especially… Too many (ie 99%) get viewed a few times then stored away, maybe reviewed a couple of years later briefly. But too “lost” for my liking.

      1. Dan, In recent times I have taken photos on outings and around my home. I also took 4 photos of the garden where my mum and I were at her Aged Care Home. When I am on an outing I’ll take up to about 20 shots. Around my home I will take about 6 at a time.

  4. Sad to say that I have not been able to achieve simplicity since you last discussed this! I enjoy shooting large format, love shooting medium format with Bronica 645, use a Nikon F3 intermittently, and use my crop sensor SLR for landscapes that involve hiking. Oh well. I decided this AM after reading your post that I need to exercise some common sense! So, maybe I’ll try again to simplify to 4×5 and medium format for the love of film, and full frame digital for my landscape work. Oh well… I can only dream! Thanks as always for your thought provoking work! And I live your return to some color work!

    1. Martin, I agree with you. I love Dan’s color photos and always wish that I could have more. Guess they are extra special. Dan, Have you ever thought to occasionally show a photo in b & w and then in color so we can see the differences. Ever curious about your B & W work

      1. Hi Susan, generally when I see a potential photo I already know whether it’s going to b/w or colour. I don’t really take them in colour then go through each converting it to b/w to see how it compares.

        I think when you shoot each type you look for different things. With an absence of colour, b/w shots have more of an emphasis on light and shadow, texture and form.

        I could show some in colour and b/w alongside each other, but I’m not sure what the purpose would be?

        1. Dan, I guess I want to see two of your photos, one in B&W and one in color to better understand why you do make your choices. As I have mostly shot in color over the years I don’t look at a subject and make the choice that you do of ….will I shoot this image in B & W or in color. I suppose color is a huge thing for me with my work whereas yours is in seeing things in B & W most of the time for the reasons you mention

          1. Ok, thanks for explaining more Susan. I’ll mull this over for a future post, something like “Why I Make Certain Photographs In Black And White”…

          2. Dan, I’d love to read a post on why you do so much of your work in B & W. I can certainly see how the detail and form and perspective play a huge part for why you take B & W as you said before but I would like to read more about it. as a lot of your work is in nature which is predominantly green and church yards and streets that are brown and grey maybe you don’t see that many colors to take your interest

          3. Susan, I’ve written a post on how and why I choose b/w over colour, and it’s due to be published as the next post on 35hunter. Thanks for the idea!

    2. Thanks Martin for your thoughts. This was a seven year journey remember, it didn’t happen overnight.

      I think when you enjoy different formats that aren’t easily replicated, then there’s no option than to have kit for each. Which is absolutely fine of course if that’s what you enjoy.

      Aside from playing around with a Holga 120N (my first film camera) I’ve not shot anything other than 35mm. If I had tried other formats, I would likely have not been able to “replace” them with digital compacts, the differences would be too vast.

      It comes down to asking why you shoot these different formats, and what they give you that others can’t. If you still want to shoot them all, go for it! If it’s becoming too much of a chore and/or expense to maintain them all, then maybe look at which you love most and seek to preserve them as a priority, and let go of one or two others.

      Up to you of course, we each find a different and unique pleasure in photography.

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