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.
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.
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).
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