Back when I was predominantly shooting film, I was very conscious of the real cost of every frame.
I’m not going to get into the minutiae of the numbers (yet), but even at its cheapest, every photowalk would end up costing me double figures (pounds).
So of course with a tangible cost per shot, it amplifies the pressure to make every one count, or at least be worth keeping, if not a masterpiece.
In time this just grated harder against my primary purpose and pleasure in photography -wandering around the countryside capturing images of things I find beautiful and interesting.
Photography is an escape from me, from many things, and one is thinking too much.
Having that money factor present in my mind, plus even planning when I would next be able to get to the lab to have the film processed, all pulled me away from photography as a pure, simple, mindful, often meditative pleasure, a repeated return to stillness.
Back then, a keeper rate – how many images I ultimately decide to keep, rather than delete – of one in 10, whilst realistic in terms of my abilities, was painful on the cost front again.
A roll of 36 exposure film that might cost even just £5 once processed, works out at 14p a frame – if every one is deemed worth taking in the editing.
Get down to one in 10, or say three photographs out of those 36 exposures, and the cost is £1.67 a frame.
The price of film photography was escalating when I was at the tail end of my involvement in 2017.
Poundland no longer stocked AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 for £1 a roll, and online the cheapest colour negative film worked out about £2.50 per roll, if bought in bulk.
Processing costs were rising, too as supermarket labs were stopping film processing (I used to get four rolls developed and scanned to one CD at Asda for £3 per roll plus £2 for the CD, so a total of £14 for four rolls, or £3.50 per roll) and the nearest alternative was around £6-7 per roll.
And even this 10% keeper rate is perhaps generously optimistic.
I’ve had rolls where only one frame is worth keeping, and once or twice, none at all.
What if the keeper rate is only 1%, one in a hundred? You’d need to shoot three rolls of 36 exposure film to yield one keeper, so you’re then looking at £15 per frame at my old cheapest rate, or more like £25+ per frame at the prices film has escalated to.
Now of course, the final image is not everything in photography, as I’ve often spoken about here, and in fact it’s a distant second for me, compared with two other elements.
First, the experience of getting out in nature and exploring, seeking out those potential images.
And second, the joy of using the camera. This was at its peak with old manual film cameras like the Asahi Spotmatic F or Contax 139 Quartz and a beautiful Takumar lens attached.
But there are very few cameras I don’t enjoy, and my penchant for older digital cameras is strongly driven by this too.
I love working out how those older, simpler cameras work, and trying to coax the best from their limitations of sensor size, MegaPixels, ISO limit and so on.
Nowadays, whilst of course I still strive to make as many beautiful photographs as I can, I’m more than comfortable with a keeper rate of one in a hundred.
Largely because the cost factor has been eliminated, along with all the pressure and inhibitions it imposed.
So I’m free to enjoy those two major benefits of photography – wandering in nature and using old cameras – without restriction, or concerns about cost rattling around in my mind and detracting from the experience.
How about you? What keeper rate are you happy with? Does the cost of each image play a factor in your enjoyment and freedom in photography?
As always, 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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