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I have recently been asked to talk to a high school video and media class about my job. One of the topics that the teacher and I discussed was how I made the transition from shooting film to a digital workflow. Good subject,  as most kids that are in high school today, have never know a world where they could not see the image immediately after they took the shot.  Digital has changed everything.

I shot film for twenty-one years as a professional photographer and even more than that as an amateur. It seems archaic now that the only way you could see an image was to either go into a darkroom and develop and print the film yourself or send them to a lab.

In those days you had to know the craft. You had to have the experience to see what effect you would get from different films: the look of Fuji NPH, the more natural colors of  Kodachrome 25, or the vibrant colors that would jump out at you with Fuji Velvia.  It was something that came with experience; it became intutive. Now, software programs will recreate those looks. With a click of a mouse, you can have the look of Velvia. Now that is cool.

I shot my last job on film back in 2005, it was a commercial shot for a doctors office. They needed a large square print to hang in their office so I decided to go with film because I was worried that I could not make a good enough quality print form the digital cameras I had at the time and I knew that I could with my medium format film camera. Once I had the job completed I wished I had shot it on digital. I wanted to do some editing, take out some distracting elements that were in the shot. right then and there I decided no more film. Digital was here to stay.

My workflow was much different in those days. Let’s take wedding photograph as an example: I shot on a Mamiya C-330 Twin lens medium format camera, the film, 120 or 220 roll film would have either 12 or 24 shots on it. Each time I tripped the shutter, it cost me about $1.00, counting film and processing. So you didn’t tend to overshoot in those days. You made every shot count.

One of the big deals in those days was the aisle shots, photos of the parents and wedding party entering the wedding. You had to make sure you had enough shots in the camera to get all the people coming in, there was not enough time to change film in the middle of the prosessional, so sometimes you had to “runoff”  a few shots at the end of the roll and put a new one in before people began coming in. If you had 16 people coming down the aisle and only 12 shots left on the roll you had to change film.

If I shot 200 images at a wedding that was a big wedding. Now, if I shot only 200 images at a wedding, it would be a very small wedding indeed. Digital has allowed us to shot every aspect of a wedding day.

Once we got back to the studio, I would package the rolls of film and send them off to my pro lab, Visual Production in San Diego, one of the top labs in the country, was my lab of choice for many years.  A week or ten days later the 5x5 inch prints would come back, numbered to match the negatives and we would take those prints and put them into a proof book. An album of all the photos I took on the wedding day.  The couple would pick up the book, take it home, order prints for the album and return it so that we could make their final album.

In those days people shared the photos by showing each other the prints in person. There was nowhere to “post” the images, no way to show them to their friends other than to hand them the photos or an album.

It all seems archaic now, the process we lived with for years. I knew of many photographers who got out of the professional photography business when film went away. They could not make the change. I felt I was at the right place at the right time. I was fascinated by the technology and loved to learn.  I have often said the there was a magic about photography that went away with the advent of digital. That magic that you felt when you hung that roll of B&W film up to dry in the darkroom and saw your images for the first time. That was magic.  It’s gone now, when you can just look at the back of the camera and see what you shot a second ago. But, would I go back to film. No way.

 

 

The Mamiya C-330 Twins lens Reflex Camera, I used these cameras for 17 years. It was produced in one form or another from 1956 till 1994.

Fuji NPH 400 roll film. In the C-330 it produced a 2¼2¼ inch negative. 

A “brick” of Kodachrome 25. (Kodak packaged film in 20 roll packs that became know as bricks). The classic color slide film.  Kodachrome’s color was vibrant but natural and would have an archival quality. Its color would last for decades without fading.