It was about six months ago that I first grabbed Christine's PentaxK1000 and shot my first roll of film. Dang! Who knew? Six months of frustration, deep absorption, trials and errors and transcendent delight. Even though I'm often sharing my lessons through film here on SPL, I thought I'd try to boil things down to six specific lessons learned over the past six months. And you know what? IT'S HARD! (Heaves sigh.) I tried anyway.
1. Slow down. I come back to this again and again, and I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but to me it's key to so many things about life and shooting film. It's the lesson I need to remind myself again and again. Slow down. This can be a meditative process if you allow it to be, but it requires patience. I'm most disappointed with my photos when I shoot hastily and don't consider. Consider the light, consider my vision, consider my circumstances. Sometimes it's best not to take a shot. This photo of Cal is from my very first roll, one of my very first shots. I sat on the ground and snapped two or three frames while we chatted and he threw the ball. No rush. No mess. Success. The key is to remember that.
2. Lay a technical foundation. I've spent the last several weeks in a really wonderful film workshop called Embrace the Grain, led by the lovely and supportive Joyce Kang. I'm not going to lie. I'm not the best student. I think my reading comprehension skills have slipped a bit since college. (wink) Despite this, giving myself the time and attention to focus on the work of metering, has been a great gift. I'm still absorbing the lessons, actually. I tried to be systematic. Bracketing my exposures. Testing different metering methods. Exploring new films. At times I felt jumbled and frustrated and somewhat adrift, but as we moved further away from "classroom time," (given the inevitable lag time with film development, we're still working on the feedback portion), I realize that more and more has sunk in.
If you're interested in shooting film, or maybe you've started and would like to learn more, registration for Joyce's next run of Embrace the Grain has opened. I highly recommend it!
3. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Look. I get overwhelmed easily. One of my struggles with ETG (all on me) was information overload (see #1, above: Slow down), and the key to that, I've found is to simplify as much as I can. It's hard right now, when there's so much to explore. Film stocks to try, cameras to tempt me, techniques and subjects to discover. But my goal in this is to have about three to four stocks of film that I know really well and can use and count on. Some for indoors and some for out. Some for winter and some for summer. Some for black and white. I need to be prepared to be patient with myself as I figure this out (see #1 above: Slow down) and be prepared to have more misses than hits. Still, as I try and try and try again to explore and really learn different film stocks, I trust that I'll learn what really suits both my style and the situation.
4. Love the light. Okay. Duh. I know, right? But here's the thing. When I was shooting digital, and shooting a lot of food and still life in my studio, I longed for steady, even, trustworthy light. Film is different. With film you can capture and retain so much detail in such a wide range of light from bright, bright to deep shadow. Light has become exciting for me again. I watch the play of it across the day from the puddles of window light that Lucy chases around our home to the shadows of hydrangeas, newly leafed, on our back patio. Film is causing me to work harder with my light. I can't change my ISO to accommodate my situation (well, sort of, but not really), so I have to think more before I shoot (see above, #1: Slow down). The result? I'm more present with each shot, and when I'm not shooting, I'm more present in general. Win-win.
5. Love my mistakes. It's no accident that Joyce's class is called Embrace the Grain. In digital photography grain is bad, but in film photography, we embrace our grainy shots. They add character and definition and life to our work. Accidental double exposures create beautiful photos, and somehow, somehow, out of focus shots (like this one) look better on film. I'm pretty ruthless about deleting photos in general, but with my film work, I keep nearly everything, unless it's an accidental shutter press that's a clear mistake. Tack-sharp is over rated. Perfection is overrated. I'm learning to love all the nuance.
6. Balance is good. When I started this process it was all about the batting practice, remember that? Just shoot, shoot, shoot. I tried to shoot all the things I loved, only with film. And the things I love to shoot (food, still life), I am still working to translate to film. Remember, I have a lot to learn. It's all good. I want to get better at all those things. I want the ocean in my view finder and a mug full of herbs too. I want to learn how to render the deep blues I dearly love as well as the rich greens.
And yet, I want to explore things too. Our first lesson in ETG was on black and white photography, a medium I've never been drawn to. Until I tried it on film. And you know what? I might try more. In fact I already have. I might try shooting more red too. And people. Who knew? But I'll always go back to those greens and blues.
There are other lessons I'm working on, you could say continuously. I'm not so good at keeping my attention on my own yoga mat. I'm not so good at canceling out the noise. At remembering it's a journey not a race. At not worrying about not fitting in. I'm yearning for something, and I'm not sure what just yet. Usually I just shoot my way through these times, so I'll try that for now. And maybe I'll have answers for the rest of these questions after the next six months.