November 03, 2013
A FINE MEDIUM
If you would have asked me 3-4 weeks ago if I would go back to using a film camera I probably would have said no. It would be like asking a writer who relies on digital word processing to go back to a manual typewriter. But that was before my Aunt and Uncle lent me their film based Hasselblad camera.
I'm familiar with the Hasselblad camera in name. It is a medium format, finely engineered film camera using 120 roll film (Hasselblad now has a line of digital cameras). Other than its optional synchronized shutter and speed settings there is nothing automatic about the camera I held.
The first thing I noticed was the weight, it was heavy due in part to its precision engineering. As I looked at the camera settings I had to think back to manual focusing, dialing the shutter opening and shutter speed. It took me a minute to realize there wasn't an ASA (now ISO) setting. That is a factor figured into the exposure value of the film. Until you gain enough experience to 'divine' the amount of light in front of you, a light meter is needed to assure the proper exposure. After each shot you wind the film to the next frame and after 12 shots you replace the roll (the latter sat me down for a few minutes).
My digital cameras can shoot 300-400 images on a card. When I want to snap a picture, my thumb slides the power button on, a light touch of the shutter button sends the auto focus into action while the on-board light meter is divvying out the exposure settings. A quick check of the f stop and a final spin of the exposure setting dial I take the picture by fully depressing the shutter release. Immediately I'm ready for the next picture. And I get to see the results of each shot at the click of a button including an exposure histogram.
For me there was more discipline with film photography. I tend to spend more time composing the picture than I do with digital photography (it is too easy with the latter to overtake pictures with little regard to the purpose).
The hard part of working with any film based camera today is finding someone that develops film (you can develop it yourself but that is another story). Fortunately, there are a few labs that specialize in film development. This past week I waited on the results of my first three rolls like a kid waiting for Wells Fargo to deliver a package. When the images arrived I was in awe. I had forgotten how rich and fluid color film was.
I feel fortunate to have been a part of both era's (film and digital). There is a waive of nostalgia as I hold the Hasselblad, looking down into the view finder. There is something special about having to load a roll of film, fuss with the light meter and wind the camera between shots. It is not unlike a time honored author of today sitting before a manual typewriter (loading each piece of paper, messing with the ink ribbon, the clatter of the keys and returning the carriage after each line).
When using the film camera I miss the instant review of the digital image. When using a digital camera I miss the anticipation and the wait as the film develops.
Pictured is Don Dane, of Olathe, Kansas -- a western and historical artist featuring works in graphite pencil and watercolor and oil paintings.
This picture (one of my first using the Hasselblad) captured Don at the 2013 Silver Dollar City's Harvest Festival.
The odd angles of this picture is due in part to Don pausing as he looks over his left shoulder at his paint palette for his next color. Rather than painting on the easel he holds his paper upside down (in this instance) for the purpose of controlling the flow of the watercolor paint.
I think a person becomes an artist when they learn there is no one way to create art. I recently had a chance to hear Ricky Skaggs in concert. After the concert he came out to meet his fans and sign autographs. Someone asked him for advice in his own music venture. Ricky responded "don't be like anyone else". I think that applies to a whole lot of things other than music.
To view some of Don's work visit his gallery at www.dondane.com or click on the picture above.