I’ve been looking through my old boxes of client folders dating back to 1996. They are filled with negatives, contact sheets, notes, pictures… so many good memories of people and places I’ve known and experienced through the lens of my camera. I am seeing the evolution of my skills as I go through the years but now it’s time to declutter. My clients all have what they need, and I don’t need to store their negatives any more. It’s with mixed feelings that I am parting ways with these old boxes of negatives.
I’m getting ready for my 20th business anniversary party in July, and I thought it would be fun to hang years worth of old contact sheets from clothespins in the lobby, so I am pulling out all my favorites! I’m also making centerpieces with glass candle holders, marbles and strips of film. It’s going to be a tribute to the beginning of my business when I was shooting film, working in my darkroom, printing prints by hand in the dark. Digital photography is 100% completely different. I was trying to explain to my young intern what a contact sheet is- she had never seen one! I will need to take her to my mom’s and show her my darkroom. It really was such a magical process seeing images develop in the dark. It’s hard to describe to someone who hasn’t experienced it personally.
Digital changed everything. I have so many notes from clients back in the film days who were raving about how they love their pictures. I still get notes sometimes, but they’re rarely handwritten and usually in an email. Photography doesn’t have the same sense of magic now that it did back then. Digital is wonderful- immediate, accessible, and easier. You really had to have mad skills to get great photos with film. You either got the shot or you didn’t, and you didn’t know for sure until days or weeks later when you got your film back from the lab. I used to lose sleep wondering how my photos turned out! Now, when I shoot a wedding, I know that someone who is shooting right next to me is taking the same picture and posting it on Facebook right that second and the bride and groom get to see it immediately. The process of waiting, hoping, and praying you got good pictures, then seeing them as an actual print in your hands, and not on a screen… there is no comparison! Film photographers were seen as magicians because so few people knew how to do what we did.
Photography with film was truly an art that we had to learn through trial and error. It’s so much easier to get good photos with digital. It makes my job easier and I definitely lose less sleep. I’m a better photographer now than I ever was because I can experiment more and take artistic risks with lighting and posing. I can just delete the bad shots, and fix the ones that need help. With film, you had to be so much more selective because every time you clicked the shutter, you pretty much spent $1. The process of retouching was very challenging and expensive. Now, you can take thousands of photos and not spend a dime!
What has remained the same is capturing the most important moment. That’s something special that only few photographers can do. Each photographer sees a situation in a unique way, and selects the most captivating moment to capture. Lighting, expression, posing, relating to the subject… there are many elements that make a great photo, but being selective and choosing to press the shutter at the magical moment- that’s what makes a great photographer.