Lessons in Patience and Mindfulness

(Posted by Ryan)

"So my theory is simple: there is something really important, perhaps magical, about the fact that film is so unforgiving that it creates a special mindfulness in the photographer, which in turn increases the chances of making great pictures."

I was reading the Chase Jarvis blog today when I came across this post about something Doug Menuez said.  Doug has a very interesting post on his blog about "The Zen of Film vs. Digital Gratification." 

He talks about the days when digital was something that few photographers ever thought they would be using and how the advancement of digital technologies has changed the scope of photography forever.  The quote above is something that I feel is very important yet often overlooked by many photographers, myself included.  

Film forces us to be more mindful as photographers.  Don't get me wrong, I love my digital cameras and am grateful for these image making tools.  I shoot digitally 98 percent of the time, with that tiny little 2 percent being my occasional inclination to shoot film for personal work.  Within that 98 percent of digital shooting time I have been working hard to be more mindful of the process.  Sometimes I turn off the LCD screen and focus on shooting more deliberately.  Without having that instant gratification that comes from immediately seeing what I just shot some of the mystery of photography is reborn.

I have also been working to shoot less to create more.  With digital cameras it is so easy to rattle off thousands of images without any concern for film costs.  Just put the camera on continuous shooting mode and fire away.  You're bound to get something . . . it's a simple matter of probability.  But by shooting more slowly and more deliberately I can open myself up to alternative possibilities.  

I remember when I was at Colorado Mountain College being forced by my professors to keep detailed exposure statistics for every single image I made.  This was with film so there was no metadata attached with each shot upon exposure.  I had to keep a written record of every single shot and this forced me to slow down and learn.  The thought of recording every exposure by hand now seems ludicrous, but the lesson is there.  Slow down, think, compose and create a strong image.

When I shoot digitally I sometimes pretend that I am shooting film.  I only have 24 frames to make something interesting so I better take my time and think through each exposure.  LCD screens don't exist so I'll have to wait to see the results until I develop my film.  Oh, the anxiety of wondering if I got the shot or completely messed it up is almost too much for me to handle.  But I hold off and that excitement and sense of wonder is returned to the process allowing creativity to flow naturally and freely.  

I shoot a lot of personal work with a Holga.  It has got to be one of the crappiest cameras out there but I have created some of my favorite pictures with it.  I use 120 film so I only have 12 exposures with each roll and it gives me the opportunity to be patient with my compositions.  The Holga has the added value of only having 2 exposure options . . . sunny or cloudy.  Pretty simple.  

When I get a roll back from the lab I always experience a tiny bit of nervousness before looking at the negatives.  Sometimes these fears are realized and the entire roll is underexposed, but more often something magical happens.  The subjects I photographed were transformed inside the camera and visually come to life.   

The mystery and wonder of photography is fully evident with the Holga and I try to bring this philosophy to my digital shooting by being mindful of the process while utilizing sophisticated tools and technologies.  

I urge all of you to go out with your camera (whatever it may be) and limit yourself to only shooting 12 frames.  Shoot 12 frames and enjoy the process.  Allow the mystery and magic to take over for a while and most importantly, have fun.

'Fred and his Eagle'
Shot with my Holga