Slow Photography — Why It Makes Sense to Use Your Digital Like a Film Camera

  • You’ve said it better than me, even if it’s embossed in my blog: be attentive to light, to people, to the moment, simplify the settings to the point you can forget them – and don’t postpone in RAW.
    The latter drew me tons of hate, so it’s not even nice to advise the silent majority. They think the have the right to shoot how they please – and send photography to the dogs.
    The paradox is also that what one calls ‘slow photography’ is in fact the fastest one, because you don’t at the inessentials.

  • As everything, we cannot generalize and decide “how to”. I think it depends on the moment, what you are shooting and why.

    Personally I usually take what you call the film approach. I call it “zen photography”, and that’s when I enjoy more the medium.

    Two days ago I was bored at home, after having delivered some photos to a customer I decided to have a walk in Venice.
    Once I arrived at the station I decided to litterally rush to San Marco square, dodging the tourists, and using my RicohGR in its TAV mode, basically you set aperture and time, prefocus, and the camera simply adjust ISOs.
    Well, the only rule was to stop for no more than two seconds. And it was really a funny thing to do. I’m sure I missed some nice view and candid, but this completely different approach was refreshing.

  • This is, in fact, a very film approach Marco… You know exactly what you get, the only unknown is whether the subjects/objects obey your camera’s settings. My guess is you got more keepers than with auto modes on.

  • Some like Eric Kim call it: shoot with the flow of consciousness.

    I just wanted to add that in digital. the ISO side is really replaced by SNR.

    All you have to check is Brightness and Noise, that is digital amplification.

    Making things even simpler makes one even more attentive to what is around. Or it should.

    Instead most find refuge in technicalities, because they are hopelessly blind.

  • Norman Peters

    You’ve made great points eloquently, for the most part. However, implicit in your argument is the idea that there is a “right” way to make photographs.

    If one is on assignment – whether commercial, professional, or simply a commitment to someone, or to oneself – then the range of “right” is more-or-less defined. Unless the assignment is to discover what isn’t known about photography and photographing, and what the particular photographer doesn’t know about photography, photographing, and one’s own work, constraints lead to making more of what’s already known. Stasis.

    For the many digital photographers who’ve never worked with film cameras and wet-process darkroom materials, “thinking film” means little, simply because they have no experience to apply. For the many film photographers who are photographing with digital equipment and materials, “thinking film” has the value of reminding them to draw from all their photographic experiences, not just those that date from when their digital lives began.

    I’ve recently begun to photograph seriously, for myself not commercially, again, after being away from photographing and the photographic community for several decades. My personal assignment is to not think the same way, not see the same way, and not make the same photographs I’ve already made. It’s harder to “not do” and “not be” than it is to “do like I’ve done.”

    It’s ironic that the less one knows, the more certainty one has. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. If the only photographic ideas, skills, and experiences you have are those you’ve accumulated already, then everything you see through those tools looks like material that you already know, and it’s hard not to work solely with them.

    Two difficult things I’m dealing with in my new digital work are:

    * having to pay the price of “no film cost,” i.e., editing huge quantities of images taken with the intention of “seeing what happens when i…”


    * having to buy a more-expensive camera than my present inexpensive point-and-shooter because it’s too smart; i.e, it has no manual mode, focus lock, nor exposure lock. It’s not dumb enough stop trying to improve every exposure, and instead let me adjust some its behavior so I can experiment MY way, not its way.

    At least, for me, photographing isn’t about finding “better” ways to see “better subject matter” and make make “better, more successful” photographs of it. I’m trying to see what I haven’t been able to see and to photograph what I don’t already know about it, using whatever whatever comprises my current equipment and materials.

  • Appreciate your very valuable comment, Norman. Key of what you’re saying is:

    It’s ironic that the less one knows, the more certainty one has. If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail. If the only photographic ideas, skills, and experiences you have are those you’ve accumulated already, then everything you see through those tools looks like material that you already know, and it’s hard not to work solely with them.

    Making most efficient and effective use of what the camera’s functions offer would be of paramount importance. Yet I doubt most of us are able to make truly multitasking use of all the functions today’s serious cameras offer. A lot of the menus are blinding clutter, so of first and foremost importance is knowing what functions to use and what functions to ignore.

    The point I’m trying to make: the camera is not in the center of the image, it’s a simple bearer of the image. And there I agree with you: I’ll use whatever it takes of a camera to be able to see and photograph what I don’t already know about it.

  • B. D. Colen

    A couple of quick thoughts – first, most people with cameras are not photographers, they are people with cameras; they point, they shoot, they move on, no matter how fancy and expensive the camera. Second, most photographers probably haven’t used most of the bells and whistles, which are really pots and pans for creating visual cacophony. Third, most photographers are using their digital cameras the same way they used their film cameras, thoughtfully and deliberately, taking advantage of the added visual reach digital provides. All that said, yes, most camera owners are using their digital cameras like visual machine guns, creating mental mayhem with them.

  • Will Mederski

    i shot film for a decade before picking up a digital.
    and i thank those years for teaching me “slow photography.”
    i try not to chimp (staring at the back LCD after every shot) and will walk into a scene, judge the necessary settings, set them, and then try not to fiddle with them from there.

    but i also realize that some of the photography i love the most i am solely indebted to digital for. specifically time-lapse + long-exposure / night photography.
    as well as stop-motion.
    sure, you can do these things with film, but only if you have an enormous budget for film…

    but i really like that are not in the cult of film and realize that you can indeed use a digital body just like you would a film body.
    to all the “artists” out there that think otherwise: being dependent on the device is a crutch, not creative. that you depend on the limitations of film to keep your trigger-happy self from clicking away is just as much a crutch as the digital point+shooter.

  • Jim Johnson

    So true. I was not only a film shooter, I often used a view camera (I figured it out one time and each sheet of film cost $15 to shoot and process— 10 years ago!).

    I’m so glad I have that experience. I seldom shoot film, nor do I really want to most of the time, but I’m glad I learned that process. Usually, if I’m struggling to get a shot, it’s because I need to slow down and shoot the way I used to.

  • Akiva S.

    so I was right all along with my old Nikons.