Film, Imperfectly perfect

May 10, 2021


Let’s go back to the days of film. That is where I started. With a roll of 36 shots costing anything between £3 and £8. The camera was manual with an internal meter. I grew up with a manual camera that people find difficult today. Creative choices about shutter speed and aperture became second nature. No auto no program.

The back was closed, and the film wound on a bit. First shot. Through the viewfinder. The image was taken for better or worse. What was on the film was there and if you got it wrong it was a waste.

All the countless decisions you had to make at the time and get them right. Exposure obviously, taking into account the dynamic range of film. What and how much movement would you like in the shot. Depth of field. Focus plane. Filtration, do you want to warm or cool the shot a little. Which film to use.

There was no looking at the back of the camera and modifying it when you saw the result. It was right or wrong and you lived by the right or wrong.


Most importantly there was no shooting in raw and hoping you could sort it out in Photoshop later. There was a chance that if you worked in black and white then there were things you could do. But colour was more complicated. Never having a colour darkroom, I cannot comment on how much so though.

This is not “wasn’t it better in the good old days” because it wasn’t. Bluntly I have thousands of shots in which the horizon isn’t level, the exposure is off, the colours are washed out, the focus point is wrong and a whole host of other things. None of these things I could see on the back of the camera at the time of taking.

The habits that I developed then have hung over a bit to the digital age. I rarely look at the back of the camera once a shot is taken. Having taken the time to compose it and know what I am shooting why would I check a Jpeg on the back that does not represent the final shot. I tend to take more images than I used to with different depth of field and movement but only because I can.

The cost of an image once you have the equipment is quite low and enables you to do more. The results are comparatively instant. Get home put them on the computer and have a quick scan to see what I have and carry on.

Sorting stuff out

If we were unhappy with an image in the film days, there was nothing we could do except getting it right in camera. We had to put up with all the vagaries of lens choice and what was possible.

Now we can take several shots and blend them in photoshop. Focus blend so we get a perfectly sharp image front to back, Exposure blend so that we can allow for extreme or even normal dynamic range. Perspective blend not sure what this is but seen some of the results. Time blend to allow different movement in the image. To make the perfect image, removing all the little imperfections that are in the real world. To make an imperfect world fit into our expectations. I have been told that this is to make allowances for deficits in the lens and what is possible. To this, I refer you above.

I use photoshop to enhance my images, so I am not saying these are bad, in fact, they are part of the artist process, but at what point do these add to the simple pleasure of taking an image and getting the best at the time of pressing the button. Of looking at a scene, assessing what is there at that moment and figuring out how to get the best out of it. Not only that but being out in the countryside rather than being stuck inside behind a computer. The choice is yours, but I know where I would be.

Do I still use film? Yes, I do along with a manual film camera and light meter. Just to keep my hand in.

Thank you for reading this far. If you want to see what I produce without detailed blending and working in an old-fashioned way take a look at my Instagram which can be found HERE.









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