Practicing Photography

Mike Johnston, over at T.O.P, writes interesting posts quite often. He has recently written a couple of them that hit close to home. They are The Leica as Teacher and Why It Has To Be a Leica. Mike suggests a training program using the Leica for a year to shoot B&W film extensively and to edit and critique oneself on the photos taken. I’ve tried to do exactly that over the last two years.

Meetup spirit

There are some differences, of course. My camera has been a Bessa R2A. I’ve been using only that camera with a 50mm prime lens since January 2007. The Bessa is like a cheaper version of a Leica. Most of the points that Mike mentions in the second post apply to the Bessa too.

Certainly, I haven’t been as prolific as Mike suggests. Much has happened in my life since then and other interests have sometimes taken priority in spare time. As of today I have 362 photos on Flickr taken with this camera and lens pair. That’s an average of about three selected photos per week, although in reality there were bursts of activity when I was on vacation. About half of those photos are B&W. I typically haven’t thought in terms of color unless it felt quite essential, and have preferred B&W film for the most part.

Michael rolls a cigarette

The gist of the matter is that this is a really good exercise. In the end, like Mike says,

Because make no mistake, photographing the way I suggested in the previous post is the photographic equivalent of being a top athlete: it takes dedication and coordination and talent and time and sacrifice and lots of training.

This gels with what Malcolm Gladwell has written in Outliers and with my own experience. What matters most is that you put a lot of time and effort into it. The constraints Mike suggests help to make the exercise even more focused, pun unintended. It’s definitely not the only exercise out there but I sincerely believe that if you were to do this, it would greatly benefit your photographic eye. I can surely feel it and perhaps my photography shows it.

Liz at Monument Valley

When I started using my Bessa, I dumped my DSLR and haven’t missed it since. Having said that, I think I’m getting weary of having a film based workflow as my primary one. I’m still hoping that a nice digital rangefinder will come along or that I will find it reasonable to invest in a Leica M8. Until then I may try the new Sigma DP2. It looks quite promising. I’ll keep an eye out for the news and reviews and look at photos from it for a couple of months before deciding.


2 thoughts on “Practicing Photography

  1. The DP2 looks awesome (but spendy!). I agree – shooting B&W film transformed my perspective as a photographer and really made it into a serious hobby for me. I've only been doing it for about a year now, but I really love it. I still prefer my digital for nature scenes and things like mountain climbing because when its about the color, I'm not always satisfied with film. Doing my own developing has been another great step. It makes the workflow even more tedius, but the process and level of control is really satisfying (its also cheaper!). I look forward to seeing your pictures on flickr regardless of the medium. Your urban stuff, in particular, is always inspiring and your shots were certainly what motivated me to try out film (happening on a free camera didn't hurt either).

    Oh, and if you find yourself in a position to sell (or loan out) your film stuff. Like your bulk loader, etc., let me know.

    1. Yea, the DP2 has me wondering whether it's time to move on to a new camera. As much as I like using film, I think at this point I'm happy to let it be a second preference to a digital camera.

      Thanks for your kind comments regarding my photos. I haven't had any urban shots for a while but I did manage to take a few of those last weekend. Will post them if they are any good.

      Will let you know if I decide to sell film related stuff.

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