Learning to take pictures (again)

Filed under: photography — jaydublu @ 12:58 pm

I’ve always had an interest in photography, and ten or twelve years ago I got quite into the technicalities of black and white film – the zone system etc. I had a couple of Olympus OM-2 bodies, and a crude but workable darkroom. Much fun was had.

Moving house several times I never got around to setting up the darkroom again and it all still sits on shelves (about to go on eBay).

In the mean time, digital photography became more mainstream, and four or five years ago I got myself a Fujifilm F700 which is a compact but capable little number. We’ve had some good times together and I’ve taken some images that I’ve been very happy with, but it still doesn’t encourage the full exploration of photographic techniques.

This christmas, I took advantage of an offer to get a ‘proper’ camera – a Fujifilm S5 Pro – and I’m now starting to invest the time to learn how to use it and express myself. It’s a stunning camera, and I’m so glad I made the decision to get it against other options such as a Fujifilm S100FS bridge camera.

The amazing thing I’m finding is how ‘basic’ the camera feels – it certainly doesn’t make it easy to take pictures without thinking about what you’re doing – but I feel that’s the whole point , and I love it.

View from Happisburgh Coastwatch - processed from RAW file.I’m still feeling my way transferring philosophies and techniques learnt using mono negative film to digital technologies.

Certain things are the same and surprisingly familiar – focussing, metering, composition, depth of field etc. but, when it comes to moving away from ‘average’ pictures or when you can’t rely on automatic settings is when the fun starts.

I did once know my way around the zone system, and could customise the way I processed B&W film and printed the final image to get a variety of tones and tonal ranges to suit the subject. But how does that translate to digital?

Well the first thing I’m just now starting to get to grips with is that film processing and other darkroom techniques are roughly equivalent to using RAW format and manipulation in something like Photoshop. The image shown here is a bland shot from inside Happisburgh Coastwatch, but it took some fiddling to get it so you could see detail from both inside and outside.

So I’ve an expensive camera – necessary to get a good sensor and image processing software, and Photoshop doesn’t come cheap. In the digital world, to get to grips with the core technicalities of the zone system for instance is quite an expensive undertaking.

But, when I started experimenting ten or so years ago it was much more affordable – you didn’t need much of a camera if you used good film, and it was surprising what good results you could get in a darkroom with some pretty basic kit.

I wonder what the digital equivalent of the pinhole camera is?


  1. Blimeh, an S5 pro! No kill like overkill, eh? Wowza. Colour me envious – I’m still using my now-quite-dated Nikon D50 body, albeit with a rather tasty VR lens on it.

    Not sure if you’ve seen it, but Ken Rockwell’s site – http://www.kenrockwell.com/ – is an excellent resource for (re)learning photography. Not so pretty a website, but the content is very good. Man knows his photography, and he’s good at communicating about it. Ken’s more a Nikon man, but the basic skills are all the same.

    btw, you can pinhole a digital camera in the same way you pinhole a film camera – buy a plastic body cap for a few quid, then use a pin to make a hole in it. Shoot manually. Bada-bing. 🙂

    Comment by mat — February 18, 2009 @ 2:25 pm

  2. Stupid thing is that the body is now almost cheaper than many lenses – if you know where to shop.

    Comment by jaydublu — February 18, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

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