Snapping the Shutter


Contemplating film cameras

Both Joyce and I majored in journalism at Northern Illinois University and part of the coursework was at least one class in photojournalism. That meant we had to learn all the technical aspects of photography before we started making stories out of our images. We spent hours shooting film, followed by many more hours (all nighters were common) hanging out in the basement photo lab developing and printing our black and white images. We both eventually took the advanced course, and after that we were totally hooked on photography. Even though we both had cameras before we started the classes, it is a different world when you understand how everything works together.

Yashica DNow, 40 years later, we still love to shoot up a storm, but our tools have changed so much that I feel the need to reflect on the changes. Our first camera in college was a Yashica D, a 2¼ square twin lens reflex (TLR). It had no light meter, no interchangeable lenses, you had to look down onto a ground glass focusing screen, press the shutter release, and then manually wind the film so you could take another picture. Sound primitive? Well, it taught us how to correctly estimate the exposure based on the available light and film speed, carefully compose the image, and shoot.

We gradually moved up to the available 35mm single lens reflex (SLR) Nikon Nikkormat cameras, and then in the advanced class we had to get used to 4 by 5 inch film and classic press cameras such as Speed and Crown Graphics. These are the cameras you see in the movies from the 1940's to the late 1960's. Those huge things (over 5 pounds not including extra film holders and the necessary tripod) with the large flashbulbSpeed Graphics were state-of-the-art for news and war photographers, and let me tell you, you didn't just blast off photos one after another. We lugged the cameras and the film backs (2 pieces of film - take out the black slide, shoot, replace the black slide, remove the back, turn it over, put it back in, take out the slide, and shoot again). Not exactly a motor drive, but it taught us the fine skills of composition and exposure (no light meters on these either).

After college, we continued to shoot pictures, and set up a small darkroom in our bathroom. The enlarger sat on the toilet, and we washed our prints in the bathtub.  Maybe not real efficient but it worked. Some years later when we were co-operating our business (Letter Setters) in Colorado Springs, we rented an office which had a large 2-room darkroom with built in sinks. It was heaven! We had a large process camera for making screened pictures for our customers, but it also served as our personal darkroom. We spent a lot of time in there, and the smell of photo fix still brings back memories. When we closed the business and sold our commercial equipment, all the personal gear went into boxes (it's still there). We still shot color film, but that went to a commercial photo lab.

Fast forward to today. Digital cameras, multi-megabyte memory cards, image manipulation software (I use GIMP rather than Photoshop since it is free), and inkjet printers.  Just keep shooting and you are sure to get at least a couple of good pictures. I am OK with that, because what is important is that you are taking pictures. As our old professor used to say, "if you don't have your camera with you, there is no picture." Grab and shoot cameras go everywhere, and that is a wonderful thing. 

Busch PressmanWe still have a number of film cameras and lenses, and I even have a 2¼ by 3¼ sheet film Busch Pressman. They come out occasionally, and we both had a lump in our throats when we read that Kodak was no longer going to make Kodachrome film (does that Paul Simon song make sense any more?). 

I guess photography today is still a dynamic art form, but I do hope that folks take the time (at least once in a while) to look through the viewfinder (or at the LCD display) and try to carefully compose their scenes, adjust the exposure, maybe even put a filter on the lens, and enjoy the aesthetic approach to creating images that I have loved every time I held a camera. If you have a film camera, dust it off and shoot a roll, just for old times sake.

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