In photography, each subject, environment, and piece of gear present their own unique set of challenges and advantages. And sometimes, the challenges in photography are what catalyze creativity and thoughtfulness. I’ve been reading a few articles from a number of photographers over the last few months who would even suggest that limitations and challenges do more to push photographers toward meaningful, creative work than the advantages we seek in the latest technology or most popular trends.
Some of the self-imposed challenges suggested by these articles include:
- Using your camera only in full manual mode
- Trading in your expensive DSLR setup for a simpler point-and-shoot camera
- Using an old, manual film rangefinder, SLR, or cheap lomography camera
- Share only your best two photos from a set instead of post-processing and sharing all or most of them
- No “chimping” while shooting (chimping = checking each photo in your camera’s LCD screen after every shot)
- The extreme “one camera, one lens, one type of film, for one year” challenge
The purpose of these limitations is to improve my craft by focusing on practicing and understanding photography, rather than by buying “better” cameras and getting lots of “likes” on Flickr and Facebook. Obviously, most of this methodology probably wouldn’t apply while shooting a wedding, or when doing a thousand corporate head-shots, or when shooting in the middle of a war zone. But the point is that by stretching my abilities by abstaining from some conveniences, I’ll be forced to be more thoughtful as I take photos.
As an obsessive optimizer in life, allowing myself to be challenged and limited for the sake of growing in creativity is often a struggle for me. On top of that, I love new technology and I’m usually on top of the latest camera gear news (and which camera/lens I want next). But I decided to submit myself to the teachings of some of these “Lesser Photographers” during a trip to visit family in Arizona. I left my Canon 5D DSLR at home, and brought my Nikon FE film SLR, with one lens, one type of color film, and one type of black and white film.
I started the trip shooting with Fujifilm Neopan 400 black and white film (mostly because that’s what was already loaded in my camera), which turned out to be great for the stark contrast between light and shadow in sunny Tucson, AZ. Because I was using 400-speed film and the Nikon FE’s fastest shutter speed is 1/1000 of a second, I had to set my aperture to f/11 or f/16 to avoid overexposure in direct sunlight. The black and white film and my restricted depth of field forced me to focus on lines and shapes, rather than catchy colors and creative background blur. And being stuck with the 50mm lens meant that I had to approach the subject or strategically position myself to be ready for the subject, rather than zoom in/out. All of these issues made for some great challenges while photographing the enormous aircraft at the Pima Air & Space Museum and the prickly landscape at the Arizona-Sonara Desert Museum.
While I sometimes wished I had some of the conveniences of my Canon 5D, I really enjoyed shooting exclusively with the Nikon FE and I’m happy with how these photos turned out. I’ve posted the first of the Neopan 400 photos below and you can see the rest of them tomorrow. Happy unMonday!