Film and File Lessons

This is a fairly specific read. Unless you’re interested in the ins and outs of photo file management, you might want to skip it.

I have never enjoyed post processing. It’s a real downer to come back from an exciting shoot and then having to sift through a ton of pictures to tweak colors, cropping, and framing. If you’re like me and struggle to maintain even a straight horizon, post processing is an unwelcome necessity—a way to fix errors made during the shoot. Two things made me think I should quit post-processing altogether.

The first was my experimentation with film photography. In January, after my digital camera was stolen, I decided to have my grandfather’s Leica refurbished and go back to the basics I never knew. You see, when I picked up photography, digital was already emerging—and going with the convenience and lower costs of digital immediately felt natural. I have only shot a handful rolls of film, but I am already enjoying the process immensely. There’s a magic in the not knowing, in shooting 36 pictures over the course of several weeks, and only have them revealed at the lab. It’s cumbersome and expensive, but also incredibly refreshing, since it’s yet another limitation to challenge yourself as a photographer.

Film makes you more deliberate: It forces you to consider and reconsider each shot, and you tread much more carefully when you know that errors most likely cannot be fixed. I’m finding that I value my film photos a little more than my digital ones (at least those that come out), and that I’ve taken lot of memorable pictures in the short time that I’ve been shooting on film. The pressure not to screw it up somehow helps me focus and take more well-conceived pictures. It turns out that shooting less—and doing it more with more concentration—helps take better pictures.

It’s a lesson I can bring back to my digital photos: Shoot less, actually learn the camera settings and rely less on post-processing Then there’s the second issue: Photos have become too big. The digital camera I bought earlier this year produces absolutely massive files, and the RAWs completely bog down my two year old computer. Post processing has become first and foremost a waiting game in which I deal with a slow computer crunching thousands of pixels. It makes an already inconvenient process downright unpleasant, and so I’ve been looking for ways to avoid it.

Post Post-Processing

Not only do I no longer want to put in the work and time it takes to post-process every pictures, I no longer want to be shooting that way either. A few corrections aside, I want to make the important decisions when I am holding the camera, not when I am looking back at the photos weeks later. To me, photography is very much about being in the moment, about seeing a picture-worthy moment when it appears, and to snap it right then and there, as best as I can. For that, I don’t need all the bells and whistles of Lightroom, I can do 90% of it with my camera alone. Fujifilm cameras—like my trusty X100F—already have best in class color management. At first I didn’t realize it, since I switched to Fuji’s system from an old Nikon camera, where all JPEGs more or less had to be edited in order to get the colors I wanted. To make matters worst, Lightroom can’t actually reverse-engineer the colors exactly like the camera, and getting back to them is a strenuous process. Find the right setting in the camera and going with the result isn’t 100% foolproof, but the entire point of this exercise is not to be shooting like a fool, to instead be forcing myself to push myself and my equipment to all we’re capable of.

It already happens

As I was pondering making this change, I realized I had already done it: When I am on the go, I send my photos from my camera to my phone, make minor tweaks and upload them—usually to Instagram. The reason why it’s become easily my most favorite platform to publish is precisely because of the speed and simplicity of this publishing process: It’s fun because it doesn’t feel like work. I’m now in the middle of relearning the way I shoot, edit, and publish. I have begun to emulate the mobile setup on my computer by skipping Lightroom altogether and instead use Hazel to automatically import my files straight from a memory card into date-stamped folders, separated into JPEG and RAW files, which I then quickly glance over and push out to the world. It means resisting the urge to fire off random shots whenever I see something that might work and instead concentrate, try my best, and delete whatever fails. So far, it’s been liberating.