Shooting Blanks: Part 1


Lately I’ve been photographing exclusively with the CL. Film, you know, not digital; manual focus, not auto focus; basic center-weighted metering – no CPU-driven wizardry; and no auto-exposure modes. Just me, the shutter dial, aperture ring, focusing tab, and depth-of-field scale.

It’s been ego crushing.

I’d bought the rangefinder for . . . for size, for unobtrusiveness, for silence. I’d bought it to change the way I photographed (looser, less squared-off) and what I photographed (people – living, interacting). I knew it’d be different, but I never imagined I’d have a hard time adjusting. It’s a camera, I thought, I know how to use those. Didn’t quite work out that way . . .

First there’s the film. Being limited to 36 frames (or, shockingly, 24 frames) per roll changed the way I photographed. I became more selective: changing rolls is a pain, and processing is expensive. Do I really want to waste 20 cents on that? And sure, I’ll take a safety shot here and there when I’m waffling on the exposure, but I’m even trying to limit those. There’s something very disappointing about getting back an index print with only a few unique shots and a whole lotta repeats. Less of a sense of discovery I think. Plus you know you played it safe. And then there’s the processing time. I drop my rolls off at the beginning of the week, pick ‘em up at the end. There’s always that . . . anticipation . . . on pulling out the index print. A week’s gone by after all, and I’ve lost track of what I shot. Oh, I may remember the odd moment or two – really hope I didn’t fumble those – but the rest is simply one long string of click, wind, click, wind, click . . . And so, when I pick up that envelope I always wonder: did I get anything good? I’ll walk out – it’s a hot summer day – lean against the car shirt sticking to my back, and tear it open. Pull out the index print. Squint, then start the tally.

Could be OK.
What the . . .?
. . .

It never felt as bad with digital – when I was pulling photos off my CF cards. Maybe it’s the money. Or maybe, with only 36 frames, it’s a lot easier to get a sense of your hits and misses, calculate your keeper rate. Or it could be the index print itself – now there’s tangible evidence of your success (or lack thereof). Whatever it is, it hits a lot harder. And I’ll lean back and think to myself: Wow – is that it? Is that all?

To be continued . . .

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