Patience and Restraint
I want to share with you an experiment I’ve been working on for the past eight months in hopes that it will inspire you to do the same.
It began last year in September. I was getting really discouraged with my photography. The endless cycle of shooting, chimping, shooting, going home and loading everything into Lightroom and then onto social media was, to say the least, exhausting. My inspiration was fading, and I was missing that connection with my work that I’d felt in previous years.
So I decided to get back into film photography and treated myself to a Leica M6, a camera I've been lusting over since I found out they existed years ago. At the time, I became inspired by Vivian Maier, whom I’m sure many of you have heard of. If you haven’t, a quick Google search will do the trick.
What inspired me most about Vivian Maier wasn’t her work. Don’t get me wrong - she was an amazing photographer and her work is nothing short of that. But what inspired me most was her approach to photography. She loved taking pictures so much that she never even bothered developing and printing most of her film. She just shot a roll, put it in a box and went out to shoot more.
This sounds absolutely insane, especially in today’s society where immediate results are everything. But it really struck me as something I wanted to try. I wanted to separate myself from the photographs and focus more on the photography. I wanted to rediscover my passion for taking pictures rather than fishing for likes on social media.
So I got my Leica, and my plan was to shoot film and put it away in a drawer for a few months before processing and scanning. I hoped it would help me focus more on taking pictures I wanted to take rather than taking pictures I thought other people wanted to see. I also wanted to break that emotional connection I had with the moment so I could judge my work more objectively when I finally did process and scan.
This isn’t really a unique approach, by the way. Photographers have been doing this for a long time. And you don’t need to shoot film to do this. It’s just harder, at least for me, to keep digital images on a memory card for such a long time without looking at them.
So I did it. I shot roll after roll and just put them in my desk drawer for a later date.
It’s been eight months now, and I finally got around to processing and scanning my film. It turned out to be 16 rolls of Kodak Tri-X 400 (pushed to 800), which equals roughly 576 images, or 72 images per month.
Why did I wait so long? Well, I’ll admit that part of this was due to laziness (I develop my own film at home and had been putting it off). But mostly, I just enjoyed taking pictures without the incessant need to go home and look at what I got. It was liberating.
Here’s a look at some of the images I took last November during a trip to see my sister in New York:
To me, this experiment was a great way to let go of expectations and just have fun. I'll admit I felt an itch at times to see what my images looked like, but then I just loaded up another roll and my focus shifted toward taking more pictures rather than obsessing over the ones I already got. Overall, it was a liberating experience and I plan on continuing with it into the future, although I'll most likely keep it in the two-to-three month range rather than eight months.
Here are some of my Pros and Cons of this approach:
This approach kept me in the moment. I didn’t feel the pressure to upload pictures onto social media, so I remained present and just enjoyed myself
I found myself focusing more on my approach to photography rather than the results. It helped me practice interacting with people and staying focused on them rather than the back of my camera (shooting film helped with this)
It forced me to learn patience - something I don’t have enough of
It was really exciting seeing pictures I forgot I took! As I was hanging the negatives in my bathroom to dry, I felt all giddy inside looking at some of the frames. I felt like a five-year-old on Christmas morning
If shooting film, this approach could save you money as it is more cost effective to process multiple rolls at a time
For some of the images - not many, but some - I found myself shooting digital versions, too, “just in case.” So when I processed and scanned those images, it wasn’t as exciting as it would have been had I not shot digital versions. I strongly urge against doing this, and you almost need to remind yourself of this rule every time you shoot because it’s just second nature. Trust yourself, trust your camera and don’t worry about taking a digital copy. It’s part of the fun, not to mention the entire point of this experiment
One word of advice for those of you considering doing this experiment with film: If you are buying your first film camera for this, I strongly recommend shooting a couple rolls, processing and scanning first before starting this experiment. This is mainly because you want to make sure your camera is working properly before you spend however many months shooting only to get them back and find there are some crazy light leaks or something going on. Since you won’t be seeing your images for a while, you want to at least have the peace of mind knowing your camera is working properly.
If you are considering trying this experiment with digital, I suggest putting some obstacles in place to prevent you from giving in to the temptation of looking at your pictures. For example, try putting a piece of Gaffer tape on your camera screen and treat it as if it were a film camera. It might also help to put the images on a flash drive after each shoot and then give that flash drive to a close friend or relative with the instructions to not give it back until a predetermined amount of time has passed.
Either way, I really hope this post inspires you to try this experiment yourself. Even if you only do it with some of your images and not all of them, and even if you only wait a couple months before looking, you will learn a lot about yourself and your photography during this process. And I think the act of taking pictures for yourself rather than others will help to re-inspire your creativity and rediscover what made you fall in love with photography in the first place. If you have already been practicing this approach, I’d love to hear your experience in the comments below!
Thanks for reading and happy shooting!