‘Just give me one shot’: The case for manual photography

A quick visit to Instagram or YouTube will put to rest any doubt we live in a wonderful age for visuals and imagery. If you live in provincial Canada you’re now just a few clicks from video from downtown Hamburg, if you find yourself in a bustling capital of Japan you can catch up on the latest cycling amidst the Italian Alps, and if you’re from the World’s Most Liveable City, and just wish to see videos showcasing the local culture? we’ll there’s videos for that too.

While not all of the photography and video content we see online is astounding, the opportunity for someone to pick up a camera and connect with a global audience is seamless, straightforward, and undoubtedly wonderful.

The trade-off to this can be the ease and speed diminishes skill. Accordingly, while picking up a point-and-shoot digital camera is fantastic for a newbie to photography (and surely likely to be a good upgrade if just snapping pics on their smartphone), after a time many new to photography can find currency in eventually picking up an analog camera to complement their digital output.

Let’s look a little more at the reasons for this now…

Manual Camera

Picture:  Its true setting this thing up to take pictures is more work than opening an app. But that’s part of what makes it worthwhile..

I. Ease does not equal quality

While a point and shoot may make it easy for you to easily take some serviceable photos via auto mode, after a while you’ll find (both to take better photos as well as growing your skill) the shift towards manual operation of a camera is essential.

Though this can be done with a digital camera, the wide availability of some great vintage camera’s offer a wonderful opportunity for a beginner photographer to step back into the past and use a great piece of well-crafted equipment to build their skillset. With no LCD touch screen or an in-camera instruction manual to guide you, using an analog shall involve committing to memory the mechanics and methods surrounding aperture,shutter speed, film speed, and more.

II. ‘Repeat and Delete’ rarely brings great growth

While digital photography is fantastic for providing you the opportunity to simply delete a photo from your storage and start anew, the knowledge this is always an option can be a hindrance to a photographer’s growth. Rather than taking the time to get the shot right, the temptation to just shoot a big number of pics and know one of them will be ‘OK’ can loom large to a new photographer.

This is especially so with cameras that have a burst AKA rapid fire mode. Being able to just point the camera, press down on the shutter, and then get 20 photos in a couple of seconds means taking the time to get a scene right is unlikely to be a feature of the session. Though there are surely times for burst mode (a fast sporting event can be one such example), relying upon this as a rule is rarely a good building block for a photographer’s skill over the long term.

III. The learning curve comes with a cost

Roll of film

There are some people alive who’ve never seen a roll of film before. You’ll blow their mind when you open your camera up and insert one.

As opposed to a ‘repeat and delete’ formula on offer with digital that is cost-free, using a non-digital camera and a real roll of film shall come with some ongoing expense. This means that a consciousness is grown in the photographer to take every shot count, and the desire to avoid wasting those precious and limited snaps in each roll of film comes with the territory.

Not only is an attempt at burst mode likely to go out the window when you’re conscious your photos are now a matter of dollars and cents, but so too shall more time be spent thinking about the shot you wish to take, the angle you wish to take it from, and the lighting and other surrounding aspects that make up a good picture.

So, whether you start out by seeking a beautiful and authentic old vintage camera out, or if you find yourself enamoured with some of new manual offerings newly on the market and wish to seek out a retro-revisited equivalent, taking a sidestep into non-digital and traditional photography can offer you a great avenue to grow your skill in photography immensely.

..but let’s keep in mind what’s good about digital

With this, a caveat is important. Analog can be wonderful when taking the time to get a particular photo or series of pictures correct (such as a portrait or public festival), but if heading out to a car race or other scene that shall involve much motion and changing conditions, a digital remains the way to go for now.

In turn, if you’re someone with a good job and/or the disposal income to buy up a non-digital camera and not worry about the cost for film, now is the time to start! If you’re a young guy or girl starting out in the photography though (and maybe not yet as cashed up as Warren Buffet), then know learning on a manual camera IS a great way to take your skill set to the next level – but is certainly NOT the only way.

So, if the cash is not yet on hand for you, go ahead and keep shooting with your digital, set aside some cash when you can down the road to do some analog, and meantime enjoy listening to great songs by The Beatles and ABBA who sang well about longing for a little cash.

The Developing Film and Skills

By becoming familiar with and skilled in analog photography by no means does it serve as signification digital is lacking, dumb, or a waste of time. Instead, while surely digital is now the first choice of a new photographer – and the convenience and diversity of its offerings are tremendous – so too does their remain something to be said for knowing how to shoot with an old classic SLR, just the same as an automatic car will suffice; but driving a vintage manual remains something special every car fan should seek out.

A adventure in analog is also worthwhile not just for the experience but the growth it brings. True, some of what you learn may remain by and large in the non-digital domain, but the transfer of knowledge and skills to your digital photography in future can be significant and arise in surprising areas once you’ve got a grip on how to take great pics in an analog camera.

So, if you’ve already got a couple of great cameras, and maybe even have begun uploading content online, your next step forward can be best served by a look into the past. Find a good vintage camera, even better one with a great story behind it, and get shooting anew, one pic at a time.

Manual Camera

A Camera like this has surely been in war zones, weddings, and palaces – and probably someone’s garage for too long. So, buy it off eBay and give it a new lease on life.

Ed Kennedy is a journalist and web designer proudly from Melbourne, Australia. Say hi to Ed via enquiries@edkennedy.co or on Twitter @Edkennedy01

#Art and Design