Recording light again

21 Mar 2020

My stats in Lightroom tell a sad tale: about ten years ago I was taking four to five thousand photos a year with an actual camera, but two years ago that fell below 1000 for the first time, and then last year it halved further.

In part, that’s just how inspiration is, and I’ve had other focuses, but it was also in part down to two practicalities that put me off: firstly I wasn’t finding my camera gear encouraged me to carry it everywhere, and secondly I disliked the tools I had processing photos. This post is mostly about my attempt to solve the first part of that.

About ten years ago, when I first seriously got into photography as a hobby, I graduated from my first DSLR to shooting with a lovely but large Canon 7D. For a while, particularly when I did my 365 challenge, I carried it everywhere. But at some point, even though I mostly just used a fixed 35mm prime, that bulk got far too much to carry everywhere and I found myself less and less frequently heading on out with a camera.

To fix this, about 5 years ago, I swapped over to a Fujifilm X-series compact system camera, the X-E2, which was low down in their range, but had two vital features: it was both small and light. The X-E2 still had proper interchangeable lenses, so I could pander to my love of 35mm primes with lovely narrow depth of fields, but it was also of a size where I could shove it in my bag without adding much bulk.

The problem was that whilst I’m addicted to prime lenses, I also do like having options. So I’d usually have my 35mm prime on the Fujifilm, but then I’d want to carry with me the also very lovely 12mm wide angle prime I had, which was quite bulky. And sometimes I’d want to take my 55-200 zoom if going out somewhere where I might need that – once you managed to get an unexpectedly good shot with a lens you’re loathed to leave it behind just in case.

And so I ended up with a camera bag full of stuff on the off-chance I might need them, and thus I’m back at having a bulky set of bits to carry around, and thus I kinda stopped carrying them.

The other downside of the Fujifilm was that those earlier models were quite slow in terms of focus. So on some trips, like when we went to Nantes last, I’d still take the Canon 7D with me just armed with the Sigma 30mm prime, but still be frustrated with its bulk whilst enjoying the ability to get shots quicker (even if this example below looks static, it was on a moving boat :).

Add to that my other interests, this lead to me just using my phone to take snaps and forgetting about artistic photography for a while.

But of late I’ve wanted to get back into photography. Partly as I wanted something that I’d do for fun alone, and partly as I was inspired by seeing great photos from my friends, such as Dave, Morag, Tim, Jason, and Karen – each has a very different style from me, but it’s just lovely to see what they’ve been making and it made me want to try again.

Thus I decided at the end of last year to stop having two cameras that I didn’t want to carry around with, and get one I would. Originally I was looking at trading in both my 7D and X-E2 and getting a more recent Fujifilm body like the X-30 that had faster autofocus whilst remaining in their lighter end of their cameras, but that didn’t fix the issue with my lack of discipline around taking all my lenses with me everywhere just in case.

So I decide to do something radical/silly and get a camera with just one fixed lens in it: not just a fixed focal length, but also permanently fixed to the camera. If I can’t change the lens, there’s no need to take all these extra lenses around with me is there? To this end I got a Fujifilm X100F, which has an 18mm f/2 lens on it. The 18mm sits somewhere between my two usual regular primes of 35mm and 12mm, making it good for urban style photography which usually what I go for:

But it also still is close enough that it still lets you take pictures of people in situations:

The camera choice is/was a bit of a gamble – it may be over time that I find this a frustrating choice (when I explained to my friend I mentioned above, Dave, what I was doing he asked “why do you hate yourself?” :). However, one thing I love about prime lenses is how they force you to consider things differently, look for a non-obvious take that will fit within the constraints of the limitations of the lens you have to hand. I’m not a hugely artistically creative person, so I find that forcing these constraints on me pushes me to be more creative than I’d otherwise be.

The other nice feature about the X100F is that it is a Fujifilm camera still, and means I still get to use the lovely film simulations that Fujifilm cameras come with. The above photos are mostly using the Acros black and white film simulation, but I also like the Classic Chrome colours:

And it’s with these two film simulations I’m trying to fix a little of the other reason I don’t take many photos, which was I became obsessed with trying to edit them just so. Instead I’ve set myself a soft limit that I can use just these two film modes, and then just minimal edits in Lightroom before publishing. This way I worry more about the moment of capture than spending an age editing.

So I’m back taking pictures again: perhaps not at a prolific rate still, but I’m having more fun experimenting with this simplified camera and simplified workflow.

I’ve resurrected my Flickr account, and am posting there what I take if you’re interested in seeing what I capture.

And if you do, feel free to take time to comment if you see something you like or dislike; I feel like I’m restarting my photography in part, and I recall one of the best things about my 365 was the constructive feedback I got from others that helped me improve.