I still recall my first camera. A matte black (ok, plastic) Canon Sure Shot that fell into my hands in the mid-90s. Perhaps it was the result of a hand-me-down or a gift meant to keep the attention of a meandering young mind? While not entirely clear on how it came into my possession, it was mine and that was all that mattered.
Of course, other cameras entered my life before this retractable 35–70mm pocket-size. Namely, the hybrid paper and plastic disposable varieties from Kodak and FujiFilm that grace the space next to cigarette packs at the local corner drugstore. Twenty-seven exposures and the flexibility to use for both indoor and outdoor compositions — what a time!
However, my first meaningful recall of a reusable and dedicated camera in-hand is reserved for that simple Canon film shooter. Carefully lining up the edges of the film leaders, the tactile snap of the back camera door and the groundbreaking for the time, digital frame counter. A digital display that still managed to always be off by a count or two, forever resulting in greater selectivity and less assuredness as the end of a roll approached reality.
Like many others, I have long since migrated to digital tools to befit my lifestyle of image capture. Although, there remains a thriving community of film enthusiasts. The natural tendency among creative types to keep alive the heritage means that first allowed fields like photography, music recording, and writing to enter our collective consciousness go beyond bespoke Bohemianism for eccentricity sake. Succumbing to the gravitational pull towards the look, feel and experience of analog film devices keeps the tradition alive. I celebrate this trend and still own a film camera myself that I holster when the mood strikes.
In my view, all content creation is good content creation as long as it is purposeful to the creator. The availability of film and digital tools opens the field to more artists, while also introducing outputs that vary in look and feel — pushing back against a genre’s natural tendency to trend towards monotony.
I cherish the quality and limitless options made available through advancements in the digital photography space. I also constantly seek methods to introduce disruption in the process and force myself to make minor adjustments that, occasionally, yield outsized results in either technique, method, or the final product. A recent disciplined and simple change to my workflow has delivered just that promise.
Unfortunately, I found myself frequently falling victim to what I have dubbed the “quick critique.” If you have handled a digital camera or the now entirely capable phone cameras, you are likely aware of this behavior. You take a picture and before the image has barely had a moment to process you are reviewing the image on the screen. You unceremoniously judge the quality. Fumbling and fiddling with the insufficient dials and touchscreens to zoom in on details and gauge focus.
This behavior is wrong and presents real problems. First, that small LCD screen is insufficient, lacking the scale to accurately bring forward the elements of the image. Second, something fantastic is likely happening while you are craning your neck down and squinting at the screen. Not to mention that this added step introduces additional workflow “creep.” Finally, and most importantly, it instantaneously removes one from the moment.
The very reason we pick up a camera, pack up our gear bag, and trudge through the elements is to document. There is a time and place for reviewing our work, and I argue that place is most commonly back in the studio.
So a few months ago, I made a conscious change to my workflow. A change that seemed small at the time, but has invigorated my process by eliminating one of the features that digital photography initially resolved. The change: consciously policing my ability to review images and critique in real-time.
Buried within most digital camera menus are options to help reduce the photographer’s dependency on this crutch of immediate gratification. I shoot both Sony and Fuji cameras, and either allow for settings that disable some version of auto-review (Sony calls this Auto-Review and Fuji refers to it as Image Display). By disabling this “feature,” the viewfinder or LCD reverts immediately to live view post-capture versus populating a preview.
In addition to overcoming the shortfalls mentioned above, this change had an unintended result of making my pre-capture process more deliberate. Removing the reflex to immediately review and cull, slight increases in mindful composition and lighting inputs take on added importance.
There is an element of self-discipline required to reap the reward — a trait that can always benefit from a little perfecting. Human instinctive reflexes must also be re-programmed just as the settings of your gear. Without thought, I was accustomed to pressing the “play” button to call up recent images — only to find myself numbly flipping through multiple images on the screen to determine if it was “safe” to proceed on from my current location and composition.
This mindset is limiting. It sets up failure before the process begins by capping an element of trust in the creative outcome.
We live in an environment that rewards immediate gratification, and that immediacy deflects from the moment. Our packages arrive in forty-eight hours. Our groceries are ready for curbside pickup shortly after placing an order. This is all well and beneficial, but there is beauty to be found in the measured too — particularly when creating art.
Certain circumstances justify and necessitate the immediacy of review — particularly professional shoots and client work that come with shot lists and delivery expectations. None of this is meant to cast dispersions at advancements in the tools and features that make our creative endeavors more rounded as well. Through innovation, we increase accessibility to the form and welcome the opportunity to learn and share new ways to manipulate the tools.
This intention here is as simple as the tweak proposed. Perhaps give it a try on your next outing, or work it in occasionally. Trust your eye and I think you will find some joy and pleasant perspectives during the next steps of the creative journey.