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back to article Teary-eyed snappers recall the golden age of film

For those readers with a tendency to get teary-eyed over the golden age of film, and the days before digital swept physical photographic media into the cutting room bin of history, we're delighted to take a trip down memory lane today with professional photographer Phil Houghton. Portrait of Phil Houghton holding mighty Nikon …

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Brilliant article.

I was an XP1 and Multigrade fan back from my SRT100x in school and Yashica TLR produced roll film later years.

But can I just say that Dover Storm shot is stunning?

Still have a couple of Olympus Trips...one of which works brilliantly still.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Brilliant article.

Yes, I got through a load of XP1 back in the day - and had an Olympus Trip. Top camera.

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Re: Brilliant article.

Many thanks!!

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Digital vs Film

What this article brings home is not the benefit of Digital over Film (or vice versa) but the importance of knowing how to take good photos and how to properly use the tool (i.e. camera) you're currently using.

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Re: Digital vs Film

True enough, a tool in the wrong hands renders disasters.

A tool in the hands of a master yields a masterpiece.

That through the window shot at the end appears to not be one using a polarized filter. More would have been gotten with the polarizer, with less reflection.

Then again, it could be that it *was* through the filter and the modest reflection is the remaining artifact that today would be digitally dodged away.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Re: Digital vs Film

No polarising filter - would have lost a couple of stops with that, and at the extremes the photo was taken, every bit of light counted. Note the blurring on the hands. Probably 1/30 sec with the aperture wide open.

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Re: Digital vs Film

Spot on!

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Re: Digital vs Film

On a long dodgy looking milkbottleesque 300mm no dought....

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Excellent

Picked up on why I took up photography, no good at art. Borrowed SLR for school trip to Lakes whilst my 35mm compact was being repaired and never really looked back. Still have an Yashica FR1 at home.

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The advances in the digital world, whilst making the job easier, and opening the up the magic of photography to a whole host of new "pros", has also made the whole process somewhat more creative.

Digital cameras have democratised the process. Film is essentially free now so people can shoot to their hearts' content and not worry about the cost of stock and D&P. Not only that but they can see the results instantly and learn from their mistakes, something that was pretty hard to do in the days of Xmas-both-ends photography.

If you look at the right sites you can see "amateur" snappers creating images that are the equal and often better than many pro photographers.

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Yes, digital film is effectively free, but that's not always a good thing.

There are indeed some excellent amateur digital photographers, which is certainly to be applauded.

There are also legions of people who, thanks to the 'free film' now experience amazing destinations not with their eyes, but through a small screen on the back of a camera. I saw many of them when I was in Italy this summer, and I wonder how many of the photos will even be looked at more than a couple of times.

To me, that's one of the decidedly mixed blessings of digital - it can encourage the mentality of "shoot lots and some will be good, by the law of averages."

Using film at least forces you to think "I only have 36 shots" and certainly I find that I spend more time looking round, taking in the splendour of somewhere, and deciding what might make a good shot, from a particular angle. And, when I do return home, I have the memory of actually drinking in a magnificent sight with my own eyes, rather then second hand.

Of course, I'm not saying everyone does this with digital, but I've seen many people who certainly give the impression that that's what they're doing. And if you find yourself slipping into that habit, and don't want to mess around with film, it can sometimes be helpful to simply imagine that you are, and limit yourself to a number of shots per day, or per location, as a way of forcing yourself to stop, and look, before shooting.

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Nigel Whitfield wrote:

Using film at least forces you to think "I only have 36 shots" and certainly I find that I spend more time looking round, taking in the splendour of somewhere, and deciding what might make a good shot, from a particular angle. And, when I do return home, I have the memory of actually drinking in a magnificent sight with my own eyes, rather then second hand.

It was like that for me with my first digital 2.1mpix camera, I went out to Australia for 3 weeks with only two 16MB cards, but luckily found an affordable 64MB card during the stop over at Singapore airport. That still only gave me a ration of 10 pictures a day, but I took a lot better shots than most of the ones now when I can fit a few thousand 12mpix shots on a 16GB card.

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"To me, that's one of the decidedly mixed blessings of digital - it can encourage the mentality of "shoot lots and some will be good, by the law of averages."

But it has always been the case that subtle differences of the scene, the angle, lighting, timing, subject expression etc mean that even for the professional the best logic is often banging away like an armed policeman with Cressida Dick as your commanding officer. Hoping for one perfect shot, or even expecting a few carefully planned frames to come out is (in my view) reckless optimism. Back in the day of real fim the pros had motor drives for exactly that reason, along with high capacity backs because 36 shots wasn't enough, and even landscape photographers with expensive 6x6 film would always take a few reels before coming home.

Even in the environment of a studio, what's the ratio between shots taken, and published or exhibited work? My guess is something in the order of 200:1 for a shot that gets published, and more than double that overall because many professional studio sessions don't lead to anything getting published. Admittedly the professionals stand a better chance than Joe Soap, but judging by the number of carefully thought out shots I take that don't come out, there's no way I'm rationing the shutter button.

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@Nigel Whitfield

"There are also legions of people who, thanks to the 'free film' now experience amazing destinations not with their eyes, but through a small screen on the back of a camera. I saw many of them when I was in Italy this summer, and I wonder how many of the photos will even be looked at more than a couple of times."

Couldn't agree more. I was in the Louvre this summer and was astonished by the number of people crowding round the Mona Lisa taking photos on their iPads.

Why? What's that supposed to prove? That you were there? Maybe they were all on a scavenger hunt!

No way you're going to take a meaningful picture from behind the guard rail, through 3 inches of bullet proof glass with a phone or tablet, or even with a DSLR like I was carrying.

When people photograph paintings for insurance or reproduction purposes they have it out from behind the glass, they can shoot it from whatever distance they like - one metre or three, set their own lighting, etc, etc.

I do take a lot of photos - my girlfriend despairs sometimes - she looks around and finds I'm 100metres behind having been distracted by a subject, but I do stop and soak up the atmosphere of wherever it is I'm visiting and not live the holiday through a lens - I didn't waste my time getting a crap photo of the mona lisa (I'll buy a proper print in the gift shop if I want her on my wall), but I did get some delightful macros of some Egyptian artefacts that caught my eye, one of which is now on my living room wall. Get down on your knees, lens against the glass and take a decent photo (cut out any reflections, lots of zoom and a shallow depth of field to isolate your subject from the other artefacts in the cabinet).

Likewise in one very fine gallery in the Louvre I saw people waving handycams around in the general direction of the beautiful ceiling frescos. Really? Are you going to sit down and cut that shaky-cam footage together into a home video, and actually watch "Our Holiday to Paris" again? Crap footage that will get deleted or forgotten about in a dank corner of a sub-sub-subdirectory. Just look at it and enjoy it.

All that said, I'm the sort of person not embarrassed to lie down on the floor of a museum (or on one occasion a State Legislative Building) to get the photo I want, even I do get a few funny looks, which (I like to think) means I get slightly more imaginative pictures than a lot of people (as well as a few that - on review - I think "What the f- was I trying to achieve there?).

@Ledswinger

"Back in the day of real fim the pros had motor drives for exactly that reason, along with high capacity backs because 36 shots wasn't enough, and even landscape photographers with expensive 6x6 film would always take a few reels before coming home."

Very true, especially for sport, news or nature where you can't ask a tiger to go back and have another go, or asking a footballer if they could just loop the ball over into the goal just the same way again.

I do try and make my photos count, even though on a 16GB card I can fit lots, even shooting RAW. When I was on safari in India though it was a case of hedging my bets. Every shot taken in triplicate, bracketing my focus because when you do spot a tiger you want to get home and have a decent shot, not 3 blurry options. I'd have done the same with film, but this saves having to crack the camera open halfway through. Obviously I'm aiming for them all to be good, but in the back of a jeep with a lead-footed driver they're simply not going to be!

Once I was reasonably happy I'd got a good photo though I put the camera down and just enjoyed his majesty.

All told I had 200 shots to review from that morning, including a couple of absolute corkers of our big Bengal male and a bunch that - with the best will in the world, were pretty blurry because the driver had chosen that exact moment to move on!

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When I go to the Louvre, the crowd in front of the Mona Lisa is by far my favourite thing to take photos of: the pushing and shoving, and the way that so few are actually looking at the picture itself.

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Democratised

Yep. For example look at geograph.org.uk .

3 million pictures by people, people like me.

A handful are good photography. You still need to know where to point it,what not to include, and how to be patient.

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Lester looks a damn sight better in B/W

Than he does in real light... (sorry Lester!)

B&W on silver all the way for me: OM1 and 2 for 35mm, Mamiya 645 and Reflex Korelle for 120mm, and Micro Precision Press and home-made cameras for 4*5. Can't afford to feed anything bigger!

Loving the look of some of the vintage emulsions that were produced in the FSU until recently; no red sensitivity... develop in ID-11 or Rodinal or Caffenol (look it up!) and occasionally the older processes - there's all sorts of creativity out there if you look!

Can't argue though that digits are the way for quick images - just rather annoyed that Olympus have pulled out of the semi-pro market and no longer provide tools for my E400.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Lester looks a damn sight better in B/W

Thanks very much Neil. I'll have a quick trawl through the LOHAN archive to find something equally flattering ;-)

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Re: Lester looks a damn sight better in B/W

Heh. Take it as a compliment, it's a damn fine shot!

And I *know* I look better in the dark!

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Re: Lester looks a damn sight better in B/W

It is indeed a very fine shot.

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Re: Lester looks a damn sight better in B/W

And numerous ales later....

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Anonymous Coward

Great article.

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You'd be surprised how many teenagers I see on the photo forums I hang about on, talking about film and asking the old-hands how best to mix their solutions and develop their films. A lot of them love putting in the hard work that film shooting requires. I've been there and done it, I just want to shoot now.

Shooting film takes real dedication and patience as you have to know you have it right. There's no little replay to tell you how it went. However digital means you get more time to spend being creative. I'm not one of those gear-head snappers, I want to go out and get creative with my photos not spend hours on forums being a completely anal "measur-bator", obsessed with the numbers in photography!

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Anonymous Coward

>>So, with a box of man-sized tissues handy<<

Wasn't sure whether to cry or wank, did both.

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to be a good photographer you must understand your equipment

Using the best kit does not automatically mean you get great pictures, learn to properly use the camera and more oftern than not you will get good results

I am a keen amiture photographer, and now have reasionable kit, I taught myself how to compose the shots, control the settings and in general use a superzoom camera to its potental, on several occaisions at a wedding or day out with freinds I was prodicung better photos on full manual with a £150 superzoom than people using £1,000+ DSLRs.

Now I own a DSLR and instantly noticed how the better camera makes it easier take great pictures, but still I can produce better photos consistantly with manual settings on a my 7 year old superzoom than most people with a far better camera can on auto mode.

I have trouble producing reasionable pictures without a viewfinder or manual settings.

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Re: to be a good photographer you must understand your equipment

Have to agree with you there. Although I still dabble with film (a couple of years ago even fine quality Canons and Mamiyas were going for pennies down here), when it comes to digital, my DSLRs always have it on vivid, well saturated images due to the sensor sizes, but I still get my best results on a Samsung Pro815 superzoom. Tiny sensor, but brilliant lens (28-410mm zoom - f1.8 at the wide end) and all the manual control you could desire, which is especially useful with a camera that has no image stabilisation and a 'hunt around and hope for the best' approach to autofocus at anything over 200mm.

Couldn't agree more though that, apart from purely technical stuff like sensor size, quality of glass, etc, the most important part of getting a great picture is the photographer's eye.

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Re: to be a good photographer you must understand your equipment

"I have trouble producing reasionable pictures without a viewfinder or manual settings."

Glad it's not just me that dislikes cameras with no VF. Then again, I'm still using my old OM1 and Canon EOS-50.

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"The first week we spent working out the flash power required to get through the blackout windows on the prison vans."

Just when I was thinking that all press photographers weren't evil, you had to spoil it for me. :(

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Great article.

I've seen many take the machine-gun approach:- fire off 299 shots and one will hit the target.

Lack of (spare) funds keep me wedded to my film kit (2 F4s & 1 F-801s bodies) and I shoot Fujichrome: Cost also means each shot is generally considered - but not of course, always successful. Still enjoy it & find it relaxing - and my faithful old Coolscan V lets me share with friends and family.

It's obviously different for a Pro, when you need to put food on the table & keep the wolf from the door, but as an amateur, I honestly don't think it matters a damn what you use if - a) you enjoy it , and b) you're happy with your results.

Chill:- and enjoy!

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Re: Great article.

Just picked up an F4 from KEH this week. $150. I'll shoot film until I can't get it any more. And now I can do it with cameras I couldn't afford as a kid.

// digital, too, but film builds more character

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Canon AE-1

Still got my Dad's one, with a bunch of lenses. It was the first ever shutter speed priority camera I think, it sets the aperture automatically. Should dig it out and see if I can still take photos with it before it becomes completely impossible to get film developed anymore......

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Re: Canon AE-1

Still lots of places you can get it developed. Black and white is very easy to do at home - I more or less taught myself, with the aid of a handy PDF from the Ilford website.

Even colour, despite some dire warnings about temperature control, isn't impossible to do, and given the shocking increase in postal charges in recent years, you may well end up saving money compared to professional development, even after picking up the kit secondhand (around 30 quid for a chemical pack that will process a dozen E6 films).

One of my friends does C41 processing at home, heating things up with a fan heater and using an old Agfa Rondinax tank, so there's not even any messing around with a changing bag: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6e4Kl41OKU

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Lovely piece!

Brings back memories. I tend(ed) to go to extremes: Ilford HP400 pushed to 1600 for theatre photography on the one hand, Kodak Technical Pan film developed in Technidol LC for super-fine grain landscape. I still have a print of water, reeds and willow tree taken with a Carl Zeiss 85mm F/1.4 at F/2.8 in my office. Closest thing I ever got to Ansel Adams (still a LONG way to go ;-) ).

I also did a whole lot of botanical photography on Fuji Provia, and the odd wedding of friends on Kodak Portra. Still have the camera lying around somewhere. Pity really.

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(Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

Re: Lovely piece!

I tried pushing HP5 to 1600 before T-Max 3200 came on the scene, but the image was so thin it was pretty much a washout, as I recall.

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Joke

" it takes years of graft "

I guess if you're a politician....

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Happy

Sensorex & Kodak for me

Still have my original (and backup) Sensorex(es).

Only ever used Ektachrome, Kodachrome, Plus-x, Panatomic-x, and Tri-x (and some IR B&W & Colour).

Have the wonderful (although fully manual) Macro lens they made. Not perfect cameras, but never really wanted anything else and haven't really moved into digital as seriously.

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Windows

Great stuff...

Just went to the cellar to get my old Canon EOS 600 out. Matching Canon flashgun. Forgot I'd got them.

OK, maybe now I'll get the film loader fixed...

As some wag commented here earlier (I think) "Daddy, daddy, what's a camera?" "A smartphone that can't make calls")

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Digital cameras have gotten worse

I have an ancient Olympus C-3000Zoom, and when I take a pic, I can be reasonably certain it's at least in focus and properly lit, so I keep about 50% of the pictures. Now I notice most of my off-the-cuff pictures with newer stuff are blurry blown-out crap. None of the "image stabilization" or "fast focus" or "sophisticated" exposure meters seem to do shit and I spend most of my time fighting them and compensating for their stupid crap. I end up hitting delete for 95% of the images.

It's also stupid design. For example, I was getting ready to take pics of the SpaceX launch, so I set my Canon on a tripod to manual focus at infinity. The camera shut off because of the delay, and when it turned back on, it went back on autofocus without my noticing. What kind of dipshit design is that?

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I happily dropped classic film the same place I dropped paper books - on the garbage heap of history. And I was VERY happy I could do that 10+ years ago and I am still today

Like the majority of camera users I do this to have some memories, show some hobby work and general fun. And there the low price per shot and the quick check capabilities outweight everything else. Back in the "bad old days" I never knew if a shot was good until I returned home and had the film developed (hopefully without a screw up). IF the film survived, a associate lost quite a few shots when a film did not make it out of the camera. Not to mention all the things that could go wrong in developing the film, in getting a proper color etc.

With digital systems I can check that "won't come back here in a decade if at all" shots mere minutes after taking them. Fire up the tablet pc, download (actually used a EyeFi card) and check. I can back them up at that time as well, not to mention SD cards being more rugged/easier to use than film. At the same time with an SD card giving me hundrets of pictures between changes AND card changes being quick/cards being small I can "risk a shot". In the old days it was always the "is this good enough to use one of my 36 exposures" thinking and more than one shot was not taken that was latter regretted (or was taken and latter missed).

And LEARNING gets a lot easier/cheaper with modern systems as well. Again, instant check, instant repeat and no hesitation to go out and do 1000 test/training shots - only costs time. And since 90+ percent of photography is getting experience how to use the equipment and how to compose the picture - training got a lot cheaper with digital cameras. Nothing beats a "shoot, check, adjust, re-shoot" set for learning techniques.

That modern digital cameras offer a lot of useful automatisation and support systems like a WaStab<<<Imaga Stabiliser etc. is another benefit.

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Looking at old photos

The most striking thing about any snap from the 1970s is how slim everyone looks. Flat tummies all round.

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Facepalm

Re: Looking at old photos

It's because we were all younger then!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Looking at old photos

And we could not afford to visit the USA...

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Anonymous Coward

dig'ed up

I swapped the enlarger and trays for photoshop the first time I used it. I can do things with it, even with v5 that I was using at the time, that were between painful and impossible by manual printing. I still shoot film as well as digital though. I love film for what it does - the joy of HP5 from a half-frame Olympus or panoramas from a Horizon or Spinner. If I was teaching photography though, it would be digital.

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Boffin

Nice

"So, with a box of man-sized tissues handy lest tales of 35mm film prove too lachrimose, read on..."

Rollei kind of chap myself. How else do you get the lovely African bride resplendant in her white dress in the sun outside the church along with her Ginger haired/green eyed groom in salt'n'pepper penguin suit? The Kodak wedding colour negative films and the NPH400 had such a tail on them it was unreal. I'm talking 1 metre square prints.

FP4 in Rodinol 1+50 for 12 to 15 mins was ace as well.

35mm note: the lady who processed and colour printed my trannies at the local developers could tell which negs were from the Leica and which from the Nikon (35mm focal length lenses both).

"You can't just pick up a brush and knock up a masterpiece. You can't just jump into a plane and fly it. It's the same with snapping, it takes years of graft to get to where we are as pros."

True of many occupations I feel.

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Never got into film

I was never that good at using film, the cost was just too much and I quit out of the photography subject I took at uni.

My first major experience with digital photography was back in 1997 working on a Google-streetview type project for a university campus. All the panoramas and links had to be created manually. Was thousands of photos that had to be taken.

I don't really hang out with photographers in forums as they just annoy me and a lot of people are more interested in having a pull over technical specifications than taking photos. Not sure if people like having digital cameras as toys to play with or actually using them.

I spend more time archiving and backing up photos than I do taking them and I go out 100+ times per year to take photos of local gigs in the live music scene.

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Film could quickly become an expensive PITA

Not much fun getting a bad batch of stock in the studio, getting a pink caste on the results and having to redo the whole thing. The expense! The delays. Digital has revolutionised photography for the better in many ways.

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If you love photography...

Try using film and develop yourself, well worth the effort and smells :D - Once you have some negs, scan them in and away your go.

Always remember, the best camera is the one you have with you!

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No love for Tri-X

Growing up in the US, Kodak was the dominant supplier, although my high school lab used Ilford developer on our Kodak film. I still have my first serious camera from 1980, a Nikon FM, and fond memories of the magic of B&W printing where you could watch it develop.

As for slide film, I preferred the 3rd way and my favorite back in the 80s was Agfachrome 200 when I could find it since it was warmer than Ektachrome and used the same E6 process. When I got back into serious photography in the 90s I went with Fuji Provia since Agfa was unobtanium. Nowadays I shoot digital on a Nikon SLR but I still have my FM and I'm thinking of finding a darkroom so I can show my kids how it's done. I like film for it's range and for the element of craft, but I'm happy with digital because it makes it easier to make the image I have in my mind.

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Nice article.

Interesting read. As an active flickr user I'm truly amazed at some of the pictures people can take with basic gear (i.e. iPhone, etc). However, real photography does require an understanding of the interplay of the focal length, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and of course light.

Nowadays anyone can get capture a good photo. The difference is pros do it far more regularly because they're not relying on a lot of luck.

Loved the photos.

On a somewhat related note, one of my pictures was on flickr Explore today, so i'm quite chuffed about that.

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