The aura around image making

Way back in the days of film only - the 80’s, when I was around 21, I got my first film camera. It was an EOS 650 with standard lens.

At the time, pressing the shutter was a big deal. Because every time I fired the shutter, I had committed some light to film. There was no undo feature, no delete button, and there was no preview to check that I’d got what I thought I had. Learning was slow, because it was often weeks before I got the film back, and in that time I would have forgotten how I’d set the exposure of the camera.

Elgol, Isle of Skye, 2010. Image © Bruce Percy 2010

Elgol, Isle of Skye, 2010. Image © Bruce Percy 2010

Everything about working with cameras back in the 80’s meant that firing the shutter was a pretty big deal. As a result, most of the time, you didn’t do it. Everyone, and I mean everyone, thought twice before they fired the shutter. It was a different time, a different place we were in. All we had were analog cameras and firing that shutter meant we had to be sure we wanted to make the shot.

Although these days I am in a position not to worry about the cost of film and it’s associated processing, I still find that pressing the button of my camera has remained ‘a pretty big deal’ for me.

Some things become engrained in us.

Sure there were financial aspects to pressing the shutter back in the 80’s, but there was also an aura around the process of making images. We had no preview screens with with to check the final image, and there were often days if not weeks before we saw the results, so learning from our mistakes was much slower. We had to learn to trust ourselves, and our judgement had to come before we fired the shutter, not as it is now for many where they fire the shutter and then cast judgment on the preview.

But most importantly for me: there was a sense of magic that happened between the point I fired the shutter and seeing the final image. Often what I saw with my eye and what came out in the film were quite different. Getting films back was like Christmas each time: rarely if ever, did an image come out the way I had expected and this meant that there were real surprises as well as disasters in the processed films.

This ‘aura’ around firing the shutter has always stayed with me.

Although I am now in a financial position not to worry about the cost of exposing film, I still find that firing the shutter means a pretty big deal to me. There is a sense of commitment to it, a sense of finality. What has been done cannot be undone, and I have to live with the consequences. When I think that I’ve captured what I was looking for, I have to make a decision as to when to choose to walk away from a scene. To be able to say ‘i’ve got it’, and to walk away requires trusting in one’s own abilities, but perhaps more importantly, allowing oneself to ‘let go’. It’s ok if the images don’t come out, it’s ok if I screwed up, but I have developed a sense of faith in myself to get it right. Trust in one’s own abilities only comes when you are able to let go of technological crutches, and these days I tend to listen to my gut more.

As a photographer I have learned to listen to how I feel inside before I fire the shutter. I make the judgement before I make the picture, rather than making pictures and then making the judgement.

How does it work for you? Are you aware of how you feel at the point you fire the shutter? And specifically, have you learned to trust your gut? Or are you still relying on the technological crutches (preview screen) to confirm what you’ve got?