No, not how to photograph legendary glam rock bands, but the old mnemonic that my dad taught me when I was a kid just picking up a camera for the first time ‘Keep It Simple Stupid!’
Photography is as simple or complex as you want to make it, and goodness knows I’ve been as guilty of over complicating things as the next photographer. Take film for example: I have very little self-control when it comes to buying film, especially black and white. I mean there are so many brands, never mind speeds. The bottom drawer of our freezer is a kaleidoscope of different film packaging. Then there are developers: this one for fine grain, this one for speed boosting, that one – well because the film manufacturer recommended it. Then there are lenses. The more I have, the harder it is to decide which ones to put in the bag for a day’s shooting. I mean If I’m taking out the Nikon F4 kit I just have to take the 60mm macro in case I spot a nice flower; oh, and the 85mm f1.4 in case I do a portrait.
Hang on, wind back: I used to earn my living with just three lenses. Firstly, as a wedding photographer with a 55mm, an 80mm and very occasionally a 180mm on roll film. Then as a theatre photographer with 35mm gear and again just three prime lenses: a 24mm, a 50mm and an 85mm. For film I used 200iso Fuji colour negative and occasionally 400iso for the weddings, and 400iso black and white Ilford HP5 or 400 fuji. Why is it that when my cameras, film and lenses put food on the table I could be minimalist, yet now I not only metaphorically carry the kitchen sink, but a metaphorical box of spare sink plugs too!
Of course, I know why I’ve not been heading my dad’s words from all those years ago. It’s because all those wonderful film cameras that were too expensive for me to justify when I used them as tools of my trade, have now become very affordable. Well, okay, not as affordable as ten years ago perhaps, but still far more budget friendly than chasing the latest digital wonder. I shot most of my theatre stuff on a pair of battered old Nikon FM2s that were probably third hand when I got them. I could only drool at the adverts for the Nikon F4 when it came out. Now I have an F4s, it cost me just over £150 instead of over four figures.
So now I can have the kit I always wanted – great but wait! The more gear I have, the more decisions I have to make: primes or zooms, Bergger or Ilford, travel tripod or ‘full fat’ Manfrotto. The bottom line is I’m having less fun, getting more tired and stressed, and more importantly not getting as many ‘stand out’ shots as I used to?
The answer is obvious, I’ve been letting the means get more important than the end. GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) has bloated me to the point where some sort of action needs to be taken or there’ll be an explosion!
Now let’s get sensible, I can’t sell my whole cupboard full of cameras and lenses, I would get withdrawal symptoms. I can however go ‘cold turkey’ for a while to try and get back my mojo.
First the film: well I am standardising on two emulsions for everything. Because I have most experience with Ilford materials that will be Delta 100 and delta 400 And just one developer, my old standby Rodinal. It’s versatility and long keeping properties keep me coming back to it again and again.
So camera wise I am going to try and spend at least a couple of months using nothing but my lovely old 1938 Leica iiib with either my Canon screw mount f1.8 or my Industar f3.5 collapsible lens. Why not my Nikon F4s? Well, I have a wide range of lenses available in F mount, and with pretty much infallible matrix metering, motor wind and a one hundred percent accurate viewfinder it hardly presents a challenge, and it does present a range of temptations.
I started my resolve with a visit to a local steam preservation railway and I’ll include some results here. How did it feel just to have an ancient rangefinder camera and one lens? In a word liberating. My back wasn’t protesting from my bag loaded to the brim, and I felt much more instantly ready to capture anything interesting that happened in front of my lens. I was free to enjoy the day simply as a spectator, yet immediately able to bring my camera to my eye and react to a picture opportunity.
A side effect of using the Leica was that it started conversations and made people smile – how many modern cameras will elicit that response?
So if you are feeling photographically jaded, why not try a little exercise in K.I.S.S?