A few months back I was at York Hall, Bethnal Green in London photographing a night of professional boxing. I went to support competitor from my neck of the woods, Elliott Matthews. The ring side photographer’s arsenal usually consists of modern DSLR Cannons and Sony’s.
On this occasion I decided to go old school, and take the Leica M2 and a 35mm summicron-m lens. So why would I shoot on an old film camera that was made sometime in the 1950s with a lens from the same era? Why use a camera that has no automation at all? Why shoot film in the 21st century? I think it’s because it’s easy to take the easy option. With film every shot costs, and you have a limited number of shots. I took one roll of Ilford Delta 3200 and was limited to only 36 exposures. As a result I had to slow down my process, think before each shot, watch the fighters, read the scene in front of me, focus accordingly by hand and press the shutter only when I think there is going to be a good result, when it’s worth it. There is no LCD screen on the back of a camera made 60 plus years ago, I cannot check my focusing, or exposure as I go. So I must trust my knowledge of exposure and skill of manual focusing on a fast moving subject. I also have to wait to get my film back from the lab with prints to see if my shots are any good.
The arms race in pursuit of the best low light performance, higher frame rate, faster and more accurate focusing and tracking drive the sports photographers kit for today. Automation and rapid fire allow the capture a vast number of images, almost at video capture frame rates, this permits the photographer to choose their “decisive moment” later and select the best images. If it sounds like I’m opposed to this technological advancement in the medium I love, I am not. Technology is improving all the time, and it’s very exciting. Never before has it been so easy for anyone to pick up a camera and produce photographs and share them with a wide audience. It’s inspiring to have an environment where people can share their ideas and creativity, but it does seem that gone are the days of needing to understand photography in order to be a photographer.
Receiving a package in the post that I knew were my photographs reminds me of the excitement I felt as a child when getting my holiday shots back from the chemists. I was very happy with the images and feel that I have a much higher hit rate of good images than I would have had machine gunning the event.
I think it’s important not to become dependent on the automation that is slowly creeping into camera technology as it may rob you of learning experiences you never knew you might need. Practicing old techniques revitalises your eye and is very rewarding. When the results are similar to the boxing photography of the era of the camera and to that of images that inspired my desire to attend these events in the first place. All photographers need explore photography to grow as an artist and feed our aspiration to do better. And all remember one thing. “No photographer is as good as the simplest camera” Edward Steichen