Was Photography Ever Simple?

on July 15, 2021

Or easy to do? Or inexpensive? I used to think I knew the answer to those questions but now I'm not so sure.

Everyone reading this...both of you...has a history in photography. You started to learn it with one set of equipment and materials and have progressed to different ones. Some of you have gone through many eras and sets of equipment. And many periods of photographic fashion...but that's a topic for another column.

When you started it was a complex thing to do. You might have just been cranking a 127 Verichrome Pan or FP3 film through a Kodak or an Ilford, but you had to learn how to load, advance, and count your exposures. You might have only had one speed on your camera, but probably there were choices - at least the choice of time exposure or snap shot. You may have had two apertures and a sliding switch for focus distance. And you had the entire universe of weather, sunshine, cloud, and other factors that made up your light palette. No wonder you were thinking hard , even with the simplest of cameras.

If you came into the craft a bit later you might have got started with a camera that did a lot of the exposure thinking for you. But it compelled you to do a lot more technical stuff to get a focus. Still, that was rewarding because a focused picture made everything look better.

Cost? A lot - even when it was at pound, shilling, and pence prices. The cameras, film, and processing were a considerable expense compared to an average weekly wage, and no-one in their right mind wasted money on constant equipment swapping or overshooting a job. Wise professionals bracketed exposures and even took pictures with the new-fangled Polaroid cameras to see if they got things right before they packed up for the day.

Even the plain Mum and Dad photographers had their anxieties. They may have done exactly what the pamphlet said and put the sun at their backs as they lined the family up under the Hills Hoist for the annual Christmas photo. They may have squeezed the shutter rather than jerked it. They may even have made sure it was level...but they never really knew how good it would come out until they collected the envelope of prints from the chemist at the end of the week.

You know, come to think of it, someone should invent a way to take pictures with electricity and make it all so much simpler...