My long time friend, and photographer, Alex Neidbala stopped by my shop. Who, until his formal retirement in 2005 owned and operated Billows Photography in Kamloops, British Columbia.
As we talked about how we thought that changes in photography might affect the photographic art in the upcoming exhibition he had agreed to be one of the judges for, our conversation drifted into how we had photographed weddings in the 1980s and 1990s and how much different that is from today.
If one wanted superior quality enlargements greater than 8×10 the only option was medium format film, and that meant using film that produced 2¼ x 2¼ negatives. Medium format film could be purchased in rolls; mostly 120mm film size, and mostly 12 or 16 frames (pictures) per roll, depending on the camera.
At that time we both used a camera called a Hasselblad. A roll of film was loaded in a 12-exposure film magazine and attached to the camera. When 12 exposures were taken another loaded magazine was exchanged for more photography. This is one of the most significant changes and very different from the 190-image, 4GB memory card I normally use today.
Neidbala felt that our goal in those days was much harder than photographers have today, in that modern photographers can waste images, or give a client ten or twenty portraits of the same grouping to select from, without worrying about the cost of processing worthless prints. When a photographer is limited to changing film every twelve frames at such an important event as a wedding, every shot had to count. In addition, it took time to change film magazines, so photographers had to be prepared for every shot.
The Hasselblad didn’t have auto focus lenses or any other programmable modes for that matter. Photographers had to slowly change the manual focusing lenses that were much bigger, and heavier, in size then current DSLR lenses. A metered focusing head that could be attached to the camera body was available for use, but most used a hand-held light meter and the heavy motorized model advanced film at a “sizzling one-frame-per-second”.
Wedding albums contained either 5X5 or 8X8 and sometimes even 11X11 inch prints. The total number of prints shot was usually much less than 100 pictures, and each enlargement was printed in a custom lab, and any retouching was done by hand.
In modern photography we are able to take major risks with our photography; and if a creative shot didn’t work, delete it and try again. Instead of being limited to 12 permanent exposures for a family grouping, one is able to make multiple exposures, select the best photo; with everyone smiling and eyes open, no grimaces or funny faces, and then delete the rest. Retouching is no longer a long and laborious task with Photoshop; and even though there are custom labs high quality enlargements can be made at home; and the thought of less than 100 photographs in a wedding album is laughable.
Because digital cameras can produce images that don’t cost anything until they are printed, photographers don’t hesitate to make multiple exposures of every subject. It is not unusual for some photographers to arrive home from a wedding with over 1000 images stored on memory cards waiting for final selection.
Photography has been exciting for both Neidbala and I all these years because it has been an ever-changing medium, not only with the film and equipment we used, but also in the way we put that equipment to use working as professional photographers. I recall photographers older than me marvelling on my Hasselblad. Some were intrigued while others, much like some I still meet today, felt it was better to hold on to the tried-and-true technology of years gone by. Both Alex and I sold our Hasselblads and purchased digital cameras over ten years ago and are happy we did. I wonder what the camera of choice will be for photographers ten years in the future.