I got to talk people photography (See the interviews here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three.) with Chris Marquardt last year for his top audio and video photography podcast, Tips from the Top Floor, and now this multi-talented media producer, photographer, and videographer has been kind enough to join me to contribute today’s guest post :) In this article, Chris talks about the unexpected benefits of limitations on your photography. It’s hard sometimes to make the argument for analog over digital – I can’t imagine living without the magic of digital photography anymore! But, Chris explains what a difference adding constraints can make, and his images make the point for him.
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Post + Photos by Chris Marquardt
I produced some of my best work when I had to use some of the most limiting tools. Like many, I thrive on constraints. They force me to leave the beaten path and stretch beyond my boundaries. This leads to growth, and whenever I grow, it makes me very, very happy.
My happiness has also to do with choice, but in different ways than you might think. When I watched Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert’s TED Talk about happiness, it changed my approach to photography. It’s hard to put his talk and its implications into written form, but in short it is about choice and how we tend to set ourselves up for misery. I can only recommend you watch it! Possibly the best spent twenty minutes of your life: Dan Gilbert, Why Are We Happy?
The essence of Gilbert’s talk is simple, but the implications are huge: Choice is good and desirable, but only up to a certain amount. Choice beyond that level will make us unhappy. Which is pretty much at odds with most people’s expectations. Is more really better? After watching the talk, you might end up at a very different conclusion.
But what does that have to do with photography?
Whenever I talk photography and how to get to the next level, I also mention how limitation and constraint help me discover new creative ways in my photography. If I don’t challenge myself, I stay inside my comfort zone, I won’t grow. Today I often shoot with one single prime lens, I restrict myself by working along an assignment, I try to squeeze out the last bit of composition that a single location has to offer. And as a result I return home with a deep feeling of satisfaction. And with better photography.
About two years ago I started adding another constraint. I re-discovered film photography and its inherent limitations. I kicked it off with a used medium format camera that gets fifteen shots to a roll of film. Without a built-in light meter. Fifteen shots! All of a sudden every single shot counts. Initially that hurt. Then over time I learned to trust the medium, because I had to. I learned to trust my instincts, and I learned to trust my judgment. “If you load black and white ﬁlm into your camera, your whole world becomes black and white until a new roll is loaded.” C.J. Chilvers said that.
And then here’s choice again. Digital photography is all about choice. When working in the digital mind-set, a lot of my decisions come down to increasing choice. I avoid strong contrasts, more choice during post. I frame a bit wider and make the choice about the final crop later. I shoot in color and then convert to black-and-white. I sometimes even bracket and make the exposure decision later. The list goes on.
At this point I usually get the question, “But isn’t choice what makes digital photography so wonderful?” Absolutely! I can quickly try out things, do several “developments” of the same picture and compare versions. I love digital photography for its speed, its surgical precision, its endless ways to get to the result, its super cleanliness and its way of being a wonderful learning tool. I owe a lot to the digital SLR.
But whenever I spend time in the analog realm, I am making a choice. A choice for a more conscious approach, a choice to be less casual about what I shoot and how I shoot it, a choice for a type of film and with it, a picture style. And all of a sudden, the limitation of film turns into an enormous freedom.
There is now a new generation of photographers who have never shot a single roll of film. It might sound old-fashioned, but I believe they could really benefit from spending an entire weekend with one single camera, one fixed focal length and two rolls of film in their pocket.