RICHARD WONG – A COMPUTER PROGRAMMER WITH A SELF-PRESCRIBED PARANOID PERSONALITY – OVERCAME HUGE PERSONAL RESERVATIONS TO DITCH HIS BELOVED DIGITAL BODIES IN FAVOUR OF USING FILM ONLY TO SHOOT A RECENT HOLIDAY. THIS WAS THE RESULT.
Auckland-based wedding and portrait photographer Richard Wong admits he is a disciple of the digital age. A fulltime computer programmer and part-time photographer the Hong Kong-born snapper has invested much of his 40 years studying the sciences behind electronic and mechanical devices.
Having always had a keen interest in the physics behind cameras he was able to study the subject in more depth during his time at university as an engineering student and indulged even further after choosing digital image processing as his specialist research topic as part of his masters degree.
“I turned photography from hobby into a part time job in mid 2000s when I started doing some automotive photography jobs and started providing photos to magazines I didn’t have any formal training. I just read a lot of photography books, magazines and YouTube videos. Back when I was a student, I would go to the library and borrow a stack of photography magazines every week or two and read them all. I especially liked the critique section in some of the magazines as it showed me how to turn an average photo into a good photo or a good photo into a great photo. I also spent a lot of time looking at other people’s photo, trying to understand why other people’s photos look so much better than my similar photo. What am I missing and what I could have done to improve my photos?”
But having fully embraced digital photography work soon after the tech first became available, last year Richard – who uses a Nikon Coolpix, Nikon D50, Nikon D200, Nikon D700, and Nikon D800 as well as several NIKKOR lenses and speedlights – took the surprise step of picking up some of his lesser used camera bodies to add film into the mix. And to his surprise he enjoyed the results.
Drawn to the grainy aesthetic and the way film negatives handle highlights, Richard says the biggest advantage he has found in using film is because of the distinct personal challenge it represents. Admitting he had picked up a number of bad habits over the decade he had been shooting digital – including reviewing his images immediately after taking them and deleting any that didn’t appear 100 percent in focus at maximum magnification – Richard says the cost, time and resource restrictions when incorporating more film into his work have forced him to take a more considered approach to his photography.
“Ever since I start shooting film again, I found myself really enjoying photography a lot more. Film and film cameras have a lot more technical limitation when compared to the latest digital cameras. For example, film has limited speed range and you can’t change the film speed during mid-roll. Not only that, the shutter speed you can choose on your film camera is usually a lot more restrictive. So you have to think about the lighting condition and pre-plan what film you want to load onto your camera. Unlike digital cameras where storage is virtually free, which makes me shoot without thinking much, each time I click the shutter on a film camera it costs me money.
“Frankly I still don’t feel very secure when shooting film [and] because of all those limitations, I spend a lot more time to think and look carefully before I shoot when using a film camera. My brain and eyes have to work a lot harder and this improves my photography.”
In September a family trip to Australia, his first abroad with his two-year-old son, provided the ideal opportunity to put his newly re-discovered skills to the test. His lack of confidence in his own abilities meant Richard considered a hybrid solution encompassing both film and digital. But in weighing up his desire to overcome his dependence on his digital bodies against his fear of being left with no useable imagery from his trip or difficulty shooting in low light, Richard eventually made the decision to leave the digital bodies at home in favour of taking his Nikon F3 and Nikon 35TI film cameras only.
Richard says the fear of something bad happening to his film proved unfounded and despite purchasing 20 rolls of film for the nine-day trip he only ended up requiring 12. With some hits and some misses Richard, who documented the experience for his blog Review by Richard, says the slow photography movement is definitely an experience he is eager to repeat.
“I really enjoyed the film-only holiday trip, it was a really refreshing experiment and luckily it didn’t turn out as a total disaster. Film cameras are really a lot more simple when compared to my latest Nikon DSLRs. The technical limitations and the fact that each time I click the shutter it costs me money meant I couldn’t be lazy. I had to think a lot harder, look more carefully and time the moment more precisely. With a film camera, there is no LCD screen for me to chimp my photo and examine the pixels. I can immediately detach my mind from the camera after taking a photo and enjoy the next moment with the family.
The analog photos remind me that I’m shooting photos not shooting pixels. If the photo is a bit soft or out of focus, that’s fine as long as the photo composition, timing etc is good.
“[Overall] I shot a lot slower and gave a lot more thought before I clicked the shutter. I paid a lot more attention to my composition and to smaller details. “The slower pace made me enjoy the process of taking photos a lot more.”
To see more Richard’s work, visit www.photobyrichard.com or follow him on Flickr here.
In Richard’s Bag:
Nikon F3 with Nikon AIS 50mm f/1.2
20 rolls of film
While not exactly light weight, everything (yes including the tripod) fitted in my messenger bag easily with a lot of space left for my other daily stuff.
Words: Tracey Porter