Wildlife and nature photographers don’t have it easy; I don’t think one can argue with that. They go to great lengths to get their shot – from remote, sometimes inaccessible locations, to unpredictable weather and light conditions – the wildlife photographer has to submit to the whims of the natural world, which makes it a tough but thrilling space.
It can also be argued that modern-day wildlife photographers, especially those who came of age in the digital era, have things a lot easier than their predecessors. Travel is easy and affordable, comfortable accommodation is readily available almost wherever you go, tailor-made jeep safaris are there for the asking, wildlife, in general, has become habituated to safari jeeps, and last but not least, the giant leaps in camera technology and post-production/photo-editing software. As a friend wryly commented after reading the specs of the latest camera, "Might as well sit in a rocking chair and click remotely!". I can hear knives being unsheathed and before they come out let me say that there still exist degrees of difficulty. I can testify to the fact, having indulged in wildlife photography myself.
All said and done, there is also no denying the fact that photography as a whole has become much easier if not entirely unconscious. We raise our cameras and fire away at everything that moves without a second thought. The advent of the phone camera has been a game-changer. I would not hesitate to say that smartphones have had the biggest impact on photography in our generation.
However, the resultant speed and ease of use have resulted in a largely unnoticed tradeoff – the camera has almost replaced our eyeballs. We no longer spend time looking at our subjects as the advances in camera technology have made that strictly optional. Observing wildlife, noticing what you might otherwise ignore – what photography was supposed to force you to do – is now not a priority. With the rise of social media platforms like Instagram, we no longer feel the need to print our photographs to show them off. We can share our pictures with the world with a simple click of a mouse.
Who or what is the victim of these rapid changes in technology? The photographer who is unable to adapt? In my opinion the real victims of, let’s call it ‘Fast Photography’ as in ‘Fast Food’, are all of us and not just those who have failed to adapt. We have forgotten the joy of photography as an activity. This begs the question, is it time to slow down?
‘Slow Photography’ is a term describing a movement or trend in contemporary photography and arts which arose as a response to the spread of digital photography and the advent of photo-sharing platforms on the internet. Slow Photography does not mean the total rejection of technology, it instead encourages us to reflect on how we are using technology, and if a ‘slower’ alternative method may bring us more benefits. It encourages us to change the relationship between the process and the results, to plant the idea that the photos themselves, aka the results, are secondary. The goal is the experience of studying an object closely, in our case wildlife and nature, exercising creative choices and finding satisfaction in the process of taking a photograph.
Choosing to slow down
Slowing down is not everyone’s cup of tea; it demands a rather large intellectual shift, a steep learning curve and more often than not, a painful withdrawal process. However, once the decision is made, there are various options available. Some of which are:
- Disabling continuous high-speed shooting
- Restricting the number of frames shot per day
- Stop looking at instant image replays
- Move to film
Back to analogue
One way to slow down is to move back to film or analogue photography. Whether you prefer the term retro, vintage or old school, the familiar quote: “What’s old is new again” has a ring of truth to it. Photographers in other genres have reacted to this new digital normal by actively seeking out something more soulful and personal. Their choice? Film!
There is an entire generation of photographers that has not experienced film photography. These photographers have not felt the fear and excitement of taking a once-in-a-lifetime shot and not knowing if they have got it right, who have not waited expectantly to see if their efforts have resulted in photos that are good, bad or ugly. And they certainly have not experienced the ‘happy accidents’ associated with a badly loaded film; light leaks, collapsed shutters or any of the other ‘defects’ that cannot be corrected in post-processing but which can transform an average shot into a one-of-a-kind photograph.
The pure joy of a mechanical camera, the hands operating levers and dials (real tangible objects) rather than just pressing buttons, to be able to interact with all of one’s senses and experience real-world pleasures – going analogue has the potential to create a high that few can resist.
Not just nostalgia
Sometime last year, I found myself with a bit of spare time on my hands and in an attempt to keep myself busy I decided to tackle certain tasks that I had always wanted to complete but never, for some unfathomable reason, got down to doing. At the top of the list was refurbishing my collection of vintage cameras and lenses.
Now, these are more than just collector’s items to me, they are an integral part of my family, having been passed down by my grandparents, father, in-laws and other members. While I expected to experience a certain amount of nostalgia, as I too have used these cameras, I was not prepared for what was to come.
As I began to handle these cameras, muscle memory buried deep down in my system resurfaced and took a firm hold on my mind. Having started during the film age, the return to film was a no-brainer. If there is a lesson to be learnt from the present world situation, it is that we need to relook at our priorities as we seem to be hurtling towards our destruction.
Time to slow down?