Shoot Film

In my camera bag are two Nikon D750’s, a Nikon F100, and a 50-year-old Minolta SRT101. If you don’t recognize the last two, they are 35mm film cameras. Yes, despite the time and cost, I still like to shoot 35mm. And no I do not own a Hasselblad 500c or a Rolleiflex (although that would be nice). I just don’t have a means for them to create income or reason to say look at me I’m a vintage hipster. Call me practical.

I’ll admit I’ve lost some of my passion for digital photography. Using Nikon D750’s, I’m almost convinced you can’t totally screw up a photo. You can blow the technical aspects of exposure by a handful of stops, shoot the wrong white balance, and still end up with a great image in the end. Even if there’s motion blur or the focus is slightly off it’s still considered art and you're ok, right? When in doubt make it black and white and call it creative?

What you consider is a good image isn’t always what consumers consider a good image, and vice-a-versa. I had to stop looking at semi-professional photographer's work on Facebook. I’ve seen so many images that are so far off from being technically or aesthetically correct with 20 comments from friends and family saying it’s a great picture. But hey, I was there too once, and those comments encouraged me to keep going. So who am I to burst someone's bubble? I look back at my work from 13 years ago and don’t know how I called myself a professional. I wish all I did was educate photographers who want to go pro. I want to setup a Facebook account that I can use just to comment on their photos and give them the honest truth but tell them why. That’s the answer that every comment is missing: Why? But is there a standard for art? I’ve seen plenty of photographs hanging on museum walls that shouldn’t be there in my opinion. But it’s there because of the opinion of others. That’s art.

Do I begin talking about how digital photography changed our industry for the better and worse? That’s too long of a story that gives too much room for bitter conversations. I left some links at the end.

Now just about everyone starts off shooting digital. I would love to take the spray and pray photographer and hand them a film camera. Take away the "one of those will work,” “fix it in Photoshop” mentality. I encourage every digital photographer to shoot film on the side. I remember when I picked up the Minolta 35mm camera and shot film for the first time in 15 years. It blew my mind. It’s a lesson in metering, timing, and waiting for the right shot because every frame on that roll of film seems to count 1000 times more than 50 frames of digital. You shoot one frame per second, if you’re fast enough, instead of 8-12. My favorite part is you get to live in the moment more because you’re not looking at the back of your camera to see if you got the shot. Besides thinking about how many shots you have left on the roll, you think in dollars every time you press that shutter. I was blown away by how much more I cherished that printed (gasp, I said printed) image. Is it the nostalgia of growing up with film, remembering my childhood in photo albums that had pages covered in plastic. Is it because the overall process of capturing the image took more thought than digital? Is it the craft of developing the film? Whatever it is, it’s what’s missing in digital.

We are now the lab. I know most of us die a little on the inside when we spend many hours "developing” 1000 images ourselves in Lightroom. I’m sure some of you have Lightroom presets that make your digital images look like film. I know plenty of photographers that make their digital images look like film for the overall look and feel of their work. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s just not my thing. Digital images with film presets have gotten so close in the way they look to actual fillm it becomes hard to tell which is which. I usually pick them out based on clarity, color hues, and dynamic range. But with all of these fads, or should I call them presets that cover up bad photography, whatever happened to consumers liking a good clean image that's level with the horizon and has proper color? The amazing thing about film is that when I get the images back from the lab, I don’t have any editing to do. Mind blown. Kind of like sending your RAW to ShootDotEdit to do all the work. With film, it may take a week or two to get the images, not knowing what I’m getting back or remembering what I shot, but it is so worth the wait it’s hard to explain.

Maybe we can blame our smartphones, Facebook, and Instagram for making photography so easy, and applying “creative” filters to get the image to feel the way you see it. Anyone in our industry will tell you how much photography has been devalued. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important, and that “ok” photography should be acceptable. If you want to really learn photography and add value to it, then make it hard again. Make your brain think about the shot before you hit the shutter. Make it hard for consumers to be ok with mediocre.  Shoot film.

Other good reads:

Death of Photography

Mike Yost: The Most Photographed Generation Will Have No Pictures in 10 Years! 

Richard EspositoComment
Educating Yourself

What is the definition of a professional photographer? The only technical one I remember hearing is that a majority of your income comes from doing photography. But that leaves out all of the knowledge it takes to be a great photographer. Photography has become a profession where the consumer doesn’t care about your level of education. An MFA is nice to have, but that doesn’t necessarily show talent behind a camera. So we can call ourselves a professional without any degree, certification, or even training. What if being a teacher, electrician, or even surgeon was the same way? Most great photographers I know spend money on workshops, seminars, conferences, and online videos. None of it is required. It seems anyone can buy the tools, create a product and make some money. I guess that’s being an artist. But how can you be an artist photographer without knowing Cartier-Bresson, Avedon or Leibovitz? 

I have gotten numerous texts from photographer friends (you know who you are) with questions like “Why is my camera doing this…” “How do I fix…” "Where do I find…” Somehow I’ve become a source of techie answers. When I get these texts, I’m often sitting at my computer searching Google only just to forward information. Where do I usually find the answers? The equipment manual. For me, the best education is the free education of reading the equipment manual or the instruction guide on the software companies website. I think it’s the most overlooked piece of education there is. 

I have fallen victim to “This is the next greatest thing” and felt the need to buy it immediately. I've purchased three different programs for album design. I try to justify the purchases by the speed I can design, and the time I can save, using the software vs. paying someone else to do the work. Or I can just use Photoshop to do the designs and save myself money, but cost myself time. It’s often an argument with myself because who wants to spend money when you can do it yourself, or have bills to pay. Sometimes spending the money on the software you think you need is the error, which is why a trial is a good thing. Don’t get me started on purchasing another photographer's Lightroom presets that they sell. I believe they are a waste. I use two that I made myself that are basic adjustments I apply to every one of my photos, and one for a nice black and white mix that I still make changes to. Why nothing else? First, it’s not my style. Second, I know how to make any look I want in Lightroom because I learned the program. I went with free online education via YouTube over dollars spent on presets. There are photographers out there making a good living selling things. Most of them are at conventions selling products to new, uneducated, photographers. Products new photographers most likely don’t need if they just learned their craft. No, you do not need that salad bowl piece of equipment for your flash. Before you purchase anything, ask yourself if your client will recognize the difference in your photos that that piece of equipment will make. Will it generate more business? Most likely not. Do you go to a restaurant and ask the chef what pans he uses to cook your food? No. So the equipment you use doesn’t matter. It's really about how you use it. 

I think the most important style of learning is trial and error. Experimental learning.  

My Experiment

I’ve recently seen a lot of posts about a piece of software (that will remain nameless, but probably obvious to pros) that does one simple thing; It makes your .jpeg files 30-80% smaller in megabytes while apparently maintaining its quality. I think more accurately it’s print quality. And it will only cost you about $20 or $100 depending on your level use. They justify your purchase based on the cost of the number of hard drives you would need if you didn’t shrink your file sizes. 

Me being the skeptic, I downloaded the trial to this software and compared it to what I can do with the export settings in Adobe Lightroom, software that we all have and pay for anyway. I couldn’t help but think, is there more than one way to compress a .jpeg? What does this software do other than set a compression level? Is there some other process to what it does? 

Right now I could do a few things. Read the info on the website about what it does (there wasn’t anything technically detailed), search the internet for what people are saying it does (nothing educational that made it clear), or my favorite, experimental learning. 

So I took a handful of RAW images and brought them into Lightroom. I’ll use just one for the example. After editing them, I exported a JPG at it’s highest level of compression, 100. It’s the cleanest, best quality jpg you can get. This is the image that I would compare to everything else and it is 22.4 mb. 

Then I exported at level 90, 80, 70 and 60. I started to notice a difference in file quality between the images when zoomed in at 200%. 100, 90 and 80 all look all the same. Flipping between the images, I didn’t see any pixels changing. But the file sizes did from 22.4mb, 13.8mb, and 9.7mb respectively. Level 70 is where I started to notice a difference, and 60 was just not ok with me seeing .jpeg compression tiling. 

Then I looked at the file sizes and began to experiment more. 70 - 76 all had the same file size, 7.1mb, and no visual difference. 77 - 80 all had the same file size with no visible difference (I stopped at 80). 

The difference between 70 and 80 was minimal at 200%. 80 was a little sharper. I’m sure if you print the images you won’t notice anything. File sizes change from 7.1 MB at level 70 to 9.7 MB at level 80. 

Now time for the software. There are no options except do it. So I did it. I compared images carefully to the level 70 and 80 images from Lightroom. The quality of the compression was nearly identical to the level 70 with some notice of compression. And oddly enough, a slightly larger file size than level 80. 7.1mb at level 70, 9.7 MB at level 80 and the software at 10.2 MB. Yes, you’re reading that right. The software created level 70 quality images that are larger in MB than level 80 images. The software produced less quality with a larger file size than what Lightroom did. 

Kind of dumbfounded I tried multiple images. I got the same results. Level 70 quality images with about a level 80 file size. 

You can’t tell side by side here or sized down on this blog, but when you look at the layered PSD and turn layers on and off to compare, you’ll see the changes. 

So, in the end, I’ve learned this: First, all the before and after examples from the software that I’ve seen online are all too small to see any detail. So they are deemed useless in my opinion. Level 70-76 exported from Lightroom get’s the same compression that the software did. I like my images at level 80 the best (PS in Photoshop it’s a level 10 JPG). I've now learned that I can export from Lightroom and save the same amount of space, sometimes more, with the same quality, if not better, than the software was able to do for me.

So in about 15 minutes of exploration and experimental learning, I saved myself $100, hard drive space, and one less step in my workflow. 

Even after 14 years I still look back at previous work and think I could have done better. Why? Because I continue to get better. Every year I focus on one or two aspects of photography, or business, that I need to improve on. At the end of that year I pick something else to improve on and keep practicing. I’ve never stopped learning and exploring. I believe in learning everything you can and knowing that you can’t learn everything. I’ve been told many times I’m just talented or that I just have a great eye. That would not be if I didn’t study images and never stopped practicing my craft. We’ve all heard the phrase “The pursuit of perfection.” It’s a pursuit. If you ever think a photograph you’ve created is perfect then what’s left to pursue? Learn from every image you create. The client may not care that you don’t have a college degree, but they will notice if you don’t know what you are doing. So invest in educating yourself and not on software and gadgets that cover up a lack of know how.

Richard EspositoComment

"I have noticed that even people who claim everything is predetermined and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road."

— Stephen Hawking, From Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays

Without much doubt, we packed our house and moved to Charleston. I remember pulling the moving truck out of the driveway. What did we just do? I looked in my rearview mirror and saw my best friend behind me. He just helped pack us up. It was emotional. It was hard. But I never took my foot off the gas.

Once again, it’s about fear. The fear of leaving behind what you know to do something you’re not sure will work out in the end. If I kept looking at the fears of what’s ahead, or holding onto my fears of the past, I wouldn’t have been able to move forward. I had kept one book from when I went to college, probably one of the few I read in college, and I occasionally take it out. “Insight Meditation,” The Practice of Freedom by Joseph Goldstein. There’s a story in it that stood out to me, and I’ve thought about it many times.

“Imagine holding onto a burning hot coal. You would not fear letting go of it. In fact, once you noticed you were holding on, you would probably drop it quickly. But we often do not recognize how we hold onto suffering. It seems to hold onto us.”

Think about this. Someone tosses you a hot coal, and you drop that coal quickly. The pain subsides quicker. The healing process begins and ends faster. Now, when you are handed another hot coal in life you know what you have to do because of experience. But if you hold onto that hot coal and don't let go there becomes more pain, more suffering, and the longer you hold on the longer it takes to heal. Add more hot coals and you just won’t be able to handle them. At what point are the burns are permanent?

Know what your hot coals are. It could be infant portraits, handling your accounting, an unreasonable client, editing photos, or white shirt and khaki family portraits on the beach. Don’t fear doing it every time it comes up. Let go what causes you pain and suffering. Free yourself. Follow your passion. Find your calling. Be happy with what you do. Follow the path that unfolds in front of you, but don’t forget to steer.

Believe me, it wasn’t easy to follow my heart and make changes to my business, never mind move 800+ miles to a city where we didn’t know anyone. There are differences between knowing what you want to do, what others are asking you to do, and knowing what you should be doing. I’ve known what I should be doing for a couple of years now, and it hasn’t been what people are asking me to do. If you’re not happy with any aspect of your business, ask yourself: what’s the purpose of doing it?

Don’t take your foot off the gas because of fear. Drop the hot coals before they burn you permanently.

Richard Esposito Comment
An Introduction

I’ve been staring through glass doors for a while. On the other side I see a community I love. But I just needed to leave the room and breath for a while. As I open theses doors I wonder if anyone will turn to say hello, or if I’ll walk straight through the room to grab a beverage without anyone acknowledging me. I’m an introvert, so I would be ok going unnoticed. I’m not there looking for attention. I’m there to find my purpose in the community.

I’ve been debating on blogging again because I want it to be personal, open, and honest. Those seem like rare elements in a world where photographers fill their Facebook page with “Look how well I’m doing” fluff yet they are crying on the inside and struggling to provide. I never know how much to say or how much to hide.


It’s a horrible thing. It had control over many things in my life from childhood to my early 30’s. I have slowly learned to overcome it through experience, coaching, education, and the friends and family that surround me. Life has changed drastically for me over the last 3 years. I moved from Connecticut to Charleston, SC, completely changing life and business, and unexpectedly accepting a full time job.

Now after an 18 year career I feel the need to do a brain dump. I want to do my part to help make my community stronger. I’m going to get into a lot of stories that might not seem valid at first but I want you to understand that I’ve been there, where so many of you are, and I’ve learned from it. I don’t know everything. But maybe one little thing from a long conversation is all you need to take that next step.

Having left the freedom of self employment and gone to the dark side by landing a full time job, I’ve had an amazing chance to look back at everything I’ve done, what worked, what didn’t work, and what really didn’t work. So much knowledge has been handed down to me. Now it’s my turn to give back.

There is this amazing conference called Inspire Photo Retreats. I may be biased about it because I was a founding member with 8 others. It wasn’t my idea, and I also haven’t been a part in a few years. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the retreat it is this:

Be open. Be honest. Be real. Be yourself. Be who you want to be and don’t let anyone discourage you. Do what you want to do, not what others want.

Please don’t be an introverted artist wallowing in fear. Reach out. Ask questions. Share information. Grow the community.

It’s time for you, and us, to be fearless.

Richard EspositoComment