Process versus Product

In Vision Is Better by David47 Comments

chris6x6Chris Orwig making a portrait of me making a portrait of him. For a moment there we nearly got stuck in some crazy space/time-continuum mobius. (While we’re speaking of shooting film, and of Chris Orwig, check this out on his blog – love it in so many ways.)

I have been resisting my return to film for a while. Trying to avoid the inevitable. David, my friend at Leo’s Cameras hasn’t been helping. Each time I’m in there he thrusts another used Leica at me. Each time the temptation got a little harder. I’ve wanted a Leica M-series for as long as I can remember in this photographic journey. But each time I knew it wasn’t right. Afterall, this wasn’t a pro-purchase, a new tool that would serve clients. And let’s face it, how often was I really going to screw around with film again? The notion was romantic at best.

And then something twigged in my little brain and I don’t know how it happened. But it had something to do with my renewed interest in the creative process – not the product; images for my clients – but the process itself. That realization came when a few things converged for me – the first was a lunch meeting i had with Chase Jarvis and you just can’t have lunch with him and not come away jazzed about creativity itself. The second was a presentation I gave about the creative process at CreativeMix Vancouver this fall. The need to practice what you preach will do that to you. The third (first chronologically) was the beginnings of the idea that became my latest digital book – The Inspired Eye, Notes on Creativity for Photographers, Vol.I

Where those three things converged was an important place, the epicenter of all the other issues I blather on about from day to day – the source and process of creativity itself.

While I talk often and long about Vision, it’s important to remember that what necessarily links vision to the end photograph that hopefully expresses that vision, is your creative process. It’s the unique way in which you put the pieces together. In the digital world it’s very easy to give process the short end of the stick in our mad dash to the end product. That, in fact, was the reason it took me as long as it has to return to film. Each time I thought about how long it would take to get the film to the lab, get it back, make selects, get those scanned…jeezo-peezo, who’s got the time? I was entirely focused on the product.

I think a lot of this talk about convergence is product-centered. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. If you like dslr video and want to play with it, do it. But I’m going the other way. While the digital world seems to be converging, I’m doing my damnedest to diverge, to push those other things, things that to me are distracting, further apart. And that’s why I went back to film, because my creative soul has reached a breaking point with all the new stuff and the learning curves  and the digitalness of it all. I haven’t forsaken digital at all, I’m just tending to my own creative process so that when I do grab my 5D or 1Ds MkIII to shoot for clients, I have a sharper edge.

So I bought a well-used Hasselblad, a model I’ve wanted for ages – a 500 C/M. It’s almost as old as me.  It’s got a viewfinder that flips everything horizontally. I shoot black and white film, 12 exposures at a time. I meter with  a handheld Sekonic and lots of guessing. The square format is a different ratio than what I normally shoot. It’s all about as far from my normal rut as I can get. And all this has pushed me backwards, it’s slowed me down, it’s helped me to see differently, to play, to embrace the unpredictability and imperfection of film. It’s pushed the product (print) and the process (capture) so far apart in terms of time, that I now have the luxury of isolating the experience of capture. I know this is all artsy fartsy zen stuff, but man is it rejuvenating to go out with a couple frames left to shoot and only 12 more in your pocket. The process has become fun again, a dance, a chance simply to learn to see anew.

Whatever it takes for you – whether that’s the need to embrace convergence, or the need to consider divergence for a while, what matters is that you consider your own creative process, and the well from which you draw your inspiration. Get back to the spirit of play for a while. Take the film out of the camera altogether and just go shoot for the fun of it. Whatever it takes. The biggest question is not “what do your clients want from you?” – it’s what do you need to do to nurture the creative part of you so you can, if you do this vocationally, give your clients your best, and not lose the reason you started this in the first place.

I was wrong when I thought a film camera would be an extravagance, that it wouldn’t benefit my clients. My clients benefit most when I am creatively sharp, when I can come back to my familiar tools with new energy and ideas because I’ve been off playing in a different sandbox, with different shovels and buckets, for a while.

What’s it going to take for you to bring renewed focus to your own process, and to fill up your creative well once more?

The Inspired Eye, Notes On Creativity for Photographers, Vol.I was released last week and is on sale here at – checkout using INSPIRED20 as the coupon code and get 20% off, but the offer expires on Dec.12 and you don’t want to have to pay full-price for this book. Get it now for $4. 🙂


  1. Pingback: The first week | The Light Without

  2. i finally published a blogpost about my experiences with analog photography in the last few months and the connection with david’s first two e-books: 10 and 10 more. you can find it here:

  3. I used a beautiful Ebony 4×5 for a long time, and finally got myself a used Toho because of the Ebony’s weight. I wouldn’t mind a Canham, myself — it would allow me to use my 720mm lens, which my Toho doesn’t, but it’s going to be a while before I can justify that sort of price tag. 🙂

  4. Speaking of large backpacks…I just have an excellent Burke & James 5×7 monorail that is awesome but a beast…I would die for a lighter Canham or Wista 4×5…but I will haul it anyway…5×7 is a huge area of capture.

  5. @Rob
    You got that right! I sometimes joke about my friends’ use of “puny cams” to photograph grand vistas, when they make fun of how large my backpack is 😉

  6. @rakesh

    Nobody can truly understand “Live View” and “Full Frame” till they look at something live through a 4×5 or larger view camera…

  7. I’m also a film fan, I’ve been using a 4×5 (recently got a Toho Shimo as a backpacking camera) for my landscape photography for the past few years. For me it has more to do with composing on a ground glass and using the camera movements to get my shot than with being film rather than digital, until I get the slides back from the lab 🙂

  8. David – great to read this post. Like you I’m a pro who has been shooting digital for years, and I too recently hired a Hasselblad 503CW to get back into a slower way of working. I loved it so much I’ve just bought a 203FE and a sweet 100mm f/2 lens – the first rolls should come back from the lab tomorrow. Love it.

  9. Wonderfully put. Although I am still new to the digital world, I really like taken out my old film camera to shoot. You become more selective on what you take a photo of, which translates also to my digital photos. Thanks for sharing…

  10. I love my Holga and 120, 220 and 35mm film for this purpose and also my Lensbaby 2.0. The random and uniqueness of the images I get through these is food to for my soul. Thanks for reminding me though that I need to spend sometime feeding it!

  11. You’ve really articulated what draws me to my film cameras. I bought a Bronica S2A a few months ago. And, all I can say is how much fun it is to use. It’s such a mechanical process. And, it’s hard to rationalize spending money on using film without getting all “artsy fartsy zen”, as you say. But, it just feels so right for someone who enjoys creating images with photography. Thanks for this post, David. I’ll have to take a few quotes from it next time I need to explain to my wife why I just bought another $20 film camera that’s older than I am. ;-P

  12. Thanks Rob – I’d love to support a local guy but I’ve called a few places and all they carry is some rolls of cheap print film – better than nothing but not exactly what I’m looking for. I’ll keep searching and see if someone here in town (Memphis, TN) has anything. <– sorry to thread jack 🙂

  13. Sorry Rob Oresteen, Have to totally disagree with you here. Firstly I read the post to mean that you need to feed your creativity and sometimes. I don’t see how that has to do with promoting film. David has a film camera that he uses as a tool to acheive that task. That doesn’t translate to meaning film is better. It’s the end that matters, not the means. There is no reason that a digital camera couldn’t be used to acheive the same result for some. As has been well said above a small memory card or a 3MP point and shoot could do the same thing for some photographers. For some film is the way that inspires. It’s great to have choice.

    Secondly, I don’t see how acheiving a “film like” look in digital is any less credible than using film. Again it’s acheiving the look you want that counts. Does it really matter if the grain is added in Photoshop? It’s about acheiving your vision. I hand printed B&W and Cibachromes vocationally for 15 years. To be totally honest there is nothing I miss less now than worrying about developer/film combinations. Just because I prefer the “digital darkroom” doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try to recreate the look of film (or anything else for that matter.

    Back on topic. I’ve always carried a “personal” camera. It keeps me motivated to explore the craft and my “work” images are better as a result. It used to be an Xpan and before that a Mamyia 7 and before that an Olympus XA. Now it’s a EP-1. I do like the idea about a small memory card though. I’m going to adopt that. Thanks to those that suggested it.


  14. This almost makes me want to cry. Because I dropped my fully manual not battery needed Nikon FM2 body. I used it to shoot B&W with it and it cost quite a bit. Tried to get it fixed to no avail.

    What’s calling me now is a good old square format film camera.

  15. I just want to add another voice for the film, this time from Croatia 🙂

    I got back into photography with a dSLR and after a year I wanted to try some film. Since I could not get a Leica (one day :-). I shot few rolls with Zorki 4, an old Russian camera and I really loved the results. Photos are different than my Nikon’s and they are different in a good way. There’s a group on flickr dedicated to these old soviet cameras, check it out.

    Tomorrow I’m getting the roll I shot with my Nikon lenses and I’m really excited about it…

  16. Tyler – if price is close , try supporting your local camera shop that sells film. Here in the Chicago area we have Helix and Central Camera and out in the suburbs, PJ’s camera in Glen Ellyn, IL.

    B&H & Adorama have very good online reputations. Hope this helps.

  17. You know, as I’m getting back into photography I’m more drawn to film since I already have an old Nikon N70 (I’m in the process of getting a DSLR). Right now it’s cheaper to use film than spending a bunch of money on a new dslr and I think it would help me develop my eye more than just snapping 100 pictures in an hour.

    Where’s the best place online to buy film these days anyway? Any suggestions from you or your readers?

  18. Ok so I didn’t go out and buy an ancient camera but I liked your statement:

    “go out with a couple frames left to shoot and only 12 more in your pocket”

    I remember those days fondly with film so I pulled out a 250mb card and one fixed focus 85mm lens and went out to take pictures. It reminded me to take my time with my pictures. Just so you can see the math on my 5D mrk II at 21mb per picture that gives me 11 photo’s which is pretty close to a roll or film.

    Thanks for the inspiration David it was a fun exercise.

  19. You might be interested in “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning” You can get a PDF here: (No incentive for me, just a fan.) Andy talks a lot about stepping outside the norm to see new ideas. But what I came away with is that it is OK to ignore the logical side of your brain and listen to the irrational side when being creative. Trying something different is just another way to stimulate r-mode, (the irrational, subconscious, creative, etc. side of your brain) thinking.

  20. Thank you so much for putting into words what I have been feeling for some time. I really love your idea of divergence as I once I thought I wanted to learn to shoot DSLR video and join the convergence movement. Now I find myself wanting to run the other way back into a dark room to reconnect with my own creative process. I love reading your blog but I think this post has struck a cord with me more than anything else I have come across.

  21. Oh yeah!!! Leica M6 is THE camera. I shoot digitally now, but cut my teeth with a Leica M4. My photo instructor told me to get one and a hand held light meter, and a 35mm lens, and go make pictures. I learned a lot about light by doing that. Learned to read it without a meter because I just didn’t have the time to do it all. learned how to work hyperfocal distance to the max. And then when I got my M6 I was coasting. Life was good, a piece of cake. And DAMN those lenses were good. Check out some of the b/w galleries on Not all are with the M6, but to my eye, those that are pop out at you. Now, if only I had seven grand for an M9….

  22. I loved this post. Your comment about going out to shoot with only a few frames left in camera and 12 more in your pocket hit home. I can’t tell you how many times that was me in the Canon 35mm world of the late 70s.

    Different medium and 30 years later, I feel the same about an ongoing personal photography passion… digital infrared (both color and black-n-white). I have put off converting an older DSLR to be a dedicated digital infrared camera for years now. Instead, I continue to use several Canon G1s. Why? I love the process.

    When I shoot with a Canon G1, I have to stop and think. Think about my environment and how to use it creatively with longer exposures. Think about composition and to be more critical with cropping in camera because the G1 is only a 3mp camera.

    The images do not come quickly. When I am out to shoot digital infrared, I am out for hours to capture a few images at best. It is a pure pleasure and my creativity and vision seem clear and focused.

    Thanks again for the great post!!

  23. This was worth waiting till breakfast for! I think the overall message of your post can be applied to any creative field, regardless of the tools you use. We all need to feed our tummies but we also need to feed our souls and giving yourself the permission to lose yourself in the creative process is something we should all do. It can’t help but make you better at putting food on the table as well as making you feel whole inside.

  24. LOVE IT! In film school they encourage us to shoot digital and film side by side constantly. If we head out on a project, we can shoot primarily in digital, but perhaps start or end the shoot in film. Or take a break in the middle and shoot a roll.

    This helps tremendously. It keeps us sharp, as well it gives us a moment to reconsider our composition and slow down as we shoot digital.

    In the end, you gain the benefits of digital — more forgiveness, instant feedback, digital workflow — and the benefits of film — intentionality, thoughtfulness, and commitment.

    It’s a win-win to use both.

  25. Excellent decision. I just recently made the same decision and since I don’t get paid for my photography or have clients, I sold my DSLR and bought a compact digital for which I was yelled at on the forums for. haha, I almost feel sorry for them for being so enthralled with equipment.

  26. I recently bought a new/used Bronica C to play with. Photography is all about process, the act of observing and composing. I like the square format so I don’t have to turn the camera, just compose. You can crop later if necessary. I’ve been trying to convince digital camera makers to make a square sensor but so far no luck.

  27. I shoot medium and large format and digital medium format cameras are still being developed (very few full frame and prices that are a big down payment on a house).

    I just can not degrade myself to trade in my Zeiss lenses for Cannon or Nikkon glass and all of the digital backs that I have tried are just attempting to capture the resolution and color reproduction that Fujichrome slide film has.

    Besides that I feel digital 35mm images without massive photoshopping just lack soul and always have an “overexposed” look.

  28. A good post and one that will perk the interest of many to get out the film cameras or slow down the internet as we shop for vintage film cameras. I sold my film cameras years ago, fully embracing the digital era.

    I am always interested in bettering my processes and one of the reason I hang out here. If I was to venture back to film I would need to find a sugar-mama who could help finance, give me cash, to purchase necessary tools.

    By the way, I enjoyed your latest ebook, The Inspired Eye. Have an awesome day!

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  30. It must be a movement. Friday night I pulled out my old TLR and shot a roll while showing another photographer about medium format (he’d never shot any). I’d forgotten how much it makes you slow down and really think about what you’re doing. We had a blast shooting with a camera older than us and are both jazzed about shooting more film. The other photog is even looking into buying an old 501 C/M too. I

  31. Good for you. I did a similar thing a couple months ago: bought an old YashicaMat… I’ve only shot 3.5 rolls so far, but I love how it slows me down.

  32. This is exactly why I like shooting with my Holga. The random nature of the end result makes it even better — I know I’ll get one good photo from each roll of film, but I have no idea which photo it will be. Total serendipity. The exact opposite of my regular work.

  33. I think film can be a great change of pace in the creative sense. And going to medium format means that you’ll have more detail in those images than any “full frame” DSLR will offer. At the same time, I found that the lack of instant feedback can be a big problem when you’re dealing with people – you never know if you got the shot you were after until it is waaaay too late to go back and fix it. For static (or reasonably static) objects, film is wonderful.

  34. Well David, what a coincidence : While in Nepal, I was just thinking of getting my film cameras back and run few project with B/W film.

    So 4 days ago I landed in Paris, got to my parent’s place and I grabbed my father’s OM 10 and my pentax 6×7. I’ll work on 2 or 3 B/W project this winter and I’m sure the clients will be Happy.

    And I still have about a hundred of Velvia 100 and 50 medium format rolls in the fridge. ‘Got to use it soon.

    To me, the technologie doesn’t really matter, as long as those tool give you the possibilty to express your creativity.

    I think clients need results and don’t need to know about the process. Process and gear talks are photographers stuff. Clients need pictures with impact, with a style matching their brand or message…

  35. I did exactly the same thing earlier in the year… I love my Hasselblad 500 C/M, amazing feeling when you get the prints / scans back from the lab… good luck with it!

  36. I’m so glad a “big” name such as David duChemin gives film it’s credible due.

    I have spoken about the need to slow down and not shoot everything under the sun. My buddies from a popular forum have at times chided me for shooting film, let alone with little rangefinders.

    My biggest pet peeve are those who buy plug-ins or try to reproduce a “film look” in Photoshop. If you want the film look just pick up the old 35 MM or classic MF camera and just shoot some rolls. It won’t hurt you or your craft, regardless of what the Binky shooters may tell you.

    Ecktar 100, Fuji Pro 160, 400, Portra 160, Velvia, HP5, Tri-X are some “full frame sensors” that might give you a nice kick in the pants.

    Then, there’s always great deals to be had on 4×5 or 5×7 view cameras too…you will shoot 3 frames in an afternoon and come away with a true sense of accomplishment – maybe the activities of the evening will be a glass of wine instead of staring at a monitor and working inside of ACR.

  37. Author

    @ Chris – Not sure about the format but I know you can still get film for polaroid backs for the old Hasselblads – was just looking at the used backs at Leos and I know Fuji makes some. Suspect it’s the same. Would love to see the results.

    What do you think, folks? Is it time for a Return To Film contest? We all shoot some stuff and stir the paint and submit some images. I’ll dig up a prize or two?

  38. Chris you can still get Polaroid 600 on amazon and such… just give it a google. You can probably find newer replacement film too (Fuji?) and maybe cheaper? Happy roid shooting!

  39. I was planning on getting my Polaroid 600 out and about. I got the camera because my in-laws were going to throw it out and I could’t let that happen. Can I still buy the film? If not, the old Olympus OM-10 will get a roll of Sensia for some light painting. I love the 14mm lens on it.

  40. Okay, that’s it! Now I gotta go make me that pinhole camera I’ve always told myself I was going to create and go shoot with. I’ve often thought about the creative process you talk about David, but also in a “hardware” sense. Thanks for the ultimate inspiration… I can’t ignore it any longer!

  41. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, David. Bill Allard is one of my favorite photographers and shot with a Leica for much of his career so I’ve always been curious what it might be like to shoot with one. I haven’t even touched one before but I would imagine it could open up some new ways of approaching photography.

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