Sometimes an iPhone seems sufficient for photography. Sometimes picking up and learning a new, pro-level camera can help rekindle a long lost love. That’s what happened to my wife, and you can read about that here.
But other times, it’s actually abandoning the complexities of high-end technology that can help you embrace creativity with something as simple as a film photography camera. My wife’s friend, Scott Connolly, did exactly that.
As ironic as it sounds, Scott discovered medium-format film photography while working in a purely digital environment as a professional cinematographer.
The Highest of Tech
Scott is his company’s Chief Creative Technologist and works with filmmakers, producers, and directors who need extremely advanced technology for their projects. He recently traveled the world capturing stereoscopic, 3D, and virtual reality footage. He shot aerial footage, using both drones and helicopters, underwater footage, and anything else he could find that might have been outside the realm of normality. Basically he focused on capturing images that would be difficult to capture without fancy technology. The primary service he and his crews provided was to “eliminate technology as a roadblock for creatives.”
To fully understand the uniqueness of Scott’s newfound appreciation for film photography, it helps to realize what his day-job entails:
“In Hawaii, we were working with helicopters, using two AXA ARRI camera 360-degree VR rigs with 10 cameras each. One had Alexa Mini cameras and the other was using Red Helium cameras. The rigs shoot 36K of data at a rate of 10 terabytes per 50 minutes running time. We took 480 terabytes of storage on this shoot, and it all had to be stitched together to create the virtual reality footage the client specified.”
If that sounds like a different language, you’re not alone. The video equipment he uses could not be farther from traditional form, still photography using film.
“And I knew the minute I closed that shutter that it was going to be an incredible photo.”
While his career was spent on the technology side of creative projects for major international clients, it wasn’t until he acquired his medium-format film camera that he was able become more creative himself. “I’ve had lots of creative influences in my life,” Scott explained. “My mother was a ballet dancer, my father was a technician and early adopter of computers, and my stepdad is a professional photographer. I’ve had just enough art in my life to make me feel good, but still photography using the Mamiya medium-format film camera has now become my creative outlet.”
After buying the Mamiya RZ67 and three lenses for a girlfriend who did not use it, Scott got the kit back, which sat unused for a couple of years in his Los Angeles apartment. “I’ve never really been interested in still photography,” he said, “but it was a really nice camera, so I started taking it on trips with me around the world. I mostly wanted to shoot behind-the-scenes images of our location video shoots, but when I developed the very first roll from it, I instantly fell in love with the photographs this camera produced.”
One of the aspects in shooting medium-format film with the RZ67 is the absence of digital magic that usually happens when using a dSLR or high-end video camera. Each roll of 10 to 20 images has a very specific number measuring sensitivity to light, ISO, Scott said.
“The Marmiya has an electronic light meter, but the ISO shifts the responsibility of getting a perfect shot to the photographer. After getting the film developed and digitally-scanned, it’s about $5 each time you push the shutter button, so that alone really makes you work harder to capture the scene using the right composition, and to nail proper lighting, depth of field and shutter speeds.”
“I instantly fell in love with the photographs this camera produced.”
Using a medium-format camera also lets you use different types of film. One of Scott’s favorites is this black-and-white negative film from Fujifilm (Neopan 100 Acros). He had a few rolls of it with him on a 2017 trip to Salambango, in the Republic of Congo, and developed a new appreciation for this particular film stock by accident.
“We were in a very remote village, and the battery in the RZ67 died. I knew the camera would revert to using a default shutter speed setting, so I wasn’t able to do set exposure correctly anymore. The last shot of my roll was of a group of children watching their village’s Chief describe some of the video equipment and drones our crew brought with us. The boys would stare at me each time I aimed the camera at them – it was a classic scene and a once-in-a-lifetime moment for a photographer. When I returned home and saw the images, I realized the Acros film saved the shot, the photo was stunning.”
For Scott, shooting on medium-format film has been a welcome creative exercise. “I carry this camera all over the world just so I can capture moments such as the photograph of Gemma at my brother’s wedding. Everything else in my career is so technical, and I’m always helping other people be creative all day. For me, it’s not about producing the images, necessarily, it’s more about using my natural creativity to capture a moment in time.”
When Scott framed up Gemma in the Mamiya’s viewfinder, he had to be patient to get the shot. He said the main difference between dSLR photography and shooting medium-format on film is the need to slow down and think about the details of the shot each time you push the shutter button. “With a dSLR,” he said, “I might have shot 25 images of this little girl, and got lucky with one decent image. But with the RZ67, I waited until she was looking off to the side, and only shot this one image. And I knew the minute I closed that shutter that it was going to be an incredible photo.”