Richard Boll

Category Archives: Photography education

My journey from Film to Digital Photography

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Filed under Artists, Fine Art Photography, Photography career, Photography education

Producing black and white prints in a darkroom at school fuelled my passion for photography. As corny as it sounds, seeing the images appear and develop in the tray of developer is a magical and spellbinding experience.

Differences between Film & Digital

What I think can be missing when working with digital is the tactile, hands-on element you get working with photographic film. The process allows you to consider every element very carefully, particularly focus, exposure and composition. Learning how to load the film into tanks in complete darkness, mixing all the chemistry correctly and to the right temperature to develop the film and produce negatives, is a meditative and thoughtful process. Most professional photographers find that the process isn’t practical however in the commercial world. Digital is the way forward as it’s far more efficient than processing film, but I do miss the creative and unique element that’s not always carried over into digital photography.

With film, you might wait days, or even weeks if you’re travelling, before you find out how the images turned out. With digital, you can check the images that you produce immediately. The ability to do this is very convenient but you lose that element of extra concentration applied to shooting film that I think can be beneficial to the end result.

a-5x4-large-format-camera-on-a-tripod

My journey to digital photography

When I was studying photography in the late 90s, I was taught purely on film and then I went on to teach people on film myself. Digital was starting to become more prevalent whilst I was teaching and I started to demonstrate digital cameras to my students. In those days, we didn’t have significant digital printers like photography departments would have now. I was largely self-taught when it came to digital. When I became a commercial photographer, I opted to go digital straightaway. I invested £6k in my first camera, plus more for the lenses and lighting equipment. I taught myself about the different file types, researching as much as I could and studying Photoshop textbooks to bring me up to speed.

I still use techniques today that I picked up then. Especially the shortcuts, such as cropping an image to the right size, setting up DPI (dots per inch) correctly for a printed image, manipulating images i.e. dodging (taking light away) and burning (applying additional light),
adjusting and converting colour and contrast, etc. There are certain elements that translate from film to digital. For example, a lot of the language that’s used for Photoshop tools references darkroom principles and processes.

Advantages of digital photography

One of the advantages of digital is an efficient workflow, such as bulk processing of images. You can apply the same adjustments to 500 images in one go, for example, rather than changing every single one as you go along. Even if you were a skilled darkroom technician, it’d be hard to make every print identical. Whereas, once you have the digital file you can make multiple identical prints.

Storage archiving is another significant benefit of working with digital. Back in the day, you would have had several filing cabinets full of negatives that you’d have to create a system for, and it’d be difficult to go back and find a negative that you shot 20 years ago. Nowadays, if a client asks for a particular image, you can easily search a large drive and find the image that you want in seconds, rather than hours.

Another significant difference between film and digital is the cost attached to film. You’re very aware when you’re shooting film that it’s costing you money. Each exposure has the cost of not just the film but also the processing costs.
I’m certainly not taking away the huge advantages of digital, which I very much appreciate day to day in my working life. But processing film will always hold a special place for me. There may be an element of nostalgia but whenever I get the rare opportunity to produce black and white prints, I still feel the same excitement today that I had at school all those years ago.

Read more about How I started my career as a professional photographer.

How I started my career as a professional photographer.

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Filed under Commercial Photography, Editorial Photography, Photography career, Photography education, Uncategorised

portrait-of-the-photographer-richard-boll-in-bolivia

I’ve always loved photography. It’s been a passion of mine since I was 16 years old. I knew then that I wanted to turn my hobby into a professional career. In 2005, I realised my dream and set up as a freelance commercial professional photographer. I often get asked for advice by budding photographers thinking about turning professional. Here, I share my personal journey and answer some of those questions.

Q: How did you get into photography?
I’ve had various cameras from an early age and always took pictures, but it was only a hobby at that stage. The turning point was meeting a teacher at school who was very passionate about photography. So much so, that he set up a darkroom in the school to give students the opportunity to find out what it was like to shoot film and produce prints. I started with black and white film, using a 35-mm SLR camera and I was hooked, especially producing prints in a darkroom. It’s a bit of a cliche, but to see the image appearing in the chemicals is spellbinding when you first start printing. Producing prints in the darkroom is something I really miss now because it’s just not practical for my commercial work. Digital is far more efficient, but I miss the certain unique elements of using film that are not always carried over into digital photography.

Q: Did you do any photography courses?
I started with a City and Guilds photography course that the teacher was running. He recognised there was sufficient enthusiasm in various students to set up an A-level and I progressed onto that course. It was a very good pathway into the rest of my education along with A-level Art. That combination set me up for my Art Foundation year, which then led on to a degree in photography.

Q: How did you transition from hobbyist to professional?
When I finished my degree at Edinburgh College of Art in 1999, I got a job as a Junior Technician at the college. I then progressed to a Senior Teaching Technician role. It was a great job because teaching the technical aspects of photography is very good for your own technical grounding and personal education. Whilst working there, I started to carry out small photographic jobs on the side. I picked up work for magazines shooting portraits, food, interiors, etc. When I left to become a full-time professional photographer, I already had a portfolio and that’s something I would encourage students to think about.

While you’re studying, think about what happens next. Consider the equipment you own, because a lot of photography students finish their studies and realise that they’ve been relying on the equipment from that course. Some students don’t even own a camera, whereas other students, even though it can be challenging, save up to buy some of the camera and lighting equipment that they need before they graduate. When they leave, they’re ready to hit the ground running.
Having a findable website is really key. You’ll have your professional portfolio online and can get found for the right keywords. That’s how I started to get work.

Q: What advice would you give to your younger self?
I’d advise shooting some black and white film and using a darkroom to produce at least one black and white print. It’s central to the language and roots of photography. There’s an ethos attached to shooting film, that can get lost with shooting digitally.
For example, if you’re using a large format camera, you can only shoot one sheet of film at a time. It might take 20 minutes to take one photograph, potentially a great deal longer. It makes you think about every element more carefully including focus, exposure and composition.

When you take two hours or more to produce a print in a darkroom, it’s a more meditative thought process. I’m not saying that level of thought can’t be applied to digital photography, but when you’re shooting high numbers of images on a digital camera, it’s possible to end up shooting pictures without engaging your mind to the same extent as when shooting large format photographs. Even though I don’t shoot film throughout my working life, I still shoot film for personal projects. I still hold on to that element of extra consideration and thought that it requires. That’s why I would recommend people starting out to shoot some film and produce prints in a darkroom.

Q: What tips would you give to budding photographers?
I would encourage young photographers to hit the books and do a lot of research. I found that really beneficial to my work. During my time at Edinburgh College of Art, I spent a lot of time in the library, working my way through lots of different photographers’ monographs, getting to know their images, and also reading in these books about their work, whether it was an interview or theoretical assessment by art critics. I found all of that research really valuable.

Assisting a range of different photographers is a good thing to do because you will learn different things from different people. I believe that carrying out personal projects, as well as professional work is really important too.

I encourage students to remember that there are many different types of photography you can carry out. Most people see photography as commercial, fashion, or press, whereas there are dozens of photographic roles available. I’m an editorial and commercial photographer, but there’s a need for forensic, archival, medical, and museum photographers for example.

Q: What’s been your career highlight?
My highlight was the combination of winning the Taylor Wessing Photographic Prize in 2006, which led to a commission from the National Portrait Gallery to shoot a portrait photograph of Sir David Attenborough.

Q: What challenges have you had in your professional career?
The challenge of working as a freelance photographer is the consistency of work. You can have ups and downs with very busy periods followed by lulls. When it’s relatively quiet, I try to appreciate having that time. If you’re busy with commercial work all the time, you can’t work on personal projects and I feel that’s really important.

Q: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever been given?
I was given many reasons not to become a professional photographer, such as I’d never be able to afford the equipment or go on holiday because I’d lose all my clients. It was very negative and pessimistic advice that luckily, I didn’t pay any attention to. I’d always wanted to become a professional photographer and turn my passion into an enjoyable, rewarding career.

Read the full story of ‘The Day I Photographed Sir David Attenborough’.