Where’s the unpredictability?

cave chillagoe underground queensland australia cairns
A long time exposure inside the caves at Chillagoe, north of Cairns, Queensland

Let me preface this by saying I don’t miss film. The slow speeds – anything above ISO100 was pretty much useless most of the time. The expense of slide film in Australia (I used to stock up every time I was in Japan). The hassle of carrying large amounts of it on extended trips. On a 9 month trip through Africa I carried 145 rolls in my backpack!

But there was one thing that was really great about film. The unpredictable nature of it. A lot of the time you never really knew what you got. Did you capture that fleeting moment or just miss it? Was your exposure good or did you underexpose it? When you got the film back in its plastic sleeve and placed it on your lightbox the heart was in the throat. Especially if you’d paid a lot of money to go somewhere and take photos! Or worse still, somebody had paid you a lot of money to go somewhere and take photos! Haha.

Of course digital has taken that away.  We know whether we got it or not straight away just by looking at the LCD. And then we can keep on taking photos until we get what we wanted. Definitely not a bad thing in terms of learning but not as exciting in my book.

If there’s one area where that unpredictability still exists though it’s in cases like the above image, taken in the Royal Arch Cave at Chillagoe. When you put the camera on a tripod and open up the shutter for an extended period of time there really is no way to tell what you’re going to get.

Sure the LCD will tell you whether the exposure is OK or not, but, for example, in this shot, even if I’d taken 100 shots they all would have had different patterns on the wall from the torches, the guy on the left might not have been facing my way, stray torchlight could have gone into my camera. Any one of 100 things could have conspired to ruin my shot.

But for one image everything converged. Everything worked. It was unpredictable. Unforeseeable. Unrepeatable. How the best photography should be.

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