36 TO 3 TO 12


Hello Ladies & Gentlemen:

Thank you for being here! 🙂

I wanted to share a recent interview I had with a photo enthusiast that you might find practical. While his questions were appropriate or applicable to many people, they may seem unrealistic in this digital age. He shared his picture taking techniques with me, and it is a pleasure to forward this thinking on to you. Re: the phrase “taking pictures”. This is a term I have never been able to partner with. When either you or I point our cameras at an object or individual, we are not taking anything from the object or person when we depress the shutter. We are in fact, image creators of often specific topics or themes in photography and henceforth, are really pointing the camera at ourselves. After he shared his photo techniques listed below, we had a good laugh together after I explained to him that it would be a better pattern to pursue, if he altered his original habits and invoked my suggestions.

He began by mentioning he had a tremendous interest in film photography which he acquired even as a young boy. Apparently in his youth, his father had a series of film cameras and he was intrigued watching his dad load and unload film, set the shutter speed & aperture on the lens and observing his father operating a hand held incident light meter. (For those who may not be familiar with an incident metering system….it is a hand held light meter with a white plastic dome designed to measure light “falling onto your subject”. When one uses this meter, it provides the photographer with a specific shutter speed and aperture to set on the camera thereby providing a so called “correct exposure”. Older style cameras often did not contain light meters hence, the need for a hand held product).

He continued his discussion in a general sense of how he approaches the category of correctly exposing either a digital file with a modern camera or a film negative camera to ensure no disappointments in exposure calculation occur. The process he described is one that I have been witness to over many, many years of photography and to summarize, his approach is as follows. Firstly, he frequently uses a 35mm film camera with either slide-(transparency film) or colour negative film, and always purchases this product with a 36 exposure capacity per roll. For many people in this digital age who have never used a film camera, having a limitation of 36 pictures at a time would be almost impossible to believe. I should mention at this point that he uses a 35mm camera with a built in light meter which is his preference as opposed to a hand held one. Once he has discovered something he wishes to photograph, he would then obtain a meter reading of the subject matter, determine what shutter speed and aperture the meter indicates as being a correct exposure and then clicking the shutter to record an image. Following this, (and he shared this humbly with me), he immediately starts questioning if he did the right thing in determining the last exposure. His fail proof approach continues with “every, single, object he is photographing”. He now believes he should add more light to the previous exposure by overexposing the next frame in the camera to guaranty the highlights look bright and crisp. What this means is the following…..he often sets his camera up for great levels of “depth of field” which is a technique for creating the maximum amount of clarity that a lens can deliver. For discussion purposes, let’s assume the setting on his lens is F32. Now, he creates an additional exposure at F22 which is one full stop more light entering the film chamber. He now indicated that he starts looking at the scene again he just photographed twice, and his doubts take over again about his decision making process. Let’s see he said…… there are some dark areas out there that I may have overlooked with these last two exposures, so to make certain I have the right exposure I better create another image with one stop less exposure. That means, that I will now three exposures to choose from once the film is processed. Certainly, one of the three has to be excellent.

Ladies and gentlemen, the first thing that comes to my mind when hearing people describe these picture taking procedures, is that they regrettably do not know how to use their light meters properly. Let’s take this thinking to another level shall we. When making a film purchase in a local camera store these days of 2022, to purchase a 36 exposure roll of film you are looking at roughly $19. a roll. This fee does not include the processing of the film incidentally which will typically run you the same fee of $19. So…….you will make an investment of $40 to purchase one roll of film and have it printed into 4 x 6” prints. You also have the option of simply having the negatives scanned and transferred onto a USB or comparable product.

Now, here is where the truth of picture making expenses come in effect. By subscribing to this technique of exposing 3 exposures for every scene you are photographing, what you are really ending up with is no more than 12 images available on a 36 exposure roll of film! Can you imagine now at the on going expense at adopting this habit when you are about to depress your shutter? This as I’m sure you realize, is “not the way to go”! I have to admit that when I was a beginner photographer back in the 1970’s, I found myself duplicating scenes as mentioned above but soon realized the waste this was creating. This technique of one stop on the meter, one stop over the light meter reading, one stop under the light meter reading is called “bracketing”. Avoid this!

In my photography business, I use both digital and film cameras and have been using several formats of film cameras for numerous years. One of my medium format cameras-(cameras that have a larger negative to work with than a 35mm product), has a maximum capacity of 12 exposures per roll. Reflecting back on the theory above regarding exposure, this would mean that if I followed that pattern of 3 exposures per scene, my 12 exposure roll of film would only end up providing me with a total of 4 pictures per scene. Something else to take into consideration here is that medium format film is more expensive than 35mm products. Henceforth, you would be dipping in your pocket book even more frequently than one can imagine.

To sum up this article, let’s refer to it’s title again. 36 to 3 to 12. An original 36 exposure roll of film is now reduced to 12 exposures when 3 shots are created for each scene you are photographing. My best advice at this point, is to spend some time understanding how your light meter operates. Trust me on this. It is not that difficult to understand if you are willing to put the time into learning how it interprets light values, and your level of successful image making will undeniably surprise you.

Good luck with this and don’t forget to apply this same attitude to your digital image creation. It is pointless to load up a memory card “hoping” that you have created a proper exposure. Learn your craft and reap the rewards!

See you next month. 🙂

With My Good Wishes Extended,

Jeff Ryan Photography/Ryan Studio