Image by Erica Sauder

Image by Erica Sauder

Of Film and Focus

by Erica Sauder

I grew up at the end of the film photography era. I can well remember the joy of dropping off rolls of film at the store and picking the pictures up a week later. A combination of my lack-of-skill and a not-so-great camera produced pictures that weren’t winning any awards. Mom had a better camera and better skills and guess what, she got better pictures! Once a year we would go through this ordeal of Mom trying to get at least one nice picture of us children out of a roll of 24 to sent to friends and relations. I think Mom dreaded it as much as we children did.

We got our first digital camera the winter of 2005 when my brother gave Mom one for a Christmas gift. It had a screen about the size of a postage stamp and produced pictures of mediocre quality. Mom was skeptical at first but we children thought it was the cat’s meow! I’m sure we did most of the picture taking but Mom’s film camera was soon collecting dust while the Kodak was racking up a high shutter count. Now Mom didn’t have to use a whole roll of film just to get a decent picture to send with the Christmas cards, she could delete the bad ones, or put them on on a CD and never look at them again, which is what happened with a good deal of them. Before long there were some photographers budding in the family.

I got my first digital camera when I was 17. I took pictures of everything and anything and have a large stack of CDs to prove it. I discovered a love for photography and began dreaming of bigger and better. That dream was realized when I bought an entry level DSRL from a friend who was upgrading. Shortly after that I began a job as photographer in advertising puppies and learned a lot through that. After I while I decided that my job merited a better camera and that led to the purchase of a bigger DSLR and later an external flash.

After three years at that job, I quit and accepted a new job in Texas, working at a bakery. That was three years ago. My camera probably feels rather neglected now. It can go weeks between times I use my camera. Occasionally someone asks me to do family pictures but other than that, I haven’t done much photography lately.

My younger sister has far surpassed me in experience, talent and equipment when it comes to photography. I think she has forty weddings under her belt by now. A few weeks ago she was shooting a wedding in Oklahoma and I drove up to spend the weekend with her. Before heading home on Monday morning, I decided to drive through the town of Miami on historic Route 66.

On a whim, I stopped at an antique store and I was quite delighted to find a vintage 35mm film camera! It was a Canon AE-1. I couldn’t decide if I really wanted to spend $15 on it though. Was it worth that? I picked it up and looked it over and set it down and repeated the process numerous times until I decided I just couldn’t leave it there. I didn’t have any intention of using it. I just thought it would be a nice decoration for my apartment.

Soon I was curious, though. Could I use this camera? Did it work? Could I learn film photography? I studied into it and discovered that film photography is still alive and well. Growing actually. Many people like how film has a much more “physical” feel to it: you have to load film in, you get negatives back and you don’t have to worry about losing pictures if your computer crashes. Sometimes results can be achieved straight-out-of-camera that can’t be on a digital camera without lots of editing. I was intrigued enough to try my hand at it.

It was interesting to hear the response of friends and family when I told them of my new venture. Can you still buy film? And get it developed? Yes, I assured them, you still can. It is considerably more expense than it was 10-15 years ago but it’s still possible. I ordered a box with five rolls of professional film, paying nearly nine dollars a roll!

The camera had a film in it when I got it so I snapped a few more shots before rewinding it and sending it off to get developed. I waited anxiously to get the pictures back! How would they turn out? I was so disappointed when it came back as a blank roll! Now what? What had caused that? Was the camera not working? I had already loaded a new roll of film in the camera and hadn’t thought to make sure the shutter was working properly. Maybe the original roll wasn’t loaded right, I thought hopefully. I was pretty sure I had loaded the new one correctly. The film wasn’t cheap and I was a little worried that I was ruining the whole thing.

There was no way of telling if the pictures I was taking were going to turn out right. That was really hard for me at first, not knowing. One friend commented on it, saying it would make her feel insecure to not be able to know if the pictures would be nice or not. I agreed! I snapped my 36 exposure roll full, in faith, hoping for the best. When it was full, I rewound it and sent it off to the lab. A week later, I got my uploads e-mail from the lab. Wow! I could hardly believe it! They were absolutely beautiful! Way better than I expected! I looked at them again and again and then went and showed them off to everyone I could find. “What? That’s from a film camera?” they asked incredulously. “I didn’t think they would look that nice!”

Because I can’t see each picture as I take it and delete bad ones, I put more thought into each shot. And I usually take only one picture of any given scene instead of five or ten like I would do with my digital camera. If it doesn’t turn out, it’s disappointing but there's nothing I can do but try again.

I did a little research and found that the reason the first film came back blank is because it wasn’t loaded in the camera properly. After each exposure, the film is to be wound for the next exposure, but because it wasn’t loaded right, the sprockets weren’t catching the film and moving it along. Each time I pressed the shutter button the same section was being exposed and the rest of the roll never got a chance to see the light.

We live in an instant gratification world and don’t like waiting for things. God’s work in our lives may seem like a slow process at times but if we wouldn’t expect everything Right. Now. maybe we wouldn’t have such a hard time waiting on Him.

Photography needs light to be able to produce pictures. We need to keep exposing ourselves to the light of God’s Word each day. Just an initial exposure won’t work. Remember that blank roll? Our lives will turn out blank if we don’t keep advancing in our relationship with him. Only as we move on can our life become snapshots of His goodness.

“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” 1 Corinthians 6:20. It cost much more that nine dollars for God to buy us back from sin and eternal loss. It cost Him the life of His only son. I know how disappointed I was with a blank roll of film, but I can’t begin to imagine the depth of grief God that feels over the lives that are empty of Him and full of self and darkness.

A few of the pictures from my first roll were beautiful except for one thing, the wrong thing was in focus, and that ruined the picture. It is very important that we keep our focus on God. There are so many things that seem good and right and may not be wrong in and of themselves but if we focus on them instead of God, they need to be dealt with. We must be “looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith” Hebrews 12:2

Sometimes it is very hard not knowing what is next for us, or why we are going though a difficult situation. Nothing seems clear and we don’t know if it will turn out right. If we are following God’s plan, exposing ourselves to the Light and moving on with Him, we can have the confidence that He is developing a beautiful picture from the negatives of our lives. Even though we won’t be able to see the finished picture in this life, God does give us small glimpses now and then as reassurances that all is well. “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for those that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of the heart.” 1 Corinthians 2:9, 10

“Beloved, now are we the {daughters} of God and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John 3:1

Let’s be pictures of God’s grace to the dark world around us.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I'm not good at introducing myself. My name is Erica Sauder. I'm a yankee-turned-Texan. I've been living in Texas for over 3 years now and am employed at a bakery. Thanks to God and Asher Witmer, I recently learned that I can write if I want too. If there is any more you want to know, please ask!

View more of Erica's work at http://rickiebphotography.wordpress.com

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