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A History Lesson: How to take a photograph and turn it into a crappy 3" x 4" print in the 1970's
Taking photos these days is a doddle... A 'photo opportunity' suddenly presents itself so you whip out your smart-phone. Perhaps you're on holiday and you're carrying a modest-priced compact camera, or perhap you have something a bit more 'the business'. Whatever you use, it's probably set on 'Auto' so you can snap away, taking several pictures just to be sure there's a couple of good ones amongst them. You flick through them on the screen and pick out a couple you're pleased with, and send them to your friends on Facebook. All your pics can stay on your memory card until you upload them to your computer. Perhaps you'll send them all wirelessly to your cloud storage, or even get a few printed next time you're at the supermarket.

Now let's compare this with the 'Old Days'.............

I was at school in the mid 1970s earning about three quid a week doing a paper round. I saved up for months to buy my first camera.

Back then all the 'tech' we now take for granted wasn't around, and if you wanted to take a photograph here's what you had to do:

Basically, you needed two things, a camera and a film. There were several types of film available, and until you decided on that, you couldn't even think about getting a camera.

Large format film came on a roll that was very inconvenient to use. Cameras were bulky, but certainly some of the very best (and most expensive) cameras used this film. For people without bottomless pockets the realistic choice is between 35mm film, or film cassettes: Film cassettes were really only used in so-called 'Instamatic' cameras, which were often little more than plastic boxes, sometimes even with a plastic lens. Adjustment was a choice between 'near' or 'far' for focussing, and 'cloudy' or 'sunny' for exposure. Picture quality was as you would expect.

35mm  film, which came in a small light-sealed can, was the obvious choice for the enthusiast and for most professional photographers. 35mm film was (and still is, even in this digital age) used in professional movie cameras... They just use a lot more of it.

There were a vast array of 35mm cameras available. On even a fairly basic model you could expect a few 'proper' controls, whilst top-of-the-range cameras offered controls similar to those on todays digital cameras. There was little, if any, electronics in these cameras, so you had to use your photographers 'skills' to decide on the right settings before pressing the shutter release.

So, you've bought your camera, which has cost a small fortune, now to choose a film: Ah... This isn't an easy choice!

First choice, colour or black-and-white? Black-and-white (monochrome) photography had been around for a hundred years. It was highly evolved and monochrome film was (still is) capable of producing stunning images. It was relatively easy to process, and it was possible to correct badly exposed photos to some extent. If you had the space, the time, and the money you could even set up your own darkroom at home.

Colour film, on the other hand, had been around for just a few decades. However it had grown-up quickly thanks to the movie industry. On the down-side it was much more difficult and expensive to process at home.

Plus there was yet another choice to make:

There were several film manufacturers, and they all made ranges of films with different chemistry. Your choice of film is going to have an affect on your photographs right from the outset. This wasn't considered a bad thing though, as it was part of the creative process. In fact, many photographic software packages offer you a range of simulated film types for your digital photos... Perhaps for that 'retro' look.

So, you've decided to go with a 'general purpose' film... There, no decision to make after-all. Well yes there is, and it's a pretty important one:

Film 'speed' affected how sensitive it was to light. If you were planning on taking photos in poor light you'd need a 'faster' film than you would for bright sunlight. What if you want to take photos in both conditions? Tricky!

Without getting into the whys and wherefores, the problem with faster films was they had a much larger film 'grain'. You could enlarge a slow film without the film grain becoming too apparent, but a the grain from a fast film may show up even on a small print.

Oh, I mustn't forget to mention 'slide' film... This was quite popular because it was a relatively cheap way to produce colour photos. As slides are intended to be projected onto a large screen they required a very fine grain, and hence a very slow film. The most terrible down-side to slide films was this... The dreaded SLIDE SHOW:

Looking through someones photo album was an occasional duty that could be endured politely, but at a brisk pace. However a slide show was something that was inflicted on entire families with no means of escape. You couldn't flick through them quickly, as you were completely at the mercy of 'Uncle Harry'... He had the remote control, and he was giving you the shot-by-shot commentary.

Anyway, no matter what kind of camera or film you have, you've got your film loaded into the camera, and youve taken three-or-four photos of the kids birthday party in the garden. Better not go mad, as you only get 24 or 36 shots on a film. Still, at last you have some photes, right?

Well no, what you have are a couple of exposed negatives on the film. The film still need to be developed and printed before you get your photos, and you can't really do that until you've finished the film. No-one had a lot of spare cash, and getting that film processed costs money, so the camera would be put away. Perhaps it would come out again for the childrens school play, and then finally the film would be used up at Christmas.

Your film is ready for processing, but you're a bit skint after Christmas, so the film goes into a drawer for a couple more months. It wasn't unknown for films NEVER to get developed, but your film has finally emerged from the drawer in the Spring... It's nearly the kids birthday again!

You send the film off to one of the many 'budget' processing companies that were around at that time, together with a cheque for £3.99. A week later an envelope drops through your letterbox containing your prints, plus a FREE (cheap and nasty) film. You examine your flimsy 3" x 4" prints:

The ones from the birthday party aren't too bad, at least the kids stayed still for one of them to be OK. Pity you were a long way back from the stage at the school play... Without a zoom lens you can barely make out anyones face. The photos taken at Christmas are all a bit dark, as you'd bought a slow film for the summer. Never mind... You put the rubbish free film in the camera, and you put the disappointing prints back into the envelope. The envelope goes into the drawer with a few others from previous years. Perhaps one day you'll get round to sticking them in a photo album... Perhaps not.

The Good Old Days!

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