Luckily I have worked in both mediums. Twenty years later I can now clearly see my talents were in my monochrome work. Every time I enter the sunroom in the family home I am confronted with my huge sepia painting I did when I was eighteen for my higher school certificate.
Sketching and painting are great metaphors for photography too. With painting the lay person tends to think of it as a finished artwork, the new artist seems to fear the canvas, mainly because of this self imposed pressure to create a finished work of art.
Sketching is often used to describe the more playful exploratory approach full of mistakes, errors and experiments. With cheaper materials and an abundance of paper we give ourselves permission to take bigger risks.
Both are valid methods of working. Both have different approaches and both inform the other. Both can be used as the other is used, with just a shift of the mind and differing the approach.
With photography I have used both approaches. With large format film I used the painterly approach. Every shutter click had to be a finished work of art. Days wandering the bush searching for the perfect composition and magical artwork. Transparency film helped as it was finished at the moment of exposure. Something I love by the way.
Digital allowed me to sketch with my camera. Take greater risks and push boundaries further. Gone is the cost of film, processing and scanning. One thing I lost was the finished photograph at exposure. Not that I couldn’t go to jpgs and return to that approach, with my use of camera settings and presets I am fairly close and I get a consistently high quality output.
Which is better? Searching for an answer to this is fruitless. Asking how understanding and utilising the best of both, on the other hand is worth the time and effort. If you identify as preferring one over the other, then go and try the one you avoid. Aim to be able to use both depending on the situation.
I find my cameras hint towards one and if I work hard I can overcome some of the limitations I have set myself. Medium format for me is usually reserved for tripods while my smaller formats are now reserved for hand holding. Tripods force me to paint in a considered manner. Handheld allows me the freedom to sketch and take greater risks.
It all boils down to attitudes though and learning about ourselves.
Sand dunes at Myall Lakes. Can’t wait to return next year for the Creative Lens Workshop in May. http://www.lensschool.com/workshops-tours/creative-lens-photography-workshop
Photograph and text copyright © Len Metcalf 2018