Photo Project: Going Retro With Your Camera

Last Updated on August 22, 2016 by Susheel Chandradhas

A few days ago, I wrote about how to retrograde your dSLR, and turn it into something a bit more dated. Yes, a strange thing to do…

Now, we’re going to look at how you can use that retro dSLR to improve your photography skills and the way you think when you have a camera in your hand.

Your dSLR has a lot of features that help you get your image ‘just right’. Take the modern gadgets away, and you’re back with the fundamentals of photography; and that’s not going to change. Even in the distant future.

Why go back?

Pushing your camera back to the “old days” will:

  1. Make you understand the mechanics of taking a photograph.
  2. Improve your awareness of the composition in your frame.
  3. Help you visualise what you want to capture.
  4. Show you the difference between your visualisation and the actual capture. (practise will make you better at reducing this gap).
  5. Enable you to make the most out of your camera when it is back in ‘regular dSLR’ mode.
  6. Confuse the hell out of you for a while. (For sure, if you’ve never shot in full manual before.)


Some simple guidelines for the project.

  1. Retrograde your camera as described earlier… or use an old Film SLR.
  2. Try not to use any automatic modes, and do not look at the LCD display for anything.
  3. Learn the Sunny 16 ruleBrian Auer’s Sunny 16 guide is brilliant.
  4. Take only 36 photographs in a session. Do not cheat by deleting pix.
  5. Do not. I repeat “DO NOT” look at the photographs until you download them on your computer.
  6. Only use simple retouching techniques at first… Basic “Levels” or “Curves” Photoshop adjustments.

Step-by-step project walkthrough

Step 1:

You’re in the dark when it comes to correct exposure (unless you have prior experience). This is because our eyes are so good at adapting to the light that is available to them. A well lit room could look easily look as bright as daylight in summer even though it is not.

Use the Sunny 16 Rule to guide you, and take photographs in sunlit places. Unless you want to live dangerously.

Step 2:

Consider every single exposure. Really look at the composition, study the light that’s falling on the object, calculate exposure based on the sunny 16 rule, note the background, take a breath, and gently depress the shutter release.

Remember that you’re only taking 36 photographs for this project. If you take a picture, don’t delete it.

Restricting yourself to a low number of photographs makes you think about the subject:

  1. Is the subject worth photographing? Ditch it if you think you’ll get better subjects.
  2. Have I got the best angle? Try different angles till one looks great.
  3. Is the light right? Come back when you think it’ll be right.
  4. Have I set the right Focal Length, Aperture and Shutter speed? Only time will tell 😀

Step 3:

Try really, really hard not to look at the photographs before they download. This is the hardest part for many of us. If you’re on a Film SLR, you’ve got to wait anyway, so skip this step.

Step 4:

Download your photographs, or get them printed at the photo-store. Analyse the pictures, and re-live the moment in which it was snapped. If you were to take that photograph again, what would you do differently? Log these notes in your memory for future use.

If you do retouch these photographs, try to keep the retouching light in an effort to maintain the original feel.

Step 5:

Pick a photograph, either because it came out exactly how you envisioned, or because it failed miserably. Tag it “BP-retro” and share it in our Beyond Phototips Flickr Group, or you could write a blog post about it. Alternatively, you could simply post in in the comments, right here… But do explain what you were trying to do, and whether you succeeded or failed.

I’ll be participating too, so expect to see my misfired pictures in the near future.

Wrapping up

I’ll compile all the photographs that are shared on this website, or in the Flickr group and share them in a post two weeks from now, around the 9th of December. Submit your entries before that. If you write a blog post, mail me from the contact page if you want it posted.

Note: This sort of limited-frame shooting is best tested when on a photowalk. In that case, limit yourself to about 72 frames. The equivalent of two rolls of film.

5 comments Add yours
  1. Good couple of posts. I shoot manual / sunny16 only, simply because I don’t own a modern camera.

    I tried a dSLR for about 6 months, but I hated seeing the pictures instantly because it’s distracting and it spoils the fun too. I wouldn’t use a Polaroid either.

    A few people I know started using their dSLR in manual mode and eventually turned to classic cameras.

  2. Susheel,
    I’m just finding and reading this post now (12/15), so curious how this project turned out…I’ll have to go look at the Flickr page. This is interesting to me, as someone who’s been shooting for a long time and has been on both sides of the “digital fence.” Personally I have to say that I think the LCD screen on modern digital cameras has done more to reduce the ‘learning curve’ for young photographers than any other technological development. I have a post on my photo blog called ‘Chimping Your Way to Better Photography’ that explores this.

  3. I’d like to see the results as well.
    Overall good points, Susheel, and things I’d definitely give a try.
    But the thing about shooting only those really important things (punctum, according to Roland Barthes) is perhaps not relevant these days? Especially on the street – waiting for the moment is anachronism. Because different, many and interesting moments/frames/subjects are always there. I just need to put a frame around it. In that sense, therefore, my only role/thought process as a photographer, is to compose well.

  4. Ravages:

    Not a very good turnout to this project, possibly because of the point you raise…

    However, I beg to differ, given this context.

    With all these moments passing you by, and often (as with the photowalks) many photographers making different compositions of the same incidents, where do you find the 1, 2, or even 5 images that stand out? Which are the moments that stand out from all the others? “Lost in the crowd”…

    If you’re so busy taking photographs, do you miss the ‘real’ moment that you wanted to capture?

    I think that as you become adept with your equipment, you will be more ‘in the moment’ even behind your camera, and it is this skill that I’m trying to build here.

    I do not say this to restrict your regular photo-taking, I would be a hypocrite to ask that of you. Rather, I ask this so that good compositions, assessment of light and the camera’s exposure become second nature to you.

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