Camera shutter (Pic: Andrew Walmsley)
(All pics: Andrew Walmsley)

By Andrew Walmsley

At some point in your life you have all been affected by a constraint, whether you were an artist, a parent, an employee or something else.

It is in my opinion constraints are the catalysts for learning, achievement and development. If we carry this thought process into the world of photography, the constraints can change over time or depend on what you are trying to achieve.

But for the sake of this article I am cataloguing these in four main points:

  1. Ability
  2. Light
  3. Technology
  4. Money

In this article we will go through these one at a time and I will provide some real example images for you to consider. This work is not about saying why more money is better or better light, its more focused and how to cope and use it to your advantage

Technology constraints
This is an area people are transfixed on, whether it’s adding more cameras to their collections or improving on reliability. I’m referring to lights, your camera, lens, tripods and anything else you use for your photography.

If you are already shooting film, you will be used to certain constraints anyway, but certain formats and cameras bring their own problems and restraints too. It could be aperture choice (fast lenses maybe more expensive) or shutter speed (1970s-80s cameras were often limited to 1/1000th). Maybe it’s a certain film stock that needs certain light (infrared/x-ray).

One simple example would be to use a tripod, as this can severely slow your workflow (though essential for some work). So if you’ve never shot a portrait using a tripod, why not challenge yourself for a few shots, rolls or sheets?

Technology constraints can affect you detrimental ways too, as my Bronica currently misses some frames. In this instance I know it is going to happen, so I embrace it and work around it (shoot extra exposures). Sure you can choose to fix or have this element repaired, but it may not be financially viable.

Technology example

Here is a recent idea that involved me using my Bronica ETRS with a 150mm lens to shoot architecture! The thinking here was its both an unusual focal length and it would mean being careful when framing! Previously I would have taken a digital shot with a wide-angle lens. In this shot we have the Humber Bridge, taken from the south side of the River Humber, shot using Kodak Ektar 100 film

Light constraints
Light cannot be realistically covered in a small article like this, but it’s important you know its effect on your work and your film. Light is really one of the most important elements of photography to understand it, as without it you wouldn’t have an image. You should also remember the camera is only a box that absorbs light and interacts with a chemical (eg emulsion) to form a latent image. It is very easy to choose a time of the day to work or a location that produces different looking shadows.

If working in a studio environment you could limit how many lights you use and the distance to change the look. Different lights and diffusers could be used in artistic ways, with simple attachments like gels or snoots.

One piece of advice I’ve followed is to learn the Sunny 16 rule for metering your shots, this has really helped me work more or less without a meter. I believe shooting on a fully manual camera like my trusty Bronica ETRS has pushed me to use my eyes. If I work like this, I enjoy my photography as I’m not relying on having to wear glasses to look at a small screen on a light meter or smartphone app.

You may call this laziness on my part, but if you constrain yourself to not use technology you have no choice but to perfect it. I’m no expert and my work is not perfect, but I have a high percentage of shots which are exposed correctly.

This was a shot from a visit to Cromer’s Amazonia zoo from a recent family holiday. Again, this was shot on my Bronica using Kodak film. The point for this example is that I used nothing other than my eyes to meter (Sunny 16) and I’m sure you will agree it’s perfectly exposed (may have suited a smaller aperture though).

Because this was a family trip I constrained myself to a typical snapshot you might do with your phone, but judged the light in the shadows as it was an extremely hot and sunny day.

Your path into photography may have been like mine, you just bought a camera and, had one lens. Well, at that time you had a constraint without realising – your ability. You won’t have known the implications of shooting manually, I suspect. You would have been afraid of trying it as you wouldn’t know what the camera was doing or how to get the results you managed from auto modes (like aperture priority or shutter priority).

Over time your ability should improve with regard to the technical aspects, because through repetition of using the same equipment you will learn. Again, if you shoot similar settings and subjects your work should/can improve. Hopefully you will be able to critique your own work and realise where you are going wrong too.

But your ability can be affected by the other elements, so if you don’t try new settings or subject matter you may be holding yourself back. One of the things that has really helped my work is to compliment my digital work with film, to the point where you become comfortable with both.

Pushing myself to shooting more models has improved my confidence And by watching and listening to other photographers you may find some useful skills to aide your own work.

This one could be the limiting factor in your work, as working with older equipment you may need to invest in spares and repairs to your gear. It may also just be the cost of the particular medium you use. For instance, developer and silver for large format shooters is very expensive, as are original Fuji pack films for instant shooting. We could also be talking about hiring models, equipment and stages to help develop your artistry. There are so many of these elements that are linked, sometimes money can enable and empower your knowledge through learning.

However, a lack of this can actually make you a better artist, you may understand your equipment and its limitations better. Often the ingenuity required will actually help you. For instance I would love a light meter that could be used for flash and natural light, these cost too much.

Because of this, in the past I’ve used a digital camera or a smartphone. But as discussed above the better option was to practice and use my eyes where possible. Not having a vast array of money to buy lighting equipment pushed by ability to use simple set-ups (one flash, umbrella or a snoot). This is helping me become more confident to try this with models during the few portrait sessions I attend. Only you can decide what to spend your money on, but education will help you long term.

This shot is all about a lack of equipment and money, it was taken on the Bronica using Kodak Portra and a one-light set-up. Its the same low cost Newer flash trigger and receiver I use with my digital equipment, so it’s fun to try on film too. Incidentally this is a lab scan and unedited to show the ability of film and low cost equipment (you can buy a Bronica for £200).

Other constraints
You will notice I’ve not gone in to medical reasons that can affect your work, but they are constraints and could totally affect your work. I have not really considered time either, even though it’s a massive constraint to some.

If you’re running a project them time could be critical and number one. As a father and having a full-time job, time for photography is limited. I have never considered it a problem for me, it’s a time for me to enjoy my passion so I try to relax. However, because its limited I am focused and realise there is only a few hours or so to achieve what I set out to do (like write an article like this).

Being a father with this amazing hobby I try to take a camera with me and on this occasion I took the Bronica to a local stately home park in Rufford. As an example of being constrained for time, I cannot wait all day for the perfect shot or the correct weather, nor can I take a tripod. This was a fun time for my children, so it’s a look around to monitor where they were playing, run across to this garden entrance and frame my shot (again this is an unedited shot).

It’s very easy to write an article and say constraints are great, but of course it’s not all fun and laughter. It can take many exposures and trials to get here (trust me on that). There are many times I think about how different my photography would be if I had better technology and funds.

But then I think I shouldn’t think like that, especially when people around you and your peers congratulate you on your work. You need consistency, if your equipment can’t give that you will suffer setback and cost. I know this from experience and I hope all my equipment will be fault-free at some point (sponsorships and donations appreciated!).

You might also ask what did the constraints do for me and why would it be right for you? Hopefully the few images will help you see you can achieve success, constraints can help you simplify your work. You can focus on what matters, the message and the reason for your images.

The analogue world is an amazing place, so get out there, note down a constraint and start a project. I’ve setup a few collaborative projects that are designed to constraint the photographers and they worked great.


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Stephen Dowling
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4 years ago

For over 30 years my preferred lens has been a 50 mm, be it on anologue or digital. Over 75 % of my work is with a 50. Some might say this is a constraint, for me, I think it’s a gift, as it makes me work for shots, which generally means moving my feet, allot! Obviously, I do need to use other lenses for different kinds of work / projects. But they are my exception. Rather than a rule.