The young snappers of today don’t know how good they’ve got it. Back in the nineties, the world of photography was a very different place.
Okay, so we’d moved on from the days of black and white only snaps and having to develop photos in a darkroom, but there were still some very limiting (and infuriating) factors when trying to take a photo in the pre-digital camera age.
1. You had no idea how your photos would turn out
Nowadays if you’ve framed the perfect scene you can take seven or eight photos safe in the knowledge that when you check them (two seconds later) you’ll find at least one that’s up to standard. Back in the nineties it was totally down to chance how your photos would turn out. Your only guide was the tiny viewfinder that made things look a million miles away and was nearly always smudged.
2. You were limited to the number of pictures you could take
Films came in reels of 24 or 36 and cost a small fortune. The conundrum was that the more photos you took to make sure you were getting a good one, the more you were eating into your film.
With each click of the camera there was a palpable sense of money being wagered on a losing bet. It was a bit like doing the lottery but with less chance of a winning result.
3. Anything that could go wrong usually did
A red flashing light meant your batteries were about to run out. These were the days when you actually had to replace the batteries, so if you didn’t have any spares with you, your camera became redundant.
One of the biggest drains on the batteries was the flash. There was no auto setting so you had to use it wisely, though even if you opted for flash there was no guarantee it would work. Most cameras seemed to include a flash for decoration only.
Even if you’d got lucky with the flash and packed spare batteries there was also the chance the film would start rewinding for no apparent reason when you were only halfway through. These factors might explain why there are so few framed photos in anyone’s house that feature the 1990s.
4. You took pictures of inanimate objects until the film ran out
Barring any of the above disasters you’d get to the stage when the camera registered that you’d reached your limit of photos and all that was left was for the film to start rewinding. If it didn’t happen automatically, to remedy the situation you had to take more photos until the film started whirring. Rather than seize this unexpected opportunity to take some inspirational, ad hoc photos, the tendency in order to speed up the process was to take random pictures of the TV and the toaster.
5. Once removed from the camera the film had to be handled with extreme care
The film’s columnar case acted as a tiny darkroom until such times as you took it to be developed. Once removed from the camera you had to get your film into the case as quickly as possible without exposure to light or moisture. It was a bit like having your own Gremlin.
6. You had to wait at a week to see the end results
Instant photo machines did not exist and one hour photos were the stuff of luxury. The most realistic option was to wait a week for Boots to develop your photos. It was a particularly nervous wait if you’d just come back from a lads holiday to Magaluf where photos 20 through to 27 were taken without your knowledge or consent.
7. The people who developed your photos left you feedback
When you did get your photos back the so-called experts who developed them often took to sticking labels on them to tell you where you were going wrong. The most common error was a huge thumb covering half the photo.
And the one positive to come from photography in the nineties…