Yes, I went to Fiji! Look at me and all the hard work I did to arrive at this place in life—this place where I can let my parents take me to the South Pacific. Even though we sound fancy, this was our first big family vacation in over a decade. The stakes were high to have the best time ever and not get diarrhea on the airplane. I didn’t want to waste any time staring at a screen in my hands, so I drop-kicked my phone into the Willamette River (left it at home) and filled my bags with books that turned out to be too serious and a Nikon F5 loaded with Portra 400.
I’ve been shooting digital most of my life due to being 27. Shooting film brought me back to my second grade teacher telling me I’d have to write all my college essays in cursive. Little did she know I would have my own scribe by then. There was a brief time in the late ‘90s when I’d walk around in big red glasses toting a plastic film camera, excitedly photographing brown sparrows on rooftops. My parents could barely make out the tiniest silhouette of a bird when I pointed it out in the print.
I’ve come a long way since my eight-year-old photography, but also not really.
My five regrets:
1. NOT TAKING A LONG LENS
My bag only had a 28mm and a 50mm in it because I wanted to keep my setup as compact as possible. When I first spotted a gaggle of Fiji parrotfinchs flitter-fluttering on the green grass, I immediately regretted not collapsing under the weight of a 600mm to get that one shot hundreds of photographers have gotten before me. I didn’t release the shutter on a single birdy because I’ve seen enough disappointed squinting to last a lifetime. If you want to know what the bird looks like, just imagine the most adorable red and green sandwich that flies.
2. DROPPING A ROLL OF EXPOSED FILM IN THE SAND
We boated to Tivua, an uninhabited island full of lamb sausage and hammocks. It was stupid-beautiful. The kind of stupid where you can see stingrays, blacktip reef sharks, and tropical fish from the comfort of the shore…or the comfort of the water (everything is comfortable).
The stupidness rose to grandeur as I left the company of tourists and walked to the lonely side of the island. A path lined with vegetation ushered me toward the turquoise water, pristine sand, and triumphant palms. I snapped photos like crazy, wanting to make Truman proud.
When it was time to switch rolls, I was so peace-ed out I didn’t realize I dropped a canister of exposed film in the sand under my hammock.
I took a nap. Got up. Ate sausages. Returned to hammock. My foot hit something in the sand. Weird. What is that? A film canister? Huh. Someone must’ve left—OH MY GICKER-PICKERS, I ALMOST LEFT ALL THESE TRUMAN PHOTOS ON THE ISLAND NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN. MY LIFE ALMOST MEANT NOTHING.
3. SO GRAINY
A lot of pictures were grainy, folks. “Duh, Stephanie.” YES BUT have you shot with a Sony mirrorless camera?! Their sensor technology makes it impossible to take a bad photo. Renting the latest Sony cameras has completely spoiled me. Sony: Great camera manufacturer; Terrible parents. I know there are ways to reduce graininess with this film, that software, and these settings—but I am lazy (bad Sony parents). It’s tempting to just say the graininess is fitting for such a sandy location, but that joke-excuse is low-hanging fruit. By the way Fiji also has low-hanging fruit!
4. OK, MAYBE JUST ONE FROG
I didn’t actually learn my lesson from the birds. A 50mm cannot do a frog justice, but I couldn’t help myself. There were tons of adorable froggos everywhere. I had to try. I had to commit frog injustice. Upon writing this blog post I discovered what I thought were frogs were actually poisonous cane toads. Gross. Next time I will take a terrible photo of a flying red and green sandwich.
5. THE SUNSET’S FAULT
One of my goals in Fiji was to capture an incredibly perfect sunset that I could keep forever and hold to my chest on the darkest of nights. Almost every evening before sunset I’d set up my camera and wait for the sky to cook up a colorful wonderscape. And every time it was…pretty.
I didn’t want pretty! I wanted the sky to explode with the jaw-dropping palette of paradise! Self-check: I sound like one of those modeling agents that tells skinny girls they need to lose ten pounds to be worthy of Camera. One sunset did astound me. It faded from glory through our taxi cab window while we drove back from watching Mission: Impossible-Fallout in excessively stained seats. I assured myself there would be plentiful sunset glories in the days ahead. False. At least my family enjoyed the latest Mission: Impossible installment, and I got the opportunity to remember how much I love other movies.
Everyone, please sit in criss-cross applesauce position as we move into a time of feeling and healing.
Despite the limitations of film gear, my inability to stay fully conscious while switching rolls, and the sky’s personal vendetta against me, I got what I wanted out of shooting film. Ultimately, photography is meant to enhance the human experience. I often find myself comparing my photos to that of other artists which drains joy faster than baby sharks eat chicken (it happened).
Film helped me live in the present moment because no one could judge the photos for weeks. I lived in blissful ignorance my entire vacation. By the time the prints were ready, I had enough perspective and distance that I didn’t care how they stacked up against the symphony of the internet. I was so excited to finally meet the photos! I got them when they were just eggs, kept them in the refrigerator until they were ready to hatch (the metaphor is breaking down), watched them poke their little beaks out of the canisters, and now they are birds flying around like billions of other birds. But I know these ones! These are my brown sparrows.