Is digital seducing us into the wrong approach?

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
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Tim Tucker
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Is digital seducing us into the wrong approach?
5 months ago

I'll make this plain before I start. Digital is a great step forward for photography. From the moment you start to apply pressure on that shutter release everything about creating an image is both more accessible and more diverse. I love it, and I also love film. If I want film I shoot on film, end of.

I want to discuss the process before you press the shutter. Is digital seducing us into using the camera to create the image, instead of our imagination? Do we frame and compose through the viewfinder and zoom control rather than visualise an image in the mind then use the digital process to capture it? Though I don't think it necessarily wrong we do seem to be creating a lot of pretty images. To me techniques like wide open/no Dof shots are just trying to inject an abstract quality into a pretty or, frankly bland, subject just for the stun factor. For me what has always made the best abstract shots has been the amount of thought that was applied before the shutter was pressed.

Please don't mis-understand me, if that's your thing then enjoy.

35mm (and full frame) is my favourite format. It is just perfect for hand held photography. I'll illustrate it by comparing it to my 110 year old half-plate. It is a beast to use! The technical complexities of setting it up and getting it focussed took on average 20-30 mins.

So what does using that camera teach you? A very fine understanding of techniques and image management? No, because apart from the very simple basics they are not really necessary or relevant in 35mm.

What it teaches you is anticipation.

I read on a thread about a Nikon N1 mirrorless (?) and how one owner rates it because you see everything. You don't miss that shot because of mirror lag, you can watch right through and capture the perfect moment.

You don't miss shots through mirror lag, you miss them through lack of observation. Being able to see how situations develop and anticipate the best moment is one of the greatest strengths of street photographers and a real skill.

I'll stretch anticipation to breaking point with the next example. I had to wait 3 months for the image below. I saw the shot and knew what I wanted but for the sun to be in the right position and low so it set the cracking paint into relief I had to wait until September. Would you do that with digital or are you seduced by the 'image in an instant' quality digital can supply?

So what about exposure? Back in my film days Ansel Adams' book 'The Negative' was my bible. It still has more bookmarks in it than it has pages. Does that help in digital? No, exposure in digital is remarkably simple. Hand held meters are practically useless. I still have my Pentax Spotmeter but that is confined purely to giving a highlight reading, and even that is not strictly necessary.

So why is a friend of mine, fairly new to photography, so confused by it? Because he finds trying to understand which mode to use for which situation too complex. What I have taken from my film days is to watch the light and understand it, not the cameras's creative modes.

Portraits. Of course a good portrait lens is worth it's weight, but it isn't as important as being able to get the subject to relax and perhaps perform in front of the lens. And when they do perform you as a photographer can dictate where they perform to a fair degree. You have a lot more control over the surroundings and background than you think. Is that a skill we are forgetting in favour of chasing 'the best portrait lens'?

There are probably lots of other examples, but you should understand my point by now.

Are we being seduced by digital's "instant image through technology" instead of developing visualisation and imagination?

Is this a bad thing?

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