Better Photographers with Digital Cameras?

I was at a ball game the other day when I saw a high school girl a few feet away shooting with a Canon digital camera. About the time I noticed her, she noticed me and asked, “Do you know how to adjust the exposure on a Canon?”

I made this image of coins on my desk in 1984. I turned off all the room lights, opened the shutter, and flashed the coins four times, each with a different colored gel on the flash. I got the results back from the processor a week later.
I made this image of coins on my desk in 1984. I turned off all the room lights, opened the shutter, and flashed the coins four times, each with a different colored gel on the flash. I got the results back from the processor a week later.

I told her I did. I do because I need to know how when I teach students with Canon cameras, but if you look for it, you can usually find it on any brand of camera. It’s usually a +/- button, or a +/- icon in the menu. After finding it, it’s just a matter of figuring out how engineers decided it should work: push and hold while you turn the command dial, push and release while you scroll left and right on the display, etc..

We talked for a minute and she told me her name was Paige, and she was on the yearbook staff at her school. Being an old man, I had no choice but to lay into her about how rough we had it in the old days: smelly concrete darkrooms in the basement, drying film with a hair dryer, blowing dust off of negatives, filling trash cans with bad prints, and so on.

Then she said this: “With digital, you don’t have to be a good photographer to get good pictures.”

Initially, this statement was pretty offensive. Anyone in the adult photography community knows that good pictures come from photographers’ hearts and minds, not from their tools. But she did have a point. Gone were fogged rolls of film, scratches from dust in the film cassette, overdeveloped highlights, and grain. Oh, grain.

Where am I going with this? Just this: digital photography has elevated all of imaging to a new level. Non-photographers can get usable results from digital cameras they could not have gotten with film. And professional and fine art photographers can get amazing results where they might have struggled with film.

I know that there is a small, deeply-devoted cadre of fine art photographers in the world who are still producing spectacular art with film, particularly with large format film like 4×5. But they are part of an ever-smaller niche in photography. For me, digital photography is liberating. And for Paige, and so many amateur photographers out there who simply want fun snapshots without any fuss, digital photography is a problem-solving technology.

I photographed these coins just now in my dressing room where I have three flash units set up. It is incredibly sharp. Time to set up, shoot, upload and edit: less than eight minutes. If I wanted to print it, add 45 seconds.
I photographed these coins just now in my dressing room where I have three flash units set up. It is incredibly sharp. Time to set up, shoot, upload and edit: less than eight minutes. If I wanted to print it, add 45 seconds.
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1 Comment

  1. I think digital photography has removed many of the potential roadblocks of film photography (some of which you listed), but it’s added a few of its own…

    Some issues people mention regularly in forums: dead pixels, corrupt memory cards, smaller dynamic range, to name three.

    I also think the percentage of bad pictures has either stayed the same or possibly increased, maybe because we’re no longer worried about wasting film.

    Additionally, the rise of digital photography has been accompanied by the popularity of special effects programs which take bad pictures and make them worse.

    All that being said, I’m happy to be shooting digital pictures. Not because it makes my images better, but because it gives me the chance to make my pictures better.

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