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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
What Really Matters?
by Gary W. Stanley

I was sitting at my computer operating the joystick in the comfort of my own office. I had a remote web-cam mounted on a recently purchased Segway scooter, you know, the one with the built in gyroscope. I mounted my new Nikon D1xtra 20 mega pixel camera on the handlebar of the Segway with the mounting bracket that I purchased from and had positioned the small loudspeaker just below the camera.

Everything was working perfectly. My equipment had been delivered to Jackson Hole, Wyoming via FedExtra just as I had instructed them to do via e-mail. The leaves were just starting to turn that rich golden color that I used to remember back when I had to travel there in person. The mountains had a fresh layer of snow, and I knew that this was going to be a great shoot.

I, of course, had pre-mounted my 14-400mm zoom lens prior to shipping. Man these lenses are great if you haven't tried one. They're made by Sigmagic Corporation and are barely 3-1/2 inches long and, at $3,700, they're a bargain. Well, I positioned the remote controlled Segway using my joystick and had started to work the composition, when some idiot with a 4x5 camera and a big wooden tripod, stepped right in front of me. "Hey!" I said, through the loudspeaker, "Do you mind? I'm trying to take a picture here." "Oops! Sorry," said the old man. Well, in spite of him I was able to capture quite a few high-res images onto the 10-gig memory card. I thought to myself "pretty good shoot in spite of all the hassle."

"Cold again today in Boston, highs only in the teens" my radio alarm jolted me back to reality. Wow, that was an interesting dream!

Where Are We Headed? 
Don't you feel sometimes like that's where we are headed? A place where someday we don't even have to go to a shooting location, we just send our equipment. I hope not! I really hope not! While I probably will never be labeled an equipment junkie, I am just as interested in the latest gadgets and the newest technology as most of you. Sometimes it really seems hard to keep up, doesn't it? Do we have to?

The Controversy 
This technology seems to have also created in us a bed of controversy not meant to hurt anyone, nor was it meant to take us away from our original goal, photography. Somehow though, it has done that to some of us. I read a recent email from a reader who was expressing his dissatisfaction with the fact that his camera club was allowing digital prints to compete and be judged in the same category as regular prints. "He or she printed the image themselves, they must have cheated." "It was shot with a digital camera, that's not fair."

The comment made me think about a friend of mine who had scanned one of his slides into the computer and produced a very nice print, entered it into his local camera club competition, only to have the print shot down and scored low by the judge because it was a digital print (he actually said so). The funny thing about it was that I was there with my friend shooting the very same subject on that beautiful evening, and guess what? He had printed it just as accurately as the slide had captured it. I've heard similar comments about prints made from an image captured digitally. "Cheater, cheater, you know a digital image has more latitude than slide film, and once you get it into the computer, who knows what you do with it." I suppose people cried foul when Fuji first produced Fuji 50 back when Kodachrome was king of the hill too.

Think About It 
Several points come to mind here. First, whether the image was a slide scanned into the computer, or a digital image downloaded to the computer, once in the computer, I could do anything to that image regardless of how it was taken if I wanted to. Second, I could take the slide to my favorite lab and say: "John, make a nice print of this."

John will make a nice print of that image based on my input, his darkroom skills, and his method of printing, paper and so on. He will burn and dodge or do what ever he thinks he needs to do, because he knows my personal tastes based on his experience working with me as a customer. Is that cheating? Isn't it the responsibility of the photographer to be forthright and honest when it comes to printing, not John, or my computer? Personally, I want my prints to look like my slides.

Jim Lyons, a friend of mine from Kodak said that it is amazing how often a person will shoot a spectacular scene with whatever film happens to be in the camera at that time, and because it comes out great, will become loyal to that particular film. They don't stop and say: I bet that would have been better with 100VS, or Velvia. I suppose too, that it would also be true with the brand of camera, or lens we used at that time. "You can have your Nikon, look at this picture I took with my Pentax K1000."

Was that Brown Bear shot at a zoo, in the wild, or at a captive game farm? Does it matter? Maybe it does to a stock agency. Does shooting that animal in different locations really make it any less beautiful or majestic?

What Really Matters? 
To get so rapped up in the technology, or so wrapped up in tradition is to lose sight of the real reason we do what we do. Technology is great for those who enjoy it, as is tradition to the person who appreciates that. Trust me here when I tell you, I still have to focus my digital camera, compose my image, select the right focal length and figure out the exposure just like I do with my film camera. I still use a tripod and a cable release too.

In order to take great photographs, regardless of the method of capture, we still need to use and exercise good technique. We still have to get up early or stay out late to capture that special light. We still need to understand the basics of good composition. Last I heard, those rules still apply in spite of the advances in technology.

Aren't we all still photographers? Isn't it our love of the outdoors and the beauty of nature that motivates us to take photographs? Even though I shoot with both digital and film, I can answer yes to both questions.

Who wakes up in the morning and says "Wow! Look at the light on those boats in the harbor; I can't wait to photograph that digitally, no wait, someone might object, I better use film. No, I should use digital it's really the hot thing. I probably shouldn't shoot it with film right now. Damn! the light's gone.

Nikon D100, Tokina 24-200mm, a tripod and a cable release taken 20 minutes apart.

For me it really doesn't make any difference how we capture the image, as long as we capture it. Are there areas where honesty comes into play? Yes, sometimes. I'll admit that in years past no one questioned the honesty of my prints. Today, it seems like the first word out of someone's mouth is: "is that digital?

I want to say: "yes, you got a problem with that?" Usually however, they're just curious and somewhat amazed that digital images can look as good as a print made from film.

Nikon D100, Nikkor 80-400 VR tripod 
and a cable release

The Bottom Line 
For me the bottom line is; how does it look? Does this image capture the feeling that you had at that moment in time? Is it a true representation of what you had in mind when you pressed the shutter? Is not that true artistry? Does the image move you and make you grateful that you are a photographer? And be fair as you view other people's work. Ask questions because you sincerely want to know how the image was taken, not because the maker is on trial and it's your job to cross-examine.

I tell people that I get excited every time I look at one of my images, not because I took it, but because I was able to capture what I saw with my mind's eye and with the true feeling and passion that I have in my heart.

Photography inspires because nature inspires.

Sea Smoke as viewed from my deck. Nikon D100, Tokina 24-200mm, 
a tripod and a cable release

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