|What Really Matters?
I was sitting at my computer operating the joystick in the comfort of my own office. Using a remote web-cam I was remotely operating my recently purchased Segway scooter, you know, the one with the built in gyroscope. I'd mounted my new Nikon D1xtra 80 mega pixel camera on the handlebars of the Segway and had positioned the small loudspeaker just below the camera.
Everything was working perfectly. My equipment had been delivered to Jackson Hole, Wyoming via UP-FedExtra just as I had instructed them to via e-mail (but I don't think they're as efficient since the merger). The leaves should just be starting to turn that rich golden color that I used to remember back when I had to travel there in person. The mountains will soon have a fresh layer of snow, and I knew that I was going to get some great images.
I, of course, had pre-mounted my 14-1,400mm zoom lens prior to shipping. These lenses are great if you haven't tried one. They're made by Sigmagic Corporation and are barely 3 ˝ inches long and, at $2700, they're a bargain. Well, I positioned the remote controlled Segway using my joystick and 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 take quite a few high-res images with the 100-terrabyte memory card. I thought to myself "a pretty good shoot in spite of all the hassle."
"Rainy again today in Boston, highs only getting into the forties…"
My radio alarm jolted me back to reality. Wow, that was an strange 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 and the equipment worries about everything. I really hope not! While I'll 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?
Maybe a better question is "Do we have to?"
The technology wasn't created to cause controversy, not meant to hurt anyone, nor was it meant to take us away from our original goal, photography. Somehow though, it has done all of 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 I was there with my friend shooting the very same subject on that same 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 the first cameras with autofocus and advanced meters were introduced 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 it's 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 it's 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 make it any less beautiful or majestic?
And let's not forget "don't shoot with zoom lenses, primes are much better lenses." Personally I'm a fan of zoom lenses. It means I have to carry less weight into the field and I have more flexibility framing a scene.
What Really Matters?
To get so wrapped 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 it. 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. I use the technology that I have but I don't allow the technology to come between me and my subject.
In order to take great photographs, regardless of the method of capture, we still need to use and exercise good technique and good judgment. 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. After all 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."
For me it really doesn't make any difference how you capture the image, as long as you capture it. Are there areas where honesty comes into play? Yes, of course. 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?"
It's gotten to the point where I want to say: "yeah, you got a problem with that?"
But usually they're just curious and somewhat amazed that digital images can look as good as a print made from film. When I set up my gallery images and gift cards at a show or seminar, people will ask us if they are printed from digital or film?
I tell them that if they can guess which ones are which, I'll give them one. I haven't lost yet!
The Bottom Line
For me the bottom line is; how does it look? Does the image capture the feeling that you experienced at that moment in time? Is it a true representation of what you had in mind when you pressed the shutter? Is not that the true artistry? Does the image move you and make you grateful that you are a photographer? 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 them. "All right Mr. Stanley, was this print taken from Fuji Velvia or did you in fact use a D100?" Silly isn't it?
I've included a few images. Some are shot with Fuji Velvia and some shot digitally. See if you can tell which are which!
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.
materials contained herein © Copyright Vivid Light Photography Magazine
2001, 2002, 2003, 2004