If “Digital” Improves So Much, Why Is It Bad In Photography?

Richard Charpentier Digital Cameras, Photography 7 Comments

It isn’t bad in photography.  There’s the bottom line.  But if you read around you’ll find again and again folks debating the merits of digital versus analog.  And you know what?  The debate is bunk.

Digital Revolutionizes So Much

You don’t hear people arguing about the value of the Internet.  If we were all unplugged tomorrow mass hysteria would ensue.  News broadcasters wouldn’t have jack to work with.  They’d report the Internet was down and they had no further information to provide.

Digital has revolutionized wireless communication.  Look back 15 years.  Only “certain people” had cell phones.  And the networks sucked totally.  Analog couldn’t carry enough capacity.  There weren’t enough channels to make it a viable communications method for large quantities of people.  Introduce digital and suddenly clarity of voice, large capacities of traffic, and even data became available.  And I know what I’m talking about.  I’m one of the guys who helped make your wireless communications possible for a time.

Take it a little further.  Do you recall trying to make land line phone calls on Christmas 20 years ago?  Yeah?  Network busy signals.  Operator assisted calling.  A total lack of capacity for phone calls on certain days.  Outrageous long distance bills, different long distance pricing based on time of day.  That was all due to network capacity limitations.  Bummer.  Along comes digital……  When was your last operator assisted call?  Hmmmmm?

XM Satellite Radio (wouldn’t trade it for dozens of FM stations), IPods, HD TV, Digital Wireless, WiFi, online banking, the IPhone, online gaming, audio books……would you give it all back because it isn’t analog?

Yet “Digital” Gets Thrown Under The Bus For Photography……For No Real Reason

Okay, digital rocks for so many things.  Yet it still gets trashed in the photographic realm on a regular basis.  What The French Toast?

My first SLR was a Pentax K1000.  I used it while in college.  Took it on hikes in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.  Loved that camera!  But you know, I didn’t get to practice with it much.  Starving grad student syndrome.  Film was expensive. Developing was expensive.  Practicing to improve was a financial challenge to be sure.  I remember attempting night photography to show a star lit sky.  I’d read all about it, thought I had it dialed in, but no way to be sure other than blowing a roll of film and paying for developing…….

The pictures sucked big time!

Of course, it was my first attempt.  I needed practice.  But I didn’t have the paper stacks to afford it at the time.  So I dropped it.

Along came digital.  At first digital imaging sucked as bad as my star photo attempts.  The first digital cameras posed no challenge to film.  Not even a worry.  But then it evolved.  And finally in 2002 I got my first Digital SLR.  I also made my first good night photos.  See, I got to practice.  I didn’t need vast sums of money for developing or film.  Reformat the memory card and try again.

Is that a bad thing?

You’d think so given what’s out there on the web, in media, and within some members of the photographic community.

So, what has digital done wrong?  Where has it diverged from film?  What do Digital SLRs do to make the old school folks so bothered?


The Actual Process – Film SLR Versus Digital SLR

There’s a difference or an advantage between Film and Digital, right?  I mean the Digital camera does stuff film doesn’t.  The digital alters it somehow, correct?

Well, if you’re talking SLR, and you’re shooting in Camera RAW then really the answer is no.

Film cameras have a lens, a mirror, the shutter, and the film which is light sensitive and when exposed to light (by opening the shutter) captures light information.

Digital SLRs have a lens, a mirror, the shutter, and a light sensitive sensor that records the information to a memory card.  And if you’re shooting RAW you get the “raw” information as it were.

So, the storage medium has changed.  And you don’t have to pay gobs of money to develop.  And you’re not nuking tons of paper, film, silver, and other chemicals which go into the film creation and developing process (environmentalists and recyclers should totally love that).  When you take a bad shot in digital you can delete it.  When you take a bad shot with film you’ve still wasted a physical resource.  Yup, digital sounds pretty bad.

Editing, The Dirtiest Concept There Is…..And Photoshop Is At The Center Of It All!

This photo has been cropped and Kenny's teeth have been put to the proper color. See, there were colored lights on stage and his teeth were green from a green light. Editing does help sometimes.

If digital works the same as film, what makes it so horribly bad?  Most likely, the ability to easily edit images.  Because in film photographers never edited, and in digital that’s all they do.  That’s right…..film photographers never edited…….  🙂

Not long ago at all Matt Kloskowski posted over at Scott Kelby’s website in a guest post entitled “Photoshop is NOT a Bad Word.”  It’s a great post and worth a read.

See, I think folks are bent out of shape because the ability to edit has become easier.  Of course, most digital photographers aren’t running around Photoshopping the world willy nilly.  They don’t know how to.  Photoshop isn’t the easiest thing to pick up over night.  Heck, it’s frustrating.  From 2002 – 2006 I refused to edit.  I used the lame excuse that I was being a purist, when in fact truth be told I didn’t have a clue in photoshop.  Once I learned more about it I realized it’s just part of the imaging evolution.

Now, film professionals also did in fact edit.  A lot!  Tons.  In the dark room.  Only back in the film days most folks didn’t know that’s what was going on.  The magic of the dark room was literally a black box.  With the advent of digital everybody knows about Photoshop.  Does that make it cheating?  No, not unless you consider all the editing and design departments at every major magazine over decades cheaters as well.

Not Using Photoshop Isn’t A Badge Of Honor……It’s A Warning Sign

So, what’s the inspiration for today’s post?  Website after website of “pro” photographers in my area.  See, I’m looking around getting an idea of a reasonable rate for future portrait photography.  And while I’m looking at everyone else’s work and web sites I keep finding a theme.

“I don’t use Photoshop……  I will create black & white images or Sepia images as they’ve been done since the start of photography……  I don’t edit……I’m a natural light photographer……”

The list goes on and on.  And that’s okay.  You can choose not to use the tools available to you in the industry you are in.  Hey, I see roofers all the time advertising, “I don’t use powered nail guns.  They’re unnatural.  I only use a hammer and nails, and while it takes a lot longer to finish your roof as I charge you by the hour, be assured you have a more natural roof.”  Yeah, you’d hire that guy on the spot, wouldn’t you?

To me it’s just crazy not to utilize all the tools available to you.  That doesn’t mean you edit every photo.  It doesn’t mean you over saturate photos that you did a bad job on just to distract your client.  It means that if you have tools available to present the best product possible why wouldn’t you use them?  Maybe the same sour grapes I used to have about Photoshop?  Yeah, I think that’s the real story there.  Film photographers used many techniques in the dark room.  And they sure as heck didn’t advertise it.  They just presented you with the best image possible.  And they didn’t tell you they’re better for not having used the most advanced processes available at their time.

Eventually Folks Are Going To Have To Get Over It

No edits yet. Straight out of the camera. 1 light with an EZY Box. I think I'll work on a crop and little else

See, film is going away.  There isn’t any way around it.  Good or bad, it’s happening.

Take for example a very good friend of mine who is a photographer.  He has shot 4×5 positives for a long time.  He’s got a great developing process down that produces amazing results.  And that process just fell apart for him.

This year the chemical manufacturer that he used for his developing closed up.  And chemicals are everything in developing.  Since he lost his vendor he’s been trying other products, and the results are not the same by a long shot.  Basically he has to start from scratch and create a whole new process to produce the work he used to.  So what was his final decision?


Hold Your Head High

For all digital photographers out there, buck up.  We’re not film.  And that’s not a bad thing.  We have new processes to present the best image possible.  And that’s not a bad thing.  As Matt Kloskowski pointed out, Photoshop isn’t a bad word.  Not if you know how to use it effectively and with a light touch.  Sure, you can take it too far as well, but isn’t there such a thing as artistic license.  Anything can be done poorly, or done well.  If you’re like me you keep honing your skills, working on better methods, try to get it right in the camera, and use your editing skills when necessary.

And take it from a guy who digs all things digital.  It’s not bad at all!  🙂

Comments 7

  1. Digital makes things a lot easier and less expensive for amateurs like me as well. I learn every time I shoot, but luck plays a huge part for me. It continues to be a numbers game. I also putter around in Photoshop as well and it makes a huge difference.

    That said, there are purists all around us. Some audiophiles swear by vinyl, some writers still prefer paper and pencil to computers. There’s nothing wrong with that for them. The important thing is that they keep creating. Diversity is what makes life so great!

  2. Hard to believe that it’s 2010 and this argument is still going on. If someone prefers film over digital (or natural light vs. flash or whatever), fine. Just don’t make into a moral issue, fer cryin’ out loud. Sheesh. “A Real Photographer(tm) would never use Kodachrome! It’s unnatural!”

    Ah well. Once film dies off completely, we’ll just find something else to argue about. “All MY photos are 2D! A Real Photographer(tm) wouldn’t touch a holographic camera if their life depended on it!”

  3. Post
  4. Throughout my cross country trip, I did a lot of photography, but I also made the point of visiting major photography galleries in major established venues.

    It seems like this line of thought (digital is bad) stems from the fine art & high priced share of the market.

    I had the opportunity of talking with a couple of gallery curators and they gave me the reasons they would not allow/exhibit/sale digital photography:

    “Now days, everybody has a digital camera, and anybody can take a decent picture once in a while, so…who cares? We only represent committed individuals (no hobbyist/ part timers) committed to traditional archival process.We do not even consider traditional color photography (that eventually fades away unless stored out of sight). We only exhibit B&W. And…please, do tell me that you do both (Color & B&W) that just tells me that you do not know either.”

    So…this is the sort of attitude out there in the established (read high dollar photography) world. By the way, this beign mostly street/documentary/art style b&w photography. Think Cartier Bresson type photography.

    Perhaps, because of this attitude, so many fine art landscape photographers end up opening their own galleries, bypassing this way any fine art world judgment. Think Fatali, Ilk, Lough, Pettit and on and on…

    All of them touting “no digital”, use of large format and no PS. One even touted no filters..no PL, no ND/GND.

    It may be also a matter of pure numbers.
    During the sessions in Zion this year, I talked to a couple of young photographers carrying large format cameras. It is just a way to differentiate yourself in a sea of dslrs.

    I think that for the public in general (consumers) digital is great. For a lot of industries, digital has been a blessing (editorial, advertisement, journalism, etc.)

    And..for art, it seems that the Conceptual Art side of things have been far more accepting of digital and post-process.

  5. Post

    Hey Adolfo!

    Sorry we didn’t get to visit long when you stopped through. Wish I didn’t have to run off for a shoot, I really wanted to chat. Maybe next time! 🙂

    I can tell you the #1 gallery reason for weak photography sales, and you covered it in your note above. “Oh, I could take that picture.” That’s the general reaction of folks viewing photography. Everybody has a digital camera. Thing is, they most likely won’t ever take “that” picture. But that’s enough to dissuade a sale.

    In the end, digital will remain. The important part is creating a compelling image. That’s always been the important part. 🙂

  6. I really don’t have much to add to this other then I can’t wait for digital B&W to catch up with my first love, T-Max 100. It’s a stupid argument and color digital has far surpassed 35mm color film (in detail and dynamic range), but B&W still isn’t there.

  7. Post

Leave a Reply