Sunday, August 27, 2006

Digital Dohickeys...

A couple weeks ago, my sister-in-law got married.

Before the ceremony I either volunteered or was volunteered (I don’t remember which) to do a lot of the photography.

Now photography is something I used to be really into. I have a very good SLR camera, own a (then) top of the line digital camera…I even had my own darkroom. (Well, technically, that’s a lie. I just used to black out all the windows in my bedroom and develop pictures in there).

Seeing the pictures for the first time today, I can see that I’ve been spoiled by digital cameras, and that I’m a little out of practice when it comes to traditional photography.

You see, with my camera at least, I have a definite disability with single lens reflex cameras. You see, when you look through the view finder of an SLR camera, you’re actually looking through the camera’s lens. Pressing the trigger moves a mirror which makes the light hit the film instead of the viewfinder aperture.

So why is this a problem for me?

I wear glasses, and my camera doesn’t have very long eye-relief.

In other words, when I hold the viewfinder to my eye, I can’t see the whole picture.

So why not take my glasses off? I hear you ask.

Two words…manual focus. My eyesight is terrible, so if I focus the lens until I see the picture clearly, it’s blurred to someone with 20/20 vision.

The pictures weren’t exactly terrible, and in fact there where a lot of good ones. However, most of them highlighted one of the major downsides of traditional photography…and that’s choice of film.

I’d bought ISO 400 film. Film that’s supposed to be good general purpose film. Fast enough for low light indoor shots, and slow enough for bright sunlit shots. Unfortunately, I bought brand I hadn’t used before (big no-no), and it wasn’t the best. Outdoor shots seemed to be slightly over-exposed…and there are a lot of outdoor shots.

It made me realize how used to digital media (and how spoiled by it) I’ve become.

For example, I’d given Sunny my digital camera to use at the wedding. With the digital, you could see instantly if the picture had ‘worked’, and problems like under or over exposure, white balance issues etc are easily fixed in photoshop.

Before digital came along, a picture was either good or bad the second you triggered the shutter. You had to know stuff. For example, how your F-Stop would affect your exposure time and your depth of field. Things like taking a light reading, and setting your exposure time and f-stop accordingly. Deciding whether to use a fill-flash, or bounce the flash off the ceiling or a wall to get the desired effect.

Then, moving into the dark room, developing pictures is part exact science, part art. For example, the negatives have to be left in the developing solution for exactly the right time at exactly the right temperature. Leave them in 5 seconds too long, or at a degree over the proper temperature and the negative is ruined. The same is true if you don’t agitate to solution properly, and leave air bubbles on the developing film.

(As an aside, developing film has to be done in complete and total darkness. You can’t even use a dark-room red light. Anyone who has ever tried to open a film canister, take out the film, feed it only a specially designed spool and then seal it in a light-proof developing tub without actually touching the surface of the film, can tell you this isn’t easy. Especially if you’re an amateur like me, and are in a blacked out bedroom with four blankets over your head to make sure no light reaches the film!)

Then when you come to put those pictures onto the paper, you move into the realms of ‘art’, because you have to ‘feel’ how long you need to expose the paper for, how long to leave it in the developer and the right moment to dunk it in the fixer to stop it developing.

It’s certainly something to think about when today I can snap a picture with my digital camera, drop it into Photoshop and fix anything I don’t like with a few mouse-clicks and have the picture you want moments later.

The days of snapping an entire roll of film, just to get two or three good pictures are over.

I should point out that I’m not badmouthing the digital and Photoshop method, because using Photoshop takes a fair degree of skill…but while I can remove a particular person or object from a digital photograph without leaving a trace of them in just a few minutes…doing the same thing in a darkroom would take hours of preparation and planning.

In short…let’s just say I’m glad Sunny had the digital camera at the wedding as well.

1 comment:

MC Etcher said...

Too true! I've read that Ansel Adams did a lot more work in the darkroom than he did on location.

Film photography is a dying art!