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Digital STINKS


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#1 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 07 2006 - 03:40 PM

Did I get your attention?

I just got back from shooting an ad for a local store and I can't get one thought out of my mind.

Digital photography sucks and I'm sick of it!


I've been shooting, processing and printing film since grade school, which would make at least 30 years. I have 2 degrees in commercial photography from Rochester Institute of Technology and have been working as a full-time commercial photographer for about 12 years now. In the interim, I worked for Minolta (remember them? They used to be one of those companies which made film cameras.) so, basically my entire life has been photography.

My E6 lab closed at the beginning of this year, which is no surprise because you know how many times I shot film last year? Twice. Now I don't even know where I would take it if I did shoot film, color anyway, particularly 4x5. My darkroom is piled with 4x5 film boxes and hasn't been used in the last few years.

As I left the shoot today, it suddenly hit me that what I had to look forward to was a few hours hitting keys on a computer to finish the job. How thrilling and satisfying that is. I don't think I've ever been less interested in what has been the motivation of my entire life. There is no longer anything tangible. It's all bits and pixels and somewhere along the line, "Photography" has ceased to be. It seems to me the aesthetic has virtually vanished. Composition, lighting, the abstract of the whole thing seems something of the past. Everyone thinks it can be "done" or "fixed" or most often, almost completely created in the computer.


So many of you have absolutely no idea what you are missing.

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#2 of 120 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted February 07 2006 - 05:10 PM

I took a black and white/chemichal processing class just so I wouldt ever miss out before tehy all go away. It was cool but it didnt convince me that losing the film tradition is any great culturla loss. No more than vinyl to CD any way. Getting rid of the earth burning caustic chemicals is a great side benefit. =) Sam

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#3 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 07 2006 - 05:55 PM

I think the vinyl/CD analogy doesn't fit. That is nothing more than the medium the completed item is stored on It would be more like all acoustic instruments disappearing in favor of strictly electronic ones, which is also happening, just not to the same degree. Also, as long as the silver is recovered, the ecological impact of processing chemicals isn't all that great.

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#4 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 07 2006 - 06:33 PM

Before everyone starts slamming me and thinking I'm some kind of dinosaur, I should explain a bit more. I have no problem with digital in itself. I love being able to shoot the lower end, simpler stuff quickly and inexpensively. It's a great tool, which has its place. The problem is the high-end work, which for me particularly means Architecture and especially interiors. Nothing I have seen or produced myself digitally has ever held a candle to what I can do on film. That would be fine, but it has gotten to the point where I'm just not allowed to shoot film. In fact, if I even suggest it anymore, I risk losing the job because the perception is that digital is better then film, when film is often vastly superior in all ways other than speed and cost. I can shoot medium or large format and get eye popping, 60+ MP (that's about 200 MB) scans that will shame anything absolutely any digital system can possibly produce. Yes, there are very expensive scan backs which can produce that resolution, but not the overall image quality. Besides, they are extremely expensive and have monumental logistical and technical limitations. In fact, they physically can't shoot a lot of the situations I deal with because they are scan backs. I can see a quite visible decline in image quality of digital work, because very few people really understand its limitations or know how to work with it. Plus, there has been a general decline in skill and understanding which seems to have been precipitated primarily by the rise of digital capture. The sad thing is, very few people want to see it because digital is perceived to be something it isn't. There is an old philosophy in photography that by simply using a tripod, your photography typically will improve. The reason is because when you use a tripod, whether it's really needed or not, you tend to think more about what you are doing. I think digital has a factor in this. Cameras are often tiny and it no longer costs anything to shoot. So, the general philosophy is that you can just push the shutter a bunch of times and eventually you will come up with something as good or better than you would have on film. Unfortunately, what you typically end up with is a bunch of crap which is easy to get into your computer, but nobody stops to look long enough to realize it. We're all so dazzled by the technology that we don't realize we are getting mostly garbage out of it. I was looking at some ads in a magazine I shoot for. There is a new guy shooting and he has ads for an Indian restaurant and an Italian restaurant. The ads have a decent style to them, except the technical quality of the shots is bad, with extremely poor highlight detail, as is common with digital, especially when the photographer doesn't know what he is doing. Worst of all, the two ads look exactly the same. Italian and Indian restaurants which look exactly the same. In an odd way, I think digital has a hand in that. It is so "easy" to shoot things now, an awful lot of people also believe there is no thought required anymore.

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#5 of 120 OFFLINE   Rob Gillespie

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Posted February 07 2006 - 07:47 PM

And until digital hits around 100mp with the same kind of optical quality you'd get with large format that will continue to be the case. Except that the film version will still be tons cheaper! It's 35mm that is dying man here, not the larger formats.
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#6 of 120 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted February 08 2006 - 03:26 AM

I think the medium is less important than the artist... but that isn't to say that the digital medium is the CORRECT medium for any given task.

People with a strong background in film photography are generally stronger at composition and better at "getting it right" in-camera than people who started in digital and have always had the Photoshop Crutch at their disposal. In that respect, I can see what you're talking about... there is a certain loss of the traditional art for some.

On the other hand, digital manipulation opens up so many possibilities that were only dreams before.

One must remember a few things about the digital revolution:

1. There is always resistance to change. This is both good and bad. Traditionalists remain, doing their thing in the analog world and produce things that are very difficult to do in the digital world. Those who are willing to make the transition to digital and can handle its quirks (dynamic range, highlight and shadow detail, etc) blaze the trail and push for improvements in technology and technique.

2. There will always be a difference between digital and analog work. This is the case in sound/music, film/video, and even in print. They are different media. The digital process tends to make amateurs better, but it endangers the craft of professionals who forget their tradational training and use the digital process as a crutch rather than a tool. This is more a personality issue than a quality of the format.

3. Digital imaging is still in its infancy. We've been recording images on silver nitrate for over 150 years. The first mega-pixel digital sensor didn't come about until 1986. It was another 8 - 10 years before digital photography products started reaching the consumer market. There have been digital color space standards for only about 15 years. I think the world of digital imaging has made, and will continue to make, remarkable progress.

While I have embraced the digital format (and haven't shot a frame of film in about three years), I am glad there are people out there sticking with film. I realize there are inherent weaknesses in the digital formats, and know I'll have to live with them for awhile. For me, digital fits my style - and I like the freedom to shoot without worrying about the cost of consumables. It's great for wildlife shooting, where you really need to burn off 50 shots of the same subject and take what you get. It's really hard to get that moose or hawk to sit pretty and pose... Posted Image

-Scott

#7 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 08 2006 - 04:36 AM

This is exactly my point. The truth is most often the exact opposite because amateurs think technology will make them better and it doesn't. I go back to a discussion here at least a year back. It was about how inexpensive the hardware to make movies was becoming due to digital technology and computers. The comment was made that "now anyone can be a good filmmaker." The very idea that the hardware being less expensive and more accessible makes someone "good" is just about the most ignorant thing I've ever seen. It allows them to try more easily, but it has nothing to do with skill or the quality of what they produce. The real problem is that most people think it does. The true fact is, digital is not really the culptret. It is how people perceive it, how the manufacturers market it and people actually having the delusion that technology makes them even the slightest bit more talented. All you need to write a novel is some paper and a pencil. Computers make that easier, but does it make you a better writer? Absolutely not, and for some reason, that belief hasn't become so pervasive as it is with photography. What it has created is a large number of people who go out thinking they are skilled but who mostly want to see their name in print and will do pretty much anything to see it. It's polluting the industry. BTW Scott, I have definitely embraced digital. In fact, I was the lead man for Minolta back in the late 80s when they were the first manufacturer to produce an electronic imaging back. BTW, they were actually not digital back then. I've always loved the idea of the technology. I just never knew how pervertedly people would perceive it.

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#8 of 120 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted February 08 2006 - 08:01 AM

Where it does help is with the amateur who actually wants to learn about making pictures, not taking snapshots. I've taught classes in photography, and find that those who want to learn technique usually learn faster in the digital medium. This is due to the instant feedback, and lack of fear. There are no negative consequences to taking a bad shot - and with the instant feedback, you're more able to learn from your mistakes.

#9 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 08 2006 - 08:34 AM

I often hear that Scott, but I rarely see it actually work out that way. A friend put it best when he said, "most people get the image in the computer and never go back to shutter speed and aperture." I'm not saying nobody ever uses the rapid feedback potential of digital to learn, it's just that my experience is the vast majority don't. In fact, my observation is that most use it as an excuse to never learn the basics to begin with. How many people learning on digital ever learn the dynamics of focal length, aperture and sensor size. How many ever learn that results will vary depending on the physical size of the sensor? I venture to say very few, if any. However, with film it was common to learn the differences caused by changing from 35mm to 6x4.5. There is far more going on than just changing the film size, or sensor size when it is digital. I can't tell you how often someone starts talking to me about focal lengths and when I ask them what format film or size sensor they are talking about, all I get is a blank stare and a bit of resentment. So you've taught photography classes. Do you ever mention the dynamics of focal length/aperture/sensor size or is that all left to mystery? It is a major factor in understanding photography.

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#10 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 08 2006 - 08:41 AM

I just wanted to repeat that quote because I profoundly disagree. Digital creates an opportunity to learn faster, but no technology ever developed, in itself, can possibly make a person more skilled. The down side to making things seem "easier" is that it tends to get people to take shortcuts because so many are looking for the magic pill and are unwilling to do the real work. In fact, I have never seen a single occasion where someone understood the details of photography better because of digital. It always seems to be about it being easier.

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#11 of 120 OFFLINE   Scott Kimball

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Posted February 08 2006 - 09:16 AM

Even though, for the last couple of years, I have taught classes focusing on DIGITAL IMAGING (about half of my students have had a basic, traditional photo course before I see them), I spend three class periods and a lab up front covering the fundamentals of photography - focal length, aperture, shutter, sensor size, ISO - as well as composition and color theory. When we get to the post processing, I hit on the idea that Photoshop is a blunt instrument, no matter how you use it - that it is destructive to the captured image. Only then do we start talking about digital color space, color and exposure correction and sharpening, etc. Further manipulation in Photoshop is definitely covered, as it has its place and has value - but I tend to stress Photoshop's "darkroom - like" controls. -Scott

#12 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 08 2006 - 09:26 AM

Well, I have to say, you are in the minority. If you have much exposure to hobbyists, or even those who consider themselves more, you must see a lack of interest in fundamentals.


Now it's time for Rob come in and practice his favorite pasttime.

Contradicting me. Posted Image)

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#13 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 08 2006 - 09:29 AM

BTW Scott. I taught over a hundred one day photography classes all over the country and the students were almost always extremely interested in truly learning. The odd thing is I don't see that same enthusiasm in many of the people who are currently pursuing photography as a profession.

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#14 of 120 OFFLINE   Steve Felix

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Posted February 08 2006 - 11:44 AM

I love digital but it's a personal workflow preference. I would never try to tell a professional which format to use. The frustrating classic, "these pictures are great, you must have a really expensive camera," pretty much tells the story of this conflict.

Digital will soon evolve to smoke any current film size, but for the next few years, it just doesn't matter what a pro's choice is. (Range issues with digital seem mitigated with the High Dynamic Range feature in Photoshop CS2, which I'm looking forward to experimenting with. And stitching could fill the need for extreme resolution.)

Kodak has been ticking me off with their big anti-digital ads in American Cinematographer, so I found this item from The Onion hilarious, especially the last line.
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#15 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 08 2006 - 01:38 PM

Yeah, well, there are few companies who have shown such a skill for shooting themselves in the foot as Kodak. Two terms should prove that... APS Disc 'nuff said.

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#16 of 120 OFFLINE   ManW_TheUncool

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Posted February 08 2006 - 04:29 PM


I'm not Rob, but maybe I will serve as a decent, temporary substitute. Posted Image

I was never seriously interested in photography in the film days, but digital has done for me exactly what Scott and Rob are saying.

OTOH, I do see your point and indeed can see that a large majority of people delving into photography in the recent past probably do fit your description more or less. However, I'm not so sure that population of serious photogs (both amateur and pro) who are still interested in the fundamentals have diminished much if any. It may just be that the influx of less serious amateurs (and pros) have merely clouded the scene.

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#17 of 120 OFFLINE   Sam Posten

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Posted February 08 2006 - 04:53 PM

Good discussion. Great variety of skills in the participants. Me, I'm much much closer to 'Guy with Camera' than Photographer, but I can tell you based on my experience as both a voracious consumer of photo magazines and books and as a previous student in a film class on a college campus, there are just as many people who are really out there looking to do it right and actually learn to express themselves artistically as there are posers who want to look cool with high tech gear. Possibly even more. If nothing else, it gives the novice the ability to relax and experiment more without worrying about wasting time and cost to get it right. I hate to keep pointing to Lightroom, but I think it will be a watershed product for no other reason than it will stress the need to make nondestructive changes to the original shots. Photoshop has that capability but not that _focus_. And that will make a tremendous difference for new users learning the ropes. Sam

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#18 of 120 OFFLINE   Steve Felix

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Posted February 08 2006 - 05:42 PM

Yes, I'd say the global level of good photography (GLGP) has gone up since amateurs can experiment cheaply and the serious segment hasn't gone away. But I know firsthand the frustration of seeing pseudo-professionals take clients away from people who actually know what they're doing (me). (I'm actually a videographer so my problem isn't digital vs. film, but it's the same feeling.) It's hard to accept that I can't force people to be visually literate through clever marketing. Edit: Semi-related anecdote: Much of what I do is weddings, and one time at a bridal show somebody asked me if I used digital. I enthusiastically replied "yes" since that's supposed to be a good thing in video. But they just disappointedly said "Oh, OK" and kept walking. I wanted to yell after them, "Good luck finding someone to shoot a 35mm motion picture of your wedding!"
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#19 of 120 OFFLINE   Rob Gillespie

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Posted February 08 2006 - 07:24 PM


John, you're a seasoned pro with an enviable amount of experience and yet, I wonder if perhaps you're taking this a little personally? At the end fo the day it's a job, it's work. You get paid to do what the client wants and if they're ignorant or don't care about the things you care about then more fool them. I wish I could be in that situation. You know that some kid with a digicam and PS can't do the same work as yourself and that the clients are coming back to you, even if they don't want you to use film. I have to talk to ignorant computer users all day but I have no qualms in taking money off them!

It sounds a little like you're trying to paint a picture of film automatically equating photographic knowledge. I don't think that was ever the case, certainly not since AF and auto modes starting appearing on small cameras (and they've been around a long time).

Most of the digital cameras sold are point-and-shoot types, however there were just as many of the same style 35mm, 110 or APS cameras available before digital became popular. The people using those generally didn't have to think about shutter, aperture and focal length either and yes, they took a lot of bad shots - just not as many of them! Digital makes actually seeing your photos a whole lot easier because you're not waiting around for a lab (and having to pay for it) - this is why it has become so popular.

Most people who own cameras are definitely not hobbyists or semis let alone pros and if they catch a bit of bravado about their skills with their 'digicam' and their pirated version of Photoshop then they'll fall on their ass when it comes to taking what we would refer to as a photograph rather than just a picture or snap. The ones who are interested in making that waterfall blur etc will likely end up frustrated with their auto-monster P&S and think "how do I get that effect?" read up on it and eventually upgrade a camera with manual overrides. It does happen because that's exactly what I did.

I also must disagree with you on the idea of hobbyists not being interested in the fundamentals. I've found the total opposite to be the case. But then, it really depends what you call a hobbyist. The people I sometimes go out on day shoots with all have D-SLRs (yeah we're all IT people by profession so we've got the geek factor built-in!) with a couple of exceptions, and those people use the quasi-SLRs with fixed lenses etc. Hobbyists are not those people who buy P&S cameras and bring it out everytime they go to the pub or take loads of shots of their computer (why do people do that?).

I don't think any of the group uses fully auto modes. Everyone is too interested in not burning out the sky or getting the white balance accurate, or making that waterfall really blur with a five second exposure and ND filter. The enthusiasm is definitely there because those who really know Photoshop know it has severe limitations in capability when it comes to achieving the kind of effects you can get in camera. Plus, it's just a whole lot bloody quicker and more rewarding and easier to do it in the camera!!! Will we ever make any money worth mentioning? I highly doubt it, but that's not why we're doing it.

Next month I'm taking a trip upto Scotland on my own and spending nine days in Glen Coe just to take photographs. I've just outlayed for a good tripod, cold weather gear and I know I'm going to get tired, cold, frustrated with the weather and will end up with a big credit card bill, but just the opportunity of spending that amount of time in one of the most awesome places on earth just to do photography is worth almost anything. I wont make any money and I may not get any really good images, but I'll have the time of my life!
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#20 of 120 OFFLINE   JohnRice

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Posted February 08 2006 - 10:37 PM

Something has finally occurred to me. There is an entire segment you guys seem to be unaware of and because of that, I think I have put you on the defensive. In the whole photography industry, there is now what has become a majority of people who I can't even call enthusiasts, but ones who really think they can just buy a camera and go into business. This segment has always existed, but previously they been mostly a minor annoyance and mostly worked in the portrait/wedding area. What is happening now is that they are changing from an annoying minority to a growing majority and have spilled into the commercial area. Add to that the increasing perception among everyday people (not enthusiasts, or those really wanting to know what they are doing) that technology has replaced the need for skill and experience and you have an ugly situation. Skilled portrait photographers are dropping like flies. Skilled wedding photographers are dropping like flies. Now, skilled commercial photographers, usually a less affected area because the work they do is so much more technically difficult, are dropping like flies. They are being pushed out by people who have virtually no skill and a digital SLR, are enthusiastic about seeing their name in print and are willing to work for less than it takes to live. In the meantime, so many of the good ones have gone elsewhere or on to other things. The fact is, this may actually work out nicely for me in the end because I can almost guarantee I will still be here when some of the clients these people take away come around to realize they are risking their own businesses with poor visuals, but I am getting increasingly fed up with the whole thing. Like I said, these really aren't enthusiasts. Most of these people have maybe taken a class or seminar at some time, but their real motivation is self-gratification. An increasing type is some middle aged guy who made a lot of money somewhere else and "doesn't have to make any money at it." I can't tell you how often I've heard this before. These guys come in with big egos and a definite ability to sell, thinking that is all they need because it made them a lot of money in their last occupation. Meanwhile, these people are completely destroying the real, long term photographers. Of course, none of this is actually the fault of digital itself, but somehow digital technology has set the ground work for it to happen. I don't know what it is I'm trying to accomplish, other than venting. It is just difficult to see this happening to something I have committed my life to.

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