Wednesday, December 5, 2007

So What’s So Great About Digital?

When talking about digital photography, it’s only fair to give credit where credit is due. Digital cameras and digital photography are better at some things than film technology ever was, so here are a few of the things it’s especially good at.

Instant Feedback – Of course, instant Image Review is a great feature. Checking your composition as you shoot is wonderful. It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that this works best with subjects that aren’t so time sensitive, like landscapes, architecture, still lifes, studio, and portraiture. For time sensitive situations, like sports and photojournalism, looking at every image you shoot before shooting again might get in your way of getting the shot. The Histogram is also part of the instant feedback. For older photogs, this is like having an instant densitometer reading on every image as you take them. You know right away how good the exposure is for each image and how easy it will be to make a print from it. Both of these aspects allow for accelerated learning as you photograph. Take a picture, analyze it, make corrections, take it again, and repeat as necessary. It really condenses and speeds up the photographic learning curve.

Speed of working – With low cost memory cards and high capacity shooting, it’s not unusual for digital photographers to shoot nearly 10 times more than they would have shot with film. In the past, a photographer might shoot in their lifetime maybe 10,000 to 20,000 images. Many photographers today will shoot that much in a year. And the truth is that the more you do anything, whether it’s sports, music, or any kind of performance, the better you get. Speeding up your output will speed up your progress. Combine this with the first advantage, Instant Feedback, and this will result in younger photographers learning and improving faster than ever.

Quality and Ease of Color Imaging – I first started with color photography when Ektacolor paper was fiber-based and most of the processors required you to work in total darkness with not even a safe light. Yuck. It was exciting for everybody when color papers became resin-coated and lightproof processing tubes became available. But regular color prints faded quickly and most of the time had a veiled quality to the colors. Digital cameras are made for color and image manipulation programs make high quality color images a snap. Inkjet printers produce richer truer colors and with pigment inks you get prints that can last 200 years. You now have complete image control, better looking images, and longer lasting prints. What more could you ask for?

Image Manipulation – In digital, any image becomes plastic. You can bend them, reshape them, alter colors, add colors, increase the sharpness, increase the fuzziness, turn a color image into black-and-white, remove objects, add objects, or any one of an infinite variety of options. And all of this can be done with hardly any sign of tampering. While it sometimes casts doubt on the truth of an image (such as: is that real?), this is a huge advantage for artists trying to capture their own unique vision.

Combining Images – In the beginning, people had to physically cut out images and glue them together to make one composition. Now we can cut and paste in the computer, adding and altering and moving any number of images to make a single image. It’s relatively easy and almost undetectable. With this advantage, photography becomes closer to painting or collage, giving the artist complete control of the composition.

Ease of Combining with Other Media – This is a generally unexplored area for digital photography. We now have the capability to add words, illustrations, and/or audio to any image. It’s possible to add video as well. While this changes the concept of still photography, it also opens the door to new creativity and new opportunities for photographers, adding depth and context to any project.

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