Saturday, October 04, 2014

Digital photography scares me!

There.  I've said it. 

It's ironic for me to say that, considering that the kind of photography I love to do, using the camera I do, can be for many photographers just as scary. After all, my camera shoots a single sheet of 4x5" film at a time.  The exposure has to be calculated using a spot meter.  And if I'm shooting in black & white, I have to read both the shadows and the highlights, determine which "zones" they fall in, calculate both my exposure AND my development time, even before I put my film holder in the back of the camera!  And as you can see by this image here, there are knobs and levers, which allow the photographer to adjust the distance between his or her film plane (in the back) and the lens plane in the front, allowing for razor sharp focus throughout the entire image.  And, in the back, is not a viewfinder like film or digital SLR cameras have, but a sheet of glass that has a ground surface, allowing you to focus the image.  However, that image is upside-down and backwards.  Now, to me, all of this is simple, but that's because I've studied it, read about it, and almost mastered it.  Post production is done in a darkroom, developing the sheets of film, making prints using techniques that are decades old.  And in reading this, you may ask "then, why the hell does digital photography scare you?"

Digital photography can be as easy as simply buying a camera that captures images, and from there you can learn the basics.  Maybe you move on to a simple DSLR, and then eventually into a more complex and even professional level DSLR.  I think what daunts me is that I am trying to apply the ideas of film photography - maybe translate is a better term - into digital.  I understand metering, exposure, depth of field, etc.  But things like white balance, or ramping up your ISO still confound me.  The irony is that as simple as digital photography can be, I want to use it at a level similar to what I currently do with film photography: I want to know how to control the image IN the camera and at the time of exposure, so I don't have to do too much manipulation in post-production.  And yet, in film photography, darkroom work is really doing photo manipulation in analog format.  Ansel Adams heavily manipulated his work in the darkroom.  He would burn or dodge the prints, and then use selective bleaching to further whiten his "whites".  So, to take an image from a DSLR and do some work on it in PhotoShop or Lightroom is no different.

I think that there is one other element of film photography that I enjoy over the idea of having a DSLR, and that is the requirement to work slowly.  Yes, you can spend time pre-visualizing your images with a DSLR, and determine optimum exposure and camera settings.  But it's also "easy" with a DSLR to point 'n' shoot.  A 4x5" camera requires more time and more discipline, and that might be why I hesitate to jump to digital.  I like that time.  I like that discipline. It's part of the entire creative process.  It's part of the entire emotional experience of being someplace and trying to distill into a single image that very same emotion.  

So, maybe it's not that I'm afraid of digital photography.  Maybe it's that I'm trying to keep something in my life that requires slowness and discipline, and that makes me be part of where I am as I shoot.  

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