Sunday, November 20, 2011
I went on a long walk yesterday up through the London borough of Islington and back through Camden Town. Google maps says my route was 3.7 miles, which seems about right. It was a beautiful day, a bit chilly but clear and sunny and great for photos.
On most such outings I come back with about 80 pictures. I might put 20 of those on Flickr, but generally only one or two make me really happy. I love coming back home with aching feet after a long walk, settling into a comfortable chair with a cup of coffee, and culling all the photos I took. The "delete" button is any photographer's friend.
Not long ago, I had an interesting exchange with a blogger pal about the ways digital technology has altered photography. I told him I just don't understand the nostalgia for film -- after all, film was expensive, messy, time consuming to process and involved the use of all kinds of poisonous chemicals. Digital photography is so wonderful, freeing us from all of that. How could anyone not love it?
He says digital photography makes it too easy for photographers to produce great images through programs like Photoshop. He sees film as more truthful and less forgiving. But photographers have always manipulated images, even in the days of film.
My contention is this: No matter what technology is or isn't used, a good photographer has to have an eye. He or she has to be able to see an image and compose it well. No technology makes up for the lack of an eye, and that's what makes good photographers stand out. (And for the record, I'm not saying I am one -- there are far better, more imaginative, more courageous photographers than me.)
It may be that more people are able to artfully compose images these days, because we're all exposed to them in advertising, movies, magazines, newspapers and electronic media. We see more composed images than anyone did 100 years ago, and maybe more of us develop a sense of balance, lines and structure through that repeated viewing. (Isn't that a weird idea?)
Digital photography does free us from volume constraints. A roll of film held 36 shots, and every frame cost something -- so unless you were a commercial photographer with boatloads of film at your disposal, you had to use it somewhat sparingly. Now I can shoot the same image six or eight times, increasing the chance that I'll get exactly what I want.
Still, digital technology and Photoshop can't make a photographer. In fact, I think a good photographer doesn't really need Photoshop. Again, without calling myself good, I can say I do very little photo manipulation -- occasionally minor cropping and color boosting to more closely match reality. I have a very journalistic sense of what makes a good photo, and that precludes most enhancements.