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Thursday, 29 October 2009

Comments

"I learned ACR when it appeared as a plugin to Photoshop. Of course, a friend who keeps up with technical issues says that ACR is not a good raw converter for the camera I've been thinking about buying next."


Fittingly, Adobe just released the Lightroom 3 beta, and they have completely revamped the raw processing. So, any conclusions regarding which cameras do and do not work well with ACR/LR will have to be re-evaluated.


Personally, I love this stuff. I love that the tools keep changing (improving), and that mastery is a moving target. I do understand why some people don't like it, though...

I've given up trying to be keep up with all technical aspects of digital photography. I have a retouch artist and a specialist for tethered digital workflow at hand, and both spend a significant amount of time staying at the edge of expertise.

The gap widens. While acceptable photography will get cheaper with every generation of DSLRs, top quality will become more expensive again. At the moment i feel more like an agency, trying to secure worthwhile budgets, making up financial plans, delegating and taking care of the clients. That's partly a good thing as it allows me to produce results that are just not doable with "educated in many, expert in none".

Guess it's time to switch from photoshop etc. to management training.

With reference to settling down, as the pace slows do you really need to keep up Mike. Maybe from a commercial and websire point of view, but you have already missed some photoshop editions.

Of course the new business model means that manufacturers want you to consume cameras and support tech like film, but things are such that you can slow down if you want.

Mike

Are things really changing that fast? I think Photoshop 7 has everything I use in CS3 with the exception of surface blur. Lightroom (latest version) still reads the raw files from my 7 year old point & shoot. Yeah, CS3 doesn't read the raw files of new cameras, but DNG works around that.

I wonder if digital sensors even are changing much these days. If we compare the same size images from two cameras with about the same pixel density at base ISO, is there a significant difference? I have two such cameras, released 5 years apart that I should compare that way. Dxomark.com thinks they are remarkably similar, for what it's worth.

(Sure there's more pixels and lower noise at higher ISO if we want or need them.)

Shooting video is a whole new kettle of fish, but wasn't that always so?

I'm encouraged by the new gear as much as anyone, but I guess I don't see much flux in the process of digital photography.

Last time I looked none of my prints gave any indication of what hardware and software were used to produce them. This, I suppose, is a small consolation given the amount of time and effort that has gone into obsessing about equipment and the amount of money that has been poured into digital equipment.

When it comes to film I've found the sweet spot for me as far as equipment is concerned to be an old manual SLR with a fastish 50mm lens. This sort of gear is totally unintrusive in the process of making pictures. Somewhere in the 80s (I suspect) reducing the feature set on a camera came to mean removing the manual modes, while advancement consisted of adding features. I suspect that the current problems really come from the wunderplastik era and predate digital photography. What I've learned to do is to set up a digital SLR the way I want it and leave it that way, selecting a feature set which works for me and not trying to become the master of the machine. The machine will take over.

Well, you have a good point, Mike, but maybe the problem is not so grave ... I am doing fine with Photoshop CS2, but then again I am no pro. And I am doing fine with my "old" Nikon D300, but then again ... The real problem is still handling your own printer, color calibration etc. You just have to bite the bullet!

Not sure I totally agree with this - little things certainly same but many of your skills on say PS7 are applicable to CS4. Maybe you need to think of it as a productivity enhancer - a way to keep you thinking every so often. And of course the other 50% of photography, the actual framing and exposure, hasn't changed very much at all. Manual focus and exposure are still there if you want them.

The main point of this post though is a happy one - just to inform you that the latest beta version of ACR as featured in the LR3 Beta works very will indeed with the camera you're thinking of buying. One worry ticked off the list!

This is part of the reason I moved over to open source software.

It seems to me that improvements in open source software don't require me to relearn everything (or anything in most cases), it's simply that the facilities get better.

For example, gimp has had three major revisions in the time that I've used it. Each time it's become noticeably better, each time though, those new facilities just seem to be in the right place, where they always should have been. So much so that I can never really remember what it was that I didn't have in the older version, it feels like it's the same software.

One might argue that open source is constantly playing catch up, and to some extent that is true. However, I am not constantly playing catch up, and that's more important to me.

With digikam, hugin and gimp, I have all that I need on my rug, and it's never pulled out from under me.

Hi Mike,
I agree that things are moving a rapid pace - but does it not all end with the quality of the print? Is that not the logical conclusion of picking up a camera?

No matter how wonderful all the advances in technology are, how much better can a print become? How much room for improvement is there in that department?

Well-said, Mike. Well-said, well-said!

This is exactly how I feel about entering into dp, Mike. I came in rather late, sticking to my Nikon FA shooting mainly b&w (I never jumped on the autofocus boat either), until I finally purchased a Nikon D80 in 2007. I'm still trying to master that camera, haven't really understood all the aspects of image editing, and while the industry keeps on marching forward (they didn’t even make a D80s to give me a sense of keeping track), I’m growing nostalgic about how satisfied I was with the FA, how it appeared to serve my every need, and it didn’t really matter that it was made in the 80's and often was joined by a 50mm from the 70's.

Thomas

The equipment now available is fine, especially as far as the cameras are concerned. We may want something a bit different or better, but essentially most of us should be happy with what we are using right now. The need for upgrades is mostly gone.

What stays, at least for me and regardless of the camera that was used, is the hell of color management. When shooting slides I knew when the light was right to take pictures, and I got the results I expected. (Projecting slides was an elegant way to avoid the hassle of the darkroom and yet get great results.) Now, however right the light may have been, translating this properly onto my (calibrated) screen or making the occasional print is a real challenge. New products such as the forthcoming Lightroom 3 might make things easier, but they won't replace personal judgement nor theneed to master the craft. In a certain way we are back to square one now that the cameras are not anymore the limiting factor.

Are the skills you've learned really of such little use that they don't count as an investment? I would have thought otherwise.

And surely, the most important skill (I say, as it's the one I'm most lacking in) is finding or setting up a good photograph? The taking of it. The digital stuff surely is less important because you always have the source (the RAW or JPEG straight out of the camera, although obviously RAWs have a more limited shelf-life in some ways) which is infinitely copyable. Not happy with your Photoshopping of that picture? Well, leave it for a while, learn some more about the tool and try again. If you're gaining a better understanding of the fundamentals of the tool, of image processing, then you're learning skills that are likely to be transferable not just to the next version of the tool, but to other tools as well.

Not that I use Photoshop - my wallet can't keep up with that, never mind me :-)

Why listen to your friend about how ACR is "no good"? You should use what you have until *you* can say why it's "no good" before imposing more change. That's the rule. In my 8 years of digital processing, I've used Photoshop and ACR and Lightroom for the processing part (used to use Photomechanic for the tagging part, but Lightroom is now good enought that I don't need it).

That's it. No huge changes. Everything has been pretty stable. Adobe likes to move stuff around in Photoshop, but I only use 3 or 4 main feature sets and they stay pretty much in the same place. I see no great reason to obsess over this. When the tool is good enough, stick with it.

I guess did give you more time on a platform that never changed. But at least now I don't get a rash from the chemicals.

Andrew wrote:
"At the moment i feel more like an agency, trying to secure worthwhile budgets, making up financial plans, delegating and taking care of the clients. That's partly a good thing as it allows me to produce results that are just not doable with "educated in many, expert in none"."

Don't believe that this only happens to photographers. I think that this is the way a lot of technically skilled people find ourselves working. What we tend to forget is that the years at the coalface are what prepared us to make the decisions that shape our end-products.

"No matter how wonderful all the advances in technology are, how much better can a print become? How much room for improvement is there in that department?"

Still quite a bit of room for improvement IMHO, though what we've gotten from high-end inkjet printing is already a breathtaking advance over the darkroom for color. Those of us with some grey hair recall struggling mightily to get remotely good color rendition from slide or print film. Inkjet printing has provided an entirely new aesthetic in the form of pigment prints on cotton rag paper with excellent fidelity and unprecedented longevity. But there's still plenty of room for improvement in luster/semigloss/glossy inkjet papers, which are still plagued by subtle but annoying gloss differential and less than ideal surface textures. And a better d-max on matte/cotton rag would be very welcome.

It can be a bit of a frustrating snark hunt, chasing a constantly improving target. But the prints I'm making these days are much better than they were two years ago, and I'm hoping for answers to a few of the remaining aesthetic bugaboos in the next couple of years. And all that without inhaling toxic darkroom chemicals.

I stepped into photography because my previous hobby/skill was the same treadmill of change, but worse. Unfortunately, I didn't have anything to show for it. I was the computer "expert". I lived in the DOS command line. I could take computers apart, put them back together and re-install everything, and they would work. For a while. Don't get me started about my spreadsheeting! All that got me was late night troubleshooting phone calls, and distractions at work.

I wanted something I could look back on and say, "I created that". Photography allows that for me.

I don't see why digital brought to an end your work with 35mm B&W film. Maybe I'm being naive or maybe because I'm not a commercial photographer, but 35mm B&W film is still a uniquely beautiful tool that can easily survive and thrive in today's digital world. With the scanners and printers out today, it's an ideal hybrid platform. Among the benefits, there is no color management to mess with.

I recently purchased an Olympus E-P1 and an M-mount adapter so I can use my CV lenses from my Leica M2 and I am finally starting to warm to the benefits of working in digital, in color. Though I still love certain color films (Velvia and Fuji Pro 160C), I feel I can come close to replicating their qualities with digital. What I can't replicate with digital is the look of B&W film -- noise is a poor analog for grain. And the control of B&W film from exposure through development. Or the feeling of working in magic -- being a magician rather than a technician.

... And then again, I still dream of medium format Kodachromes ... what do we need more?

Mike, I think you have expressed what many people have come to realise with digital: it is a different approach to photography compared to film, and I find it more worrisome when trying to get the best out of it. I recently made a huge step, of buying a Sony A900, the best new camera I have ever owned, made possible by part exchanging and selling my existing Nikon D80 and Contax and Pentax film kit. I am having to re-learn the software to get the best from the Sony and have decided on Capture One, as it sucks out astonishing detail from even average lenses and the prints have a quality I struggled to achieve with medium format. In the past I have been very fortunate to have tried a host of mainstream and exotic cameras through my friendship with a dealer, and the buzz of using a Leica IIIg, M4, Alpa, Rollei, Linhof, Minolta XM, RTS III, etc. gave me a photo 'high' which digital has not matched : simple as that. But now, after watching a few years of development I'm going to settle on what I have for some considerable time - photographic time being like dog years- because for me , I'm done with chasing.
P.S. I do have my fingers crossed, oh, erm and I kept an F4 and Horizon panoramic, otherwise, as I said to my patient glorious wife I'd be ditching too great a part of me.

The photographic community is different Mike. I used to keep up with people, as in learning about that new guy Adams (new to me), or Cartier Bresson or Penn. Then David Bailey (no relation) and that interesting guy writing 37th Frame, and on and on. Now we have to keep up with software and photographers and stay on our own tasks.
I think it is just the new reality. Photography has gone from a smallish club of dedicated practitioners to a mass pastime.
I guess in the information age, the whole world is part of your small interest group and the numbers are huge.

As James Joyce wrote in Ulysses, "Here comes everybody."

Mike Said:
"A change in one link of the chain changes other links; and something or other is always changing. And if it hasn't changed yet, you know it will. Maybe not soon, but probably sooner rather than later. You have to keep up. To put it overly simplistically, it's the difference between running, and running on a treadmill."

What you are describing is not a photography problem. We live in a very dynamic time. I wake up in the morning, turn on CNN for a shot of news and notice that the world has changed. Some changes are minor, some are significant, and some will transform my daily life. Welcome to the 21st century.

This cycle of change, or progress if you like, has been with us all along. The curve of change just steepens a little every day. Computer photography is just photography. It can be practiced with new equipment or old equipment. Things change or break or disappear from distribution all the time. That has nothing to do with photography or computers.

In the 50's and early 60's there were jet planes, rockets and computers. I grew up on military bases surrounded by technology that was just out of my reach. Now I have advanced technologies at my fingertips. I can't live in the warm glow of nostalgia because for me it was always about the future.

I'm finding that its more important than ever to honestly assess one's "purpose" for photography...profession, hobby, obsession, excuse to watch the sunrise, etc and know where we lie on the curve of whatever path we've chosen within the purpose. I absolutely love architecture and food photography, but simply cannot obsess over the lighting, lenses, studios, etc that often accompany big-money shoots. I can aspire, maybe mimic a bit, and hopefully develop my own signature for this sort of thing, but so many other factors of my life dictate that I cannot jump off and declare that I will dedicate every moment and every dollar to accurately and artfully depicting the next peach cobbler I see before me. Mostly, none of us can...and when we try to we become frustrated with the 'new gear and learning' curve. ...my two cents anyway.

Why not continue to use Photoshop 7 if it still works for what you do? If we stop the trend of upgrading every time the software house thinks we should and only upgrade when there is some amazing must-have, then maybe the software houses will have to stop their game.

Gosh, that's nicely stated.

Mike, your elegant note has said what I have felt from the outset.

Stuff it. For the type of photography that now drives me I just don't see the payoff being worth the pain of the treadmill. I value what I do and don't want to waste my life achieving ordinary status when I suspect I can do better in those fields with medium format and large format film.

Thankyou for writing what I feel so well!

Regards,

Rod

Kodachrome.
Kodachrome II.
Kodachrome 64.
No more Kodachrome.
Kodak has been running us through the mill for years.
I'm just saying.

I use Raw Developer by Irridient.

I confess to having a MAJOR underdog thing going on within an wo-thout. When those underdogs make a product that outshines the big boys (Adobe in this case) it makes me squeal with pleasure...especially because my underdogs continue to send invitations to upgrade for new camera code and new inventions without paying for a long while.

Adobe is lame in this regard, they could provide support for little bit longer. Lame. Plus I hate Adobe because of it's association with a certain "person" that makes me throw up into my shirt pocket every time I read his writtens. A Barnacle at this point..sorry.

Mike, I've learned to disregard all the bullshit going on and sit behind the product cycle. I'm a photogarapher and I work with what I've decided to get and stay there for as long as it takes. Plenty of technology around to make great prints and whatnot..it's been there for years..photogs need to learn to put the blinders on and get to work.

There is some differentiator in whether you are producing commercially or shooting for yourself and your own pleasure. In the former case, there really are imperatives to improve workflow--for example, rendering time now makes puts me in the position where upgrading my Mac will provide significant time savings, and the better the autofocus system is, the more sure I am that I'll actually get the happy bride as she comes down the aisle. These things can be quantified. But for the latter case, I find myself going back in time and choosing older gear and perhaps a single lens--at least for the day's shooting...and usually a 50mm.

At any rate, excellent post and a worthy topic of discussion. Thanks.

I bought an Eizo CG241W last month, I have a spyder3 Elite. Got myself Bruce Frazer's Real World Color Management. I'm trying my level best to master printing in a digital age. For a boy that left school early and with only his name I have to admit that somedays I really feel like turning the shed into a darkroom.

So I have all these tools now and I'm on my way to mastering digital printing (toes crossed) and I've come across this question...

How Should We Evaluate Digital Craftsmanship?

http://dlkcollection.blogspot.com/2009/10/how-should-we-evaluate-digital.html

Answers on a postcard to...

When I read Michael Reichmann's intro to Lightroom 3 Beta a few days ago, I was disappointed to learn it works only on Intel-based Macs. I bought one of the last G5 macs in spring of 2006, and I'm in no mood to spend four figures on a new machine when the one I have now is perfectly good. I specifically bought one of the last G5 machines so I could still access my many documents created in OS9 software before 2002. Guess now's the time to bite the bullet and convert them all to common files such as .txt or to MS Office files. Also guess I'll have to keep using Lightroom 2 indefinitely. Shouldn't be a problem unless there are killer features in Lightroom 3 that I absolutely must have. More likely, I'll get forced into it if I eventually get a new camera that requires Lightroom 3 for the right raw converter, because as we know, Adobe only writes new raw converters for the current versions of Photoshop and Lightroom.

If, by chance, the camera you're considering is the Sony A850 (or A900) early tests using LR 3 beta show much more satisfying conversions and hopefully those changes will be reflected back in ACR for those who use ACR.

This post of your echoes your recent post on gear, I think. It's hard to "keep it simple". For me, digital came at a great time. Years earlier, I was itching to try a darkroom and fortunately didn't dive in as the pool was being drained ! Now I have my "digital darkroom" and am pretty happy with it, but there's always the urge to consider an alternate raw converter for "special" pictures; a better monitor capable of displaying more of Adobe RGB color space, etc. For the time being, I've decided not to get into serious printing, but to have photos printed by a lab, but the temptation is there. It's tough to balance the desire to simplify with the desire to improve your photos when changes occur that can genuinely improve them.

I was with the FA, how it appeared to serve my every need

Then why not start using it again?

So why do digital photography at all? In your case the answer is simple. Digital photography, including equipment and process and commentary is what you do professionally.

I do wonder why anyone else does digital photography, other than the casual snapshooter who wants to look at an LCD screen to "make sure it came out." Unless they produce a tangible print, it's all as temporary as the next disk crash.

Back in the day, you picked a B&W film you liked, learned to expose the shadows adequately, develop so you didn't block the highlights and picked a paper that let you get a good tonal scale on the print. Everything else became honing this basic skill set, over time.

Color negative film, as a product that allows you to shoot in any contrast condition and capture it all on the film, is unequaled. Built in HDR in a single exposure!

Digital photography, still a new technology, is still way too complicated, in terms of an entire workflow from capture to print. Improved software is going make this simpler, as time goes on.

How many digital photographers are caught in an endless upgrade cycle, simply because they are afraid of "falling behind"?

I do my B&W in the darkroom. my color is done on negative film, scanned, color corrected, and printed on an Epson. Simple.

Do I have the photoshop skills to duplicate the masterpieces you see on photonet? Nope. No loss.

The more I learn about digital technology (and I do know a fair amount), the more disillusioned I get with that technology. You can quit your job and learn 24 hours a day, and you will still miss out on new things.

So I've gone back to the mentality Mike had in his darkroom days. I've already learned the fundamentals of digital and nowadays I spend virtually all of my time practicing seeing, sorting out, cropping and doing basic histogram manipulations.

I'm much happier like that.

"...because as we know, Adobe only writes new raw converters for the current versions of Photoshop and Lightroom."

Carl - We do, but they also make a DNG converter that should make your files work just fine with LR2 (at least that's been the case with other version changes). It's an extra step, but gives you another option.

I've gone back mainly to film for shooting. Not because it necessarily looks better, although often it does, but the feel of the whole process and the equipment just seems to fit the simple way I do photography. I "do more" photography with my analogue equipment, I have it with me a lot more. I don't need any more. However, I still need digital for scanning and printing. It's here that I experience your problem of mastery and keeping up - mostly on the printing side. And the results still don't look quite as good as what comes out the darkroom. I might even be tempted to go back there for printing, but I just remembered the spotting brush.....

Well said;pretty much sums up how I feel.

However, one of the side benefits of the digital age, is that it makes handling/using a mechanical film camera feel great. I recently put together a Mamiya 645 kit (at a fraction of the original cost;thanks again, digital age)and shot a few rolls. Worth it, even if I only use it a few times a year.

I don't disagree that staying current in the digital age is a constant challenge, but not as great a challenge as the heightened expectations that new technology has brought with it.

I used to develop B&W negatives for a while, but colour I left to the experts. I don’t know one person who did colour printing at home. Then I bought a slide scanner and an A4 photo printer in '99 and had to learn colour management and printer profiles.

That's when I also realised how few of my old negs and slides stood up to close scrutiny, even at A4 sizes. I started getting hyper critical and that's when the problems started.

A decade on and with a decent APSC SLR I am routinely printing very detailed 19"X13" colour prints in my living room. BUT, and its a big but, I also have to extensively test every new camera body and lens to make sure it passes muster. It has taken some of the fun out of life.

Transferring to the new technology, mainly RAW converters, Photoshop and colour profiles, occupied much of the intervening decade. However I feel much of the new knowledge is transferable if you adopt a standard toolkit and workflow and learn it well. Upgrades can be dealt with relatively easily.

The real learning curve now stems entirely from my heightened expectations of what’s possible with these new tools. Looking around jealously at other photographer’s work, I realise how limited my own imagination and skill is compared to the potential capabilities at my disposal. The better I get, the further I realise I have to go.

This is the second article you've written this week that makes me feel better about my digital decisions...so far, anyway. I shot with film for 35 years, the last 25 years of that time using Leica M cameras and doing my own darkroom work. I refused to take the digital plunge until last year..., paper/inks not up to snuff for b&w work, too much complexity with PP tools, Leica still working out kinks with digital Ms, etc.

I finally bit the bullet with the Leica M8.2, got Lightroom (simple to use), an Epson printer and 2 papers...from Ilford and Hahnemuhle, companies in business for a long time. And so far, I have been able to follow my long time philosophy of keeping my tools consistent, and my working methods simple, goal oriented and disciplined. I refuse to buy the M9 (won't improve my small prints), or try the latest, maybe better conversion software (C1, for example), or even upgrade to the latest Lightroom version until I can see a clear improvement to my methods or results.

Maybe this will all change if something breaks and/or is no longer supported, or if a company bites the dust. But, at least I chose my tools and suppliers in part based on simplicity and long(ish) term intent. If I can get 10 years out of these choices (as opposed to decades with my film-based choices), I'll be a happy camper. And, in my retired years, I actually enjoy keeping my brain active learning new things...with the same joy when I create, on my own, a finished print worthy of matting and framing.


This post is timely for me. I've been thinking a lot about this topic. I've also really enjoyed reading the comments. And many points jump out at me.

As background, I'm a software engineer by day and a photographer by night. I've been to school for both Photography and Computer Science. And I have a natural inclination for "twisting in the wind." ;) I also started out as a digital photographer and then learned about film in school.

In general I find keeping up with technology exhausting. But I'm surrounded by it. I find myself wanting to master something. ANYTHING. But often feel that the pace with which things move prevent "going deep" and encourage skimming along the top. I feel the current state of things don't have the "feeling of working in magic." Digital photography is also piggy backing on the same issues its underlying technology has. We've taken the problems with operating systems and applications, and added layers of mechanical and firmware issues on top of it.

I went to a camera show/flea market this past weekend. I was fascinated by all the "middle of last century" cameras. Small, compact cameras, capable of full 35mm quality. It definitely affects my opinion of the their "modern" counterparts. These old cameras had very few features, I would love to own a digital version of that. But I fear the economics of today's market are going to prevent that camera from ever appearing.

I've been at this long enough to realize that the gear/technology is not what I'm most interested in. Once I learned enough of the technical side I discovered my motivation for photography is learning to see. To think about what I'm trying to create. And the feeling of wonder at your creation. I feel that the noise level in the current state of digital photography is so high, that this wonder is totally lost. I think this is mostly due to the popularity of digital photography. Corporations are throwing money into the development and advertising of these cameras like never before. This is a double edge sword. But mostly I find my interests counter to their need for me to continually purchase new gear and apps.

I know we can't "live in the warm glow of nostalgia", but I feel we've lost some things along the way. Things we didn't have to lose. Right now we're trading features for image quality. And I'm convinced higher end cameras are being made larger to appear more professional and worth the price tags.

Things do change. They always have. No one can stop that. Nor would I want them to. But I do believe we are experiencing an overload right now. And the decisions being made about the cameras created have less to do with photography and more to do with the selling of the idea of the craft.

I understand completely what you're saying Mike, but then again I don't think it has to be that way with digital photography, and I don't think my experience parallels yours at all.

I waited a long time before jumping into digital. My first camera was a Nikon D200 with a sweetspot of 10+ megapixels and rugged build quality. The camera still works perfectly without a glitch. Recently I purchased a D700 for the best quality shots, tripod-mounted and heldheld, and low-light duty. It seems to be robustly built as well and has been free from breakdowns. The D200 is mostly coupled now with an 80-200/2.8 AF-D zoom. The D700/ D200 pairing is a happy marriage. I've only bought one printer, an HP B9180, and never print larger than 13"x19". I'm very pleased with the files I'm producing from my cameras as well as the prints from the B9180. So far so good with no upgrades in sight.

The first copy of Photoshop I purchased was CS3, and I see no compelling reason to upgrade. My copy of Photoshop Elements is obsolete, but the stuff I learned using it allowed me to migrate to CS3 relatively painlessly, so I think it was money well spent.

Perhaps by jumping into the game so late I've just delayed the inevitable, the premise of your article, but from where I stand at the moment I'm satisfied with my digital output. And unless the "quality quotient" is changed in some unimaginable way I can't see myself upgrading anything, especially since I have this insane belief that a great picture is a great picture, and more pixels or bigger sensors are not going to make me a better photographer. The minimum threshold has been met and surpassed. What do I need to upgrade except my abilities as a photographer?

I really appreciate and relate to this posting. I am 28 years old and came to photography in the last couple of years, surprisingly late considering my father has been photographing professionally my entire life and longer.

As you might expect in this day and age, I learned photography with a digital camera, which was a great blessing given that I was self-taught. The instantaneous feedback I received on the rear LCD enabled me to learn about exposure, aperture, shutter speed and ISO at an accelerated rate. However, now that I feel I know what I'm doing (more or less), I have made the switch to film.

The non-stop engine of camera and post-production technology is more than I can or care to keep up with. I still own my Canon 5D (Mark I) and still use it when I feel that time is imperative (commercial work) but for my personal work, I crave the simplicity of my OM-1 or Rolleiflex.

I crave the rudimentary needle that indicates exposure with a + or -. I crave the creative control afforded to my imagination; the delightful knowledge that with film, not everything is perfect or predictable. I crave the intimacy that simplicity brings and the sense that at the end of the day, it's just a camera.

I have been doing digital photography since 2002 and have gone through about a dozen cameras, four different processing software, and a couple of printers (now I use a lab). It has surely been an expensive hobby in that I never spent so much money on film photography in the years prior to 2002, including the cost of film, processing, and printing.

At the same time however, I am also getting a lot more joy out of my hobby and growing into it. With digital, I started photographing in low light where earlier, I'd have turned off my camera. I experimented with panoramas for the first time. I tried flash photography more seriously since I could see the results instantaneously. It wasn't difficult to transfer my wet darkroom skills to a digital darkroom no matter what software I was using. I could take a lot more photos without worrying about the cost and thus experiment more.

Another huge change was the new vast community of photographers and enthusiasts around me. I learned so much from them and was able to share my results with them. Articles, galleries, tutorials, etc. have kept me excited about this hobby.

I find myself at a point now where I think I am able to make fairly good judgments about whether an upgrade to my equipment will improve my results significantly enough to warrant it. Technology will march on, new shiny photo gear will replace what is on the shelf today, but we have to evaluate where we are with our craft to decide if we truly "need" something.

Tom Duffy: My digital photography will almost certainly outlast my film photography. Certainly it will survive common household disasters (fire and flood) much better -- because I have off-site backups. One of the reasons I'm working on scanning old photos is to have a better chance of keeping them through the rest of my life (another is that many more people see them on the web than ever saw them in person).

"It disrupted my personal photography, by bringing to an unplanned end twenty or so years of work in 35mm B&W."
Who told you that you had to stop shooting film?
I'll tell you a secret - you can still get it!

Mike, scroll down and re-read your 20 October post about Adox MCC. Then get some film, shoot, develop and print it. Exhale. Enjoy. Revel in the trickling water sounds.

Fortunately, I made the decision decades ago not to mess up an enjoyable avocation by converting it into a career. Photography for me is still black and white film plus fiber-based paper. Try it (again), you'll like it.

I see photography as a divided art; on one side is the "art of seeing" and all that -- basically the making of the image (whether a negative or a digital image). That has almost nothing to do with equipment and everything to do with your own personal vision and ideas about what you want to capture, how, and why, and how you go about doing it. The other side is the material art -- or craft, really -- of the print.

In the old days, that material side was pretty straightforward. Notwithstanding color, which presented its own complications and rewards, B&W printing did not evolve very much over the decades, which gave people plenty of time to hone their craft and become really good at it. Equally important, it meant that the art/craft of photographic printing was able to mature and have associated with it a set of standards and values that you could choose to adopt, bend, reject, or whatever.

With digital, the first art of photography has not really changed. One's photographic eye is one's photographic eye, no matter what your medium is. But it's that second part, the art of the print (or on-screen display) that has changed radically.

Not only have the materials and techniques changed, it has gone from being a material art (all about the materials; the paper, the chemistry) to a technological art (all about the software and hardware). That's an entirely different mindset.

Personally, I haven't made a print in over 10 years (aside from machine prints from photofinishers where I had no say in the final product). Everything I do in digital is for on-screen use. This is largely because digital B&W printing is only now becoming what I would call "acceptable" and I don't have the mental bandwidth just yet to go down that path because I'll be starting over and it will cost me dearly in both time and money. But it's coming -- I've been doing a lot more B&W lately and I'm feeling the need to print. I just don't know how, or when, I'll get to it.

Not being a professional gives one the absolute luxury of selecting for your needs only- not being rich makes it even simpler.

Mike, your column today really hit the nail on the head for me too.

After I read and re-read the piece on Jane Bown and how she spent 50 years with an Olympus shooting almost all her beautiful portraits at f/2 and 1/60th sec in available light, I've decided to move the dial on my D80 to manual setting and start re-learning photography from the ground up.

What I had been doing before was to un-enthusiastically open the D80 manual about every 4 or 5 weeks and trying to re-learn it. Stupid me!

Curiously, after trying and failing to match the manipulative skills of Photoshop ninjas for several years (can't do 10 hours per day computer-time, sorry), I decided, on a whim, to replace the Pentax MX that I sold several years ago and stand down, temporarily, my two digital cameras. It arrived two days ago. Haven't taken a shot yet, but the idea of using this tiny, svelte, beautifully constructed, light-tight box to release just enough ambient light onto the film plane to record an image that I can't thereafter manipulate (using slide film, that is) has become somehow quite subversively attractive. And as with those other classically straightforward processes, bicycling and sex, I suspect that I haven't forgotten, or need to re-learn, a thing.

As someone making a living from digital photography, I only upgrade when it meets these criteria: 1) provides a new capability I truly need 2) I am forced to because of obsolescence (LR 3, can't teach it if I don't have it). 3) makes my clients and customers happy. Otherwise, I continue with what works and focus on improving my weaknesses. But I know too well the pressure of "keeping up".

Great post as usual...

All you have to do to get out of the rat race is to stop running. Why do you need to master the latest Photoshop vs the version you are familiar with? Is it going to make your photographs more compelling? There are new techniques, materials, processes, and gizmos introduced every day, yet none of them, or even all of them together, has ever been a magic key to good photography. Although most have been blamed for the death of photography once or twice.


I feel extremely lucky after reading this. My workflow and hardware (printers and cameras) has remained the same for the last 6 years, and I am still way ahead of the curve.

I invested massively upfront, that was the key, garnering information traveling to workshops and talking to the industry heavyweights, first hand. The late Bruce Frasier was especially helpful, nice guy.

I am convinced now, more than ever, my workflow and hardware will be good at least another 5 years. Naive, perhaps, but I said that five years ago and it was right.

The hardest part about what I do now, teaching other pros progressive digital techniques, is breaking the news to them that they have processed all their digital files, for umpteen years, wrong. Nobody likes to find out they have no idea what they are doing, particularly if the hacked workflow they have cobbled together from various internet forums is generating income. Those people mistakenly think they can get away with it forever... eventually they pony up for me or someone like me to come in and overhaul everything.

Please please avoid this by hiring someone who teaches extremely advanced workshops on digital printing...color management...workflow. In my experience most of the techniques people use presently (especially pros, amateurs aren't nearly as intractable) are already obsolete.

I guess I'm not seeing the quandry.

If you're not shooting commercially (and letting the client dictate the tools you can use) then why not use whatever you think gives you as great a final output as you can?

If that's an Spotmatic/FA/M4/GS-1/whatever, then peachy. Who cares what tools were used if the final product is awesome? You think Hemingway and Henry Miller were freaked out when the Selectric replaced the Remington? I'm guessing not.

I shoot for myself (and hopefully some day art buyers, gallery owners, curators, etc) and have yet to find any compelling reason to move away from Neopan, DDX and Ilford FB (or Portra NC for color) shot through great glass. Scan it and send the files off if you don't want to fuss with keeping up with the printer Jones'. Let White House or one of those labs worry about all that nonsense.

Maybe I'm just fortunate that I don't have to squeeze every penny out of every frame to keep the kids fed, don't have brides demanding albums within 24 hrs of the wedding and don't have art directors telling me that if I don't show up with a shiny new Nikcannon D7 Mk Umpteen that I'll never work again.

Near as I can tell, it's still all about getting light onto paper onto the wall.

I think it's worth noting that, as someone who writes about photography, and who writes sometimes about the state of the art of photography, you have a greater need to "stay current" than those of us who don't write about photography!

I'm shooting a lot of b&w film these days, with a bit of digital here and there with whatever digital kit I have at hand.

People who write, pixel peepers, gearheads, these people have a greater need to "keep up" than someone who's just making photogaphs.

This explains, in part, why more and more of us in our local camera club arrive carrying old film cameras. :>)

I'm sympathetic to this wistfulness which, alas, I also suffer from. But, as I tried to post in response to Ctein the other day before being refused by TypePad, I think the issue here is not digital vs. analog exactly. Instead, it's the exponential rate of change in technology generally. Alan Kurzweil has a great talk on TED about this (http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/ray_kurzweil_announces_singularity_university.html). I keep waiting for digital photography to mature and settle down - but it won't - it will keep changing faster and faster.
Adam

If, after 10 minutes of searching, I still can't find the coffee in the morning, I take that as an excellent sign to go back to bed. If because of the technical limitations of digital equipment you feel that you have not matched or exceeded your old results with film, why should you be on this particular technology treadmill at all? Alternatively, if your digital equipment and workflow yields results that are equal or superior to your old results achieved with film (assuming, of course, that one achieved a level of mastery in the old days), why can't you step off the technology treadmill?


I am sixty years old, I started photographing at five, forty nine years of film and six of digital.
How wonderful life is, to be able to start all over with a different set of problems to solve, no longer cursing the darkness only the noise.

Just bought the Epson 3800 and lo and behold the 3880 was announced... thank goodness it's a whole lot cheaper to focus on the creative side of photography.

This post of yours hits home on so many levels...I've been feeling the same way lately...and it ain't over, not nearly...Lightroom 3 beta, better processing, tools, etc...don't we want 'better'?...I've just gotten comfy with version 2.5...I can already see more books on LR3 comin' up for me...

You're better than me, Mike...I have never mastered any version of photoshop and I've been using it since around 2. something...it's always done way more than i ever needed...amazingly deep program...and with each version better processing, more tools and ease of use...I'll never master any version I'm afraid...

Still, I'm really enjoying the flexibility of digital...I stopped shooting years ago when I could no longer print...didn't have the space for a darkroom or the time. I tried using printers but it wasn't satisfying. I wanted to control my images. Now I can control everything, at least all the processing work after I shoot and send out for prints to match what I want. And holy cow, the infinite possibilities of control over color, b&w conversions, sharpening, etc...I just love it.

Digital, for me, is satisfying despite the continual learning curve of computers, programs, cameras, and printers. I wonder if at some point it'll stop; if we'll hit the 'wall' where more (better) pixels and software won't make a difference in shooting or processing quality. Ahh, the future beckons. Personally, I think I'm there for the work I do. I don't need to upgrade a thing to do my work. But the better processing for nef files via Lightroom, I'll go for that after comparing to NX2/3 and maybe Capture 5.

I understand your point of view very well but to me all the software and hardware stuff is the EASY part of the equation. Really easy, and much faster to master than mastering film printing, at least for me.

My problem is the content and the composition of my pictures. This is the hard part of the equation. It's sooo hard to get a good picture.

I might have 2 or 3 good picture this year.

Cheers,

Nicolas.

I'm happily chugging along with my D50, a Yashica Mat, a Holga and a scanner. PS Elements 6 works fine for me. My printer makes nice enough prints. I'm very behind the curve with respect to technology, yet I still get out and make pleasing photos. Keeping up with technology, just like testing every film/paper/developer combination on the planet, can easily be used as an excuse not to make pictures. My rule is to upgrade the technology when my creative vision requires it.

Now, given that your job (with respect to this blog) is to keep up and comment on emerging trends, I can see where the pace of change can be a bit daunting. But when have we ever chosen jobs because they're easy?

To David Dyer-Bennet,
Thanks for your thoughtful response. I totally agree that my negatives,stored at home, are much more at risk than my wife's digital files, which I also make sure are stored offsite. (25 years in IT ensure that I couldn't do otherwise :))

My point was directed to the casual snapshooter who doesn't backup and perhaps has never had a hardware failure. Dead files walking. The irony to me is that all these family memories were far safer when the color negs and prints from the photofinisher were stored in shoeboxes. These are more likely to survive to the next generation than the pictures taken with a digital camera. I think an entire, collective generation of pictures is going to be lost because of this.

I've thought about this a bit. My solution will be to print smaller prints (5x7) for my kids and put them in good albums. Larger prints inevitably get ripped or creased. When my kids move out and away, I'll have my offsite storage. :)

If you want family pictures, i.e., life events such as weddings, reunions, etc. to be available for your children to show their grandchildren, a digital file won't survive the temporal journey.

Take care,
Tom

I'm fully with Tregix here. Compared to the darkroom, digital post-processing is REALLY easy, easy to do and easy to learn. I have lots of room to learn to be better at it, but I'm pretty decent right now. Whereas taking GOOD pictures remains hard.

I can see how people who were dragged onto computers by digital photography would find the entire computer environment a big step to learn about. For most younger people, though, they will already be quite proficient on computers before photography captures their interest.

Show me the prints. That is all.

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