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Tuesday, 21 November 2017


Images displayed on a large, good quality screen are superior in every way to printed media.

[Even when the electricity goes out? --Mike]

[Addendum to this...about half an hour after I wrote that reply, my electricity went out. No kidding. For about twenty minutes. Sunny day, no storms in the area, but some wind. --Mike]

Do paintbrush artists have similar discussions? Is an oil painting more "real art" than a watercolour painting? Is a pencil sketch really "art"? How about spray painted graffiti?

I've read that photography was originally derided as not being true art - it was too mechanical.

Whatever was current when you were in your teens is the real stuff (for you).

I keep hearing people worry about file formats going defunct. But the TIFF and the JPG have been around for a long dang time -- I've been paying attention for 35 years now -- and I don't see them going away anytime soon.

Old hardware is far more a threat to images than the risk of file formats being deprecated.

For the vast majority of camera users I don't think the lifecycle of the photograph has changed in the switch from film to digital.
In the olden days the vast majority of camera users would take their holiday photos, get them developed and show the prints to their family. They'd then sit in a box for the next several decades, unseen. Nowadays, they take their holiday photos, upload to facebook for their family and friends to see, they then spend the next several decades dropping further down their facebook timeline, unseen. So basically no difference except in several decades I'll still be able to get the box out of the loft and look at my old holiday prints, while who knows where my facebook photos will end up.

Shall we debate next whether or not God exists?

The spiky thorny question is, are files really photographs yet?

Neither spiky nor thorny. Of course they're photographs. They're just not prints.

Sometimes it's possible to get oneself wrapped around the axle when simple definitions make things clear and offer the freedom to ponder more important matters. :-)

What digital has that film doesn't is the ability to experiment and test at no additional cost. On film, I couldn't afford the cost of shooting hundreds of shots per week, most of which are made purely for experimental/self educational reasons. The value of that 'education' exists in addition to the fact that two five-thousand dollar Nikons paid for themselves** in a year and a half.
**Compared to the cost of making the same number of shots with color transparency film which at the time was running about $19 per 36-exposure roll to buy and have developed.

How different, as a practical matter, are the files on your stored hard drives from the transparencies that rest somewhere in a Kodak Carousel in someone else's barn or attic?

The key to all of this is what people consider good photographs. Good photographs are hard to come by, and the question I struggle with a lot is whether I end up with more good photographs when I feel the freedom to take as many pictures as I want, or when I make my pictures count. I always go back and forth on what gear to buy and use, film vs. digital, full frame vs, medium format etc.
The only truth I have discovered for myself so far is that I do know a good photographic opportunity when I see one, and the camera that gives me the most good photographs is obviously the one I have with me. And that camera is usually a Leica M.
My most sincere recommendation is to buy cameras with your heart. You will spend more time with things you love.

Yes, to be completely fulfilled by them, I need my photographs to be physical objects. In fact, I need to handle them; when framed something has been taken from me. I print to enjoy my copies with my -gloved- hands, and because of that the paper I use for each copy is so important to me: firmness, texture, surface, ... Everything, image and paper, becomes a whole, a photograph.

The rest are just pictures in my computer, for memories, you know...

I remember, about 25 years ago, looking through the photo album of family snaps that belonged to a close friend and that album included some informal (but somewhat carefully conceived) portraits and photos of a picnic that I had taken a few years earlier and given to this friend and their family. As I paged past the photos I was struck that they didn't look right. They were an odd shape and had no border on one side. When I stopped at one of those photos and started to puzzle about it the friend said something like, "Oh, my mum never liked how she looks in pictures so she cut out the pictures of herself in those shots". The friend was quite matter-of-fact about this.

So, I'm just being a devil's advocate here, but, even the fixed object isn't necessarily fixed once you let it out of your hands and someone else is allowed to possess it and considers it just an "object" that they can do what they want with.

I may be almost unique in this, but while I make some effort to preserve my digital files, I view their impermanence, if not a feature, at least not a bad thing.

I think Ansel Adams did us something of a disservice with his obsessive discussions and teachings about archival this, archival that. Ultimately, it's pretty much all for the trash bin anyways.

Ultimately, the pictures I like best are the ones I took most recently anyways.

Now, I'm not quite at Social Media Level where pictures are fresh for 10 seconds, and then essentially gone forever. I print things, I stick them on wall, I put them in books. Stuff is out there, and some of it may well survive me, and that's OK too. But having the stuff last particularly long isn't a high priority for me.

And if you think that's weird, well, OK, but ask yourself "why NOT? why SHOULD my pictures last 100 years?"

As for prints versus files? Well, they're different things, that's for sure. But they're both photographs!

[I think prints should last 100 years because of the pleasure and interest I take in looking at 100-year-old prints. Paying it forward, as it were. --Mike]

I don't print much of my work, but I still call the digital files a photograph. I call the prints of my photos, "photographic art." (Some might quibble about the art part, and fair comment.) But even the actual printed photographs of my ancestors in my home are not meaningful photos to almost anyone else, since the viewers will not know who these people are. To them, the printed photo is almost certainly clutter. Whoever cleans out my house when I no longer live here will look at the art on the walls, and some of it may hold meaning for them because they think its beautiful. Or maybe it's clutter too. The computers and hard drive are likely to be scrapped without examination.

A very interesting question. Do photographs exist before they're printed, enlarged, scanned or published?
Recently I've made an in-depth research on the subject of copyright in photography. In continental Europe it isn't required that a work is fixed in order for it to be copyright-protected. All it takes is that the work is discernible in any way. Therefore, teh moment a photograph is created - the one that determines protection - is when the photographer presses the shutter release button. Thus the photograph exists even in the form of a digital file (or a negative).
This isn't idle. You might need to prove the originality of a photograph, and the metadata can be used as evidence. Likewise when needing to prove you are the author of the photographic work.
Not so, apparently, under Common Law rule, where it's the copy that gets copyright-protected. In this case the photograph doesn't seem to get protection until it's reproduced by means of fixing it, be it on paper or any other means that bring it to the world of objects. According to the US Copyright Act, a work is “created” when it is fixed in a copy for the first time.
Of course, the US having signed the Berne Convention, courts might rule that the moment of the creation is when you press the shutter release button. The jury's out (no pun intended).
So much for the legal side. Being 54, and having a drawer full of memories in the form of printed photographs, I've fought the idea that a digital file is a real photograph for some time, but now I've come to terms with the idea that what we see in the computer screen is a photograph. It is. I no longer care to print my photos, even the ones I find most significant. I'm not famous and probably my photos will never be exhibited, so why bother?
I have no issue with virtual photographs. Of course it's always more interesting to see Bruce Gilden's portraits at an exhibition than on the computer (let alone on a smartphone); the experience is inimitable. But what if one never has the chance to see them at an exhibition? Better see them on a computer than never see them at all.
Finally: "when things change, it's interesting to be aware of what we have lost as well as what we have gained, even if the gains are greater." That's what I call wisdom, Mike.

I can't help but think of Vivian Maier, who left hundreds and hundreds of undeveloped rolls behind when she died. They were "storage,"not art. It took development, editing, and presentation for the art to emerge.

Digitally, it's hard to store for the long term, meaning for future generations. Prints help, especially good ones, not too large, in good containers, labeled, and importantly, with a note on the back (date, subject name perhaps). Many of my old family photos have this information as it was common practice to write on the back of prints. Most large landscapes, as pretty as they might seem, will be garbage. I just sorted through thousands of old photos and threw away almost all of the scenery photos without people.

But I still have a desire to keep digital access to my stuff for as long as possible, so I keep jpeg copies of everything on a couple free services, Google and Flickr. They very well could delete everything, but I figure that's my best chance at digital longevity for future access by family.

Let me put in a few words for print-on-demand photo books as a way of putting selected photos on paper.
(1) They’re relatively inexpensive. For an 8x10 book, each page beyond a minimum is about 20 cents US.
(2) They demand more selectivity than printing every shot from your vacation at Costco, but less than picking the best 10 from the thousands you took on that vacation.
(3) They have much of the same “objectness” as a coffee-table book: similar impressiveness, similar permanence. For a truly exceptional collection, a 12x12 book is truly impressive.
(4) The image quality is pretty good.
(5) They’re easier to deal with (to store and to show to friends) than large prints, either mounted or unmounted - to say nothing about finding wall space for framed prints.

You raise so many issues in one posting. Let me have one paragraph per issue...

For black and white photographers, inkjet printing may be more expensive than silver gelatin, but it doesn't have to be. The paper is expensive either way (comparing good quality fibre based photo paper to 100% cotton rag, heavy stock inkjet paper). But the ink is only expensive if you use colour to make black and white, and especially if you use OEM ink. You can make your own extremely high quality monochrome inks for Epson printers for very little money. Look up Paul Roark and Eboni ink. I realize not everyone wants to make their own ink. But anyone coming from a darkroom has all the measuring and mixing skills needed. For me, it's a way of clinging to a bit of the alchemy that I always loved in darkroom work.

On your main point, I come down on the side of "it's a photograph when it's a print". It's not that the digital versions aren't "real". They exist too and can be enjoyed. But the physicality of a print seems more real to me. I confess to enjoying the smell of new carbon ink as it comes off the printer -- so there's an olfactory dimension too. Plus, if you print, you'll become a better photographer. It's inevitable because you see things in the print that you won't see on the screen.

Finally, in terms of the durability of images, boxes of prints can be lost and destroyed too. You probably have boxes of prints in your barn, along with those hard drives. I wouldn't count on them lasting the ages either (water, dirt, fire, neglect, descendants pitching them...). It's not really that hard to preserve your digital images. I have copies of virtually every computer file I've ever created, going all the way back to files I wrote with Wordstar on my Apple II-e clone using CP/M. You just need to keep moving them to the current technology if you want to save them.

Your thought that “all my image files on my computer aren't really anything yet” reminded me of an exchange I had last month with a fellow photographer regarding a Peter Turnley Cuba workshop I attended in 2014. Hopefully you’ll find this reply relevant.

My friend was taken back when I told him I’d only shot 350-400 images during the week long trip. He laughed saying he came back with over 4,000 files from the same workshop a year later. I gently chided him suggesting that most of them probably weren’t images, but simply shutter actuations.

My point is it’s far too easy today to blast off hundreds of images in the hopes there’ll be one or two photographs that you’ll be proud of. I think the benefit of growing up with film is I had to be very careful in making sure I had a photo before depressing the shutter. My friend seemed to appreciate my approach which has been to take advantage of all that digital cameras offer, but still compose and shoot like I was using film.

And, quite honestly, I don’t have the patience to store thousands of files with the thought I might someday go through them and find a decisive moment that I accidentally got. I realize many folks will edit their thousands of files down to a more reasonable number. But, as I mentioned to my friend, the fact that he shot over 4,000 images doesn’t necessarily mean he came home with more keepers than I got from my 350 shots. For me photography has always been like fishing. A few carefully placed casts usually nets you more fish than wildly spraying lures across the pond.

GREAT post, and a perfect companion to your previous post. What I am most interested about is how many "keepers" I get, not how many frames (digital or film) I have shot. The keepers are the "photographs", the rest are potential (some are much less than others).

Visually, I see most comfortably with either panoramic, or square-ish (square, 4x3, 4x5), and my chosen film equipment are tuned to that. I get far more "photographs" with them.

Coincidentally, my daughter and I were just in the Death Valley for a few days, and I shot 10 rolls of XPan and 10 rolls of 120 on my Hasselblad (slightly more colors than B&W, but I only had time to develop B&W so far).

Here's a pano of the sandstorm that started to sweep the valley. Think Mad Max Fury Road. You can see the shifting sands:

Here's my daughter at Racetrack (and yes, the damage done by some vandals are still visible and will be visible for many years to come :-( )

And here's a self portrait of both of us. She was using a rental EM-10, which looks much bigger than my Hasselblad in the reflection.

Ultimately, these kinds of questions can only really be answered for yourself. Just look at the comments, thoughtful people disagree.
I understand why you raise them, because it is a good thing for each of us to know what we think.
My personal sensibility is that it's not a really picture until it's a print, even though as you say it is objectively indefensible, and patently untrue for many people.
Many of us view these questions through eyes that learned the process in the darkroom, an experience that is increasingly rare.
That does not diminish it's validity, it just makes it increasingly out of the main stream.
New Technology always brings benefits and costs. It is neither bad nor good, it just IS. If we lose our pictures because we didn't bother to keep them current, they probably weren't really that important to us.
New Technology requires us to change, the whole Idea of backup is new and inconvenient. All we could do before was to safeguard the negatives.
On the other hand, millions of folks treat photography as disposable, once an image is taken and shared it's pretty much over. Who are we to say that is wrong? The most we can say is that 'It's wrong for me"
For all our protestations one way or another who among us has more than a hundred or so pictures that will be truly valued, -even by people who cared about us? We do the work for ourselves and each of us decides what is important.
Stuff changes.

"What do you think of the idea that a photograph is not really a photograph until it becomes an object with a fixed form?"
I certainly act as though this were true. Currently, I am going through boxes of prints made over the years. While the prints do not represent in quantity the number of photographs taken over the years, and only a small, small sampling of the experience of making photographs in my life, and doesn't take into account the binders of my negatives, I view, pretty much, the collection of prints as my body of work--that is, my body of work equals my photographic prints. I have a dslr and I use it occasionally, but I rarely order a digital print, and I have zero interest in purchasing a printer, etc. So, in my mind, none of it counts. Lately, I have been shooting 35mm film, which I can scan with decent results for sharing online and with which I can make the occasional darkroom print. Works for me. Bill

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a photograph is defined as:

"A picture made using a camera, in which an image is focused on to light-sensitive material and then made visible and permanent by chemical treatment, or stored digitally."

That's a pretty good definition, but, for for the O.E.D., surprisingly incomplete, because it does not specify that a photograph could be made visible by an electronic display or a analogous functional transformation.

The U.S. copyright office allows digital files to be copyrighted, so I think that we can assume that, from a regulatory and legal perspective, digital files can be considered "photographs".

A thought crossed my mind as I was reading through this, especially the part about the HD drives in your barn. Would Vivian Maier have been discovered the way that she was had she been a digital photographer rather than a film photographer? When you stumble across a box of negatives at an auction you know what you’re buying, but if it’s a box of hard disks would they get bought by someone willing to spend the time assessing their contents? Indeed, as with your hard disks, would they even be able to study their contents?

This is too funny (the weird kind? don't know) as current draft of the the text for the book has turned into a riff on ontology vs epistemology and how photos are an example of one or the other.

Object vs image vs image of object vs image of event* vs narrative vs container of what is between the photos. Or as mr Toynbee says “just one damn thing after another”

*there is an infinite stack of infinite stacks of that there I.E. it's turtles all the way down

Yeah, but...

The files on those hard drives are equivalent to negatives that you never printed and never would print. The negs that you finally boiled down to "printable" are equivalent to files that you finally printed. In both cases, the best negs/files wound up as objects, right?

You should also perhaps do a cost/benefit analysis of chemical-based printing to digital printing. How long does it take a person to learn to do wet printing and turn out really exceptional prints time after time. It's at least years, maybe many years. How long does it take to do that digitally? A few weeks? Less? What's the value of that difference in time spent?

The rest of your post suggests to me that there may be an opportunity here for somebody who wants to start creating "new" old technology so that you could spin up those drives. As I see it, it would be a company that actually archives that old equipment, maintains it, and for a fee, recovers whatever you need and puts it on current tech. We all already sorta do that when we upgrade to the next computer, it's just those computers that are five generations back that we can't connect to. There's no reason that *somebody* couldn't, though.

While you're musing on rhetorical questions, let me ask you this: If you set a camera on a tripod and took 100 identical images of the same subject, would you have created 100 photographs, or one photograph and 99 copies? Would it make any difference if only one of the images was printed or if you printed each one separately? What if the image was of a test chart? Lest you think I'm being facetious, I am actually just putting a different spin on what you are implying in your original questions: i.e., that we expect work of value to transcend the purely mechanical act of creating it.

"Inkjet printing paper is (this is still astonishing to me) actually more expensive than sensitized silver gelatin photo paper, and there is no parallel to ink costs in silver gelatin printing except the paltry costs of the chemicals."

Mike, you are comparing the cost of digital printing to b+w silver printing. I'm thinking to be fair you should compare it to analog *color* printing, which was much tricker and more expensive. After all, most of us are printing in color with digital files. I can count on one hand the number of prints larger than 8x10 that I made in a color darkroom, but I can knock out a very good quality color 16x20 on my Epson P800 for a shockingly low cost in comparison.

Also, yes, I found the comparison of the two "digital vs film" comments to be quite amusing. It's all in one's perspective, as with everything in photography.

40 years from now your grandchildren won't find a shoebox or drawer with photographs in it. They will find digital files that can't be opened, images they will never see and a history they will never know.
The old shoebox full of B&W deckled edge drugstore prints from 70-100 years ago will give us a better record of history than the digital files one can never see again.

Any image can be destroyed by disaster. To be viewed - they have to be seen. Physical prints can be seen without anything else involved. Digital files need electronics and, in todays world, up to date software and hardware. Try opening images on a Bernoulli drive, floppy disc, Zip disc or the like and you will discover you just lost the iamges - unless you find a service that still has the old electronic gear that can read it. Then you have the hope the digital files have not lost so much they can no longer be opened.

A physical print is not perfect but it can be seen more easily than a digital file for most of us.

Another thought provoking post Mike. If photography is writing with light, then an obvious analogy is with writing and publication. I wouldn't send off an article, or indeed write a blog post, without producing several drafts and getting feedback, before submitting the fruit of my labours for editorial scrutiny.

By comparison my photos, taken for enjoyment mostly, feel like unworked texts. A few seem immediately convincing and complete in themselves, appeal to other people, and seem to be standing the test of time. Mostly, however, I feel the need to ruminate about content, consider how photos relate to each other, and ponder whether to write something to go with them.

Much of what is 'published' on Flikr seems to be relatively undigested content? I'm not sure that disqualifies it as photography though. :)

To me, the "precipitation" print equates to the jpeg, but it will not once I'll have framed it (which I do myself) and hanged on a wall.

Mike not for the first time on this site I find Ken Tanaka: has got it right with regards the whole film v digital discussion.
From a brief perusal of the comments I must confess I did not read them all, but enough to satisfy my belief that people generally believe that whatever suits them is the correct and most economical way to follow their hobby/profession and martial their points to justify their decision.

With regards to when is a photograph a photograph I think you've answered that one yourself, it really depends on your date of birth in most cases although there will always be those who hanker after methods of the past and find joy in preserving them.

As to preserving our digital efforts for posterity, Mike may I remind you of an article you wrote for Luminous Landscape many moons ago as the Sunday Morning Photographer if memory serves, in which you put forward the premise that most of what we shoot has either been done millions of times already or it's crap and you were humble enough to include your own efforts in this assessment.

I’m afraid this comment will be overlong but I have several digressions along the way. I think a photograph is really only a photograph once it has been evaluated - I almost said edited but not everyone edits the file itself but they will likely select the “keepers”. If Paul has 1500 keepers my hat is off to him, I’m not sure I really have that many on any single camera I’ve owned (outside of commercial work).

Even though I eliminated edit from the paragraph it is important to me. I am by nature an editor, be it when I’m writing or when I am producing photographs. I rarely will take an uncropped image and jpeg directly from a camera - perhaps this is years of leaving room for the art director to have their way with my work, or the allowance for me to do what I wanted in the darkroom. So, for me, it isn’t “really” a photograph until it has been selected as a keeper in Lightroom and then had a bit of polish in actual cropping or tone/color editing. For me when I photograph I often know the basic steps I want to do in post processing to get what I want in the final photograph.

So that is it? Well not really. I find that when I am about to make prints I make yet more edits - but this is really a limitation of the medium, I don’t think I take particularly more care, but am more aware of the limitations of the final medium, including size use case etc.

Now back to permanence. I’m really of mixed mind on this! My father collected papers, photographs and mementos in a series of 40 photo albums. These were amazing but very difficult to handle (even more so with the layering technique where related things were stacked (hidden) behind each other. Difficult to handle individually impossible to grasp the contents and of course only available at my parents’ house and not easily available to their widely spread family. Oh, and permanent? Well if you don’t include fading, tape residue, contamination.... Eventually when my parents passed the question was what to do with this amazing archive? Digitize it of course. How that was done is yet another story but in the end, we had, a web archive, PDF files of each album, Full resolution color corrected TIFF images of each element and all were copied to hard drives and given to each widely distributed offspring/relative.

In my own house, I struggle. most of the pre-digital era is buried in a drawer or in a file cabinet or a small handful of albums, only a very small number have been scanned and digitized. So, with few exceptions even the “keepers” in this bunch are very hard to view. So, are these not photographs? I can tell you that my kids are accessing family history from our web archive and they think they are photographs and they know nothing about what is stored in the drawers.

I still print (often!) but I think in the end for me, if I edit the keeper, and make it accessible it is a photograph wherever it may be found. I think in the past the “make it accessible” meant you had to make a print, today that is only one of many options.

"What do you think of the idea that a photograph is not really a photograph until it becomes an object with a fixed form?"

You asked!

Is a jpg or tiff file not a fixed form? It can, given proper storage media and regular migration to new media, outlast film, and probably most prints as well. I can't tell you how many negatives and slides I've lost and / or unwittingly discarded over the decades, every time I moved. It hasn't been quite as long, but all my digital files that I like are still there. So are the scans of some slides that I since lost! But, really, the older I get the more I realize that longevity of photos/files is irrelevant because, except for a few special family pictures, none of the pictures we take are likely to outlast us by more than a few years (ok, unless you're famous).

Besides, here is another way to look at it: I have lots of prints - including many black and whites printed on fiber paper that cost a pretty penny back in the day - that sit in dusty boxes in the back of the closet, rarely seen even by me and certainly not seen by anyone else. Digital files I post online can be seen by my family and friends, and I can (and do) look at them pretty regularly. Which is better? Jpg files that I can share with far-flung family and friends or prints that, once viewed, never again see the light of day?

I guess that's all a long-winded way of saying I think digital "files" are photographs just as much as prints or slides, and I've become much more media-agnostic over the years.

Not sure what “fixed object” means, perhaps you had “tangible” in mind?

I started with digital photography in 2006, after I had read somewhere that 'now it is possible to make ink jet b&w prints that are just as good as AgBr prints made in the darkroom' (the Epson R2400 was the printer that was supposed to have taken this final step). Although I could imagine taking pictures in a digital way, for me the end product had to be a tangible print. Eleven years, two personal expositions, three large Blurb-books and quite a few B3 sized prints further on up the road, I still think so. But this is my personal conviction, it needn't be yours, and that is how today differs from the film era - in the film/darkroom days making prints was the only and quintessential way to practice photography (leaving aside transparancies for the moment). Presently, it is just a personal choice, practiced by a very small minority at that. But I have hopes that we, the printing photographers, will get the point across that a well-done print is something special, and a totally different animal than a shot shown on a screen.

I agree with Mr Tanaka here. I have been an avid wanna-be photographer in my youth, limited by money on both gear and printing. Then I went back to my love of photography when the digital kicked in (my being an electronic engineer, a bit geeky, helping here) but I found that you have to materialize, print, your photos.
I normally edit a photo book each year-year and half, and print it; it's cheap - the only price is the time you'll, select, edit and compose the photos. No need to spend a lot on 100 year worth paper, you can reprint it every five years and it's cheaper. then it's there, in my living room, for anyone and especially me to look at. And then some of the photos will grow on us, on me, and I will re-edit and print big and gains spot on the wall for a while.
But the hundreds of shot that are not in the books are soon as good as bit-rotten snapshot in the back of the library, as good as lost.
So yes, I need to print my photos.

Some disconnected thoughts coming from this post.

I believe a photograph is something you hold in your hand. It can be a loose print, framed print or a book but file is more akin to a negative or a transparency.

Digital can be more expensive if you buy into the idea that you need to have state of the art equipment. This made sense when we were jumping from 2MP cameras to 6 and then 12 and eventually 24MP. You can really see a difference at 20x30 when you go from a 6 to a 10MP camera (at least I did).
I would challenge everyone here to demonstrate chops that would outrun a 24MP box. I can't.

Giving non-photographer friends loose prints can be kind of pushy. Photographers know what to do with them but civilians aren't so sure. Put it in a box or frame it? Framing ain't cheap and who has unlimited wall space? An alternative is to go to one of the online sites and print a few books and give those to friends. Notice I didn't say "publish" a book. That costs real money but the average photo book at Blurb costs about the same as a framed print and is less likely to generate angst in your circle of friends.

I may have already jabbered about the book thing in other comments and if so I'm sorry. It's just that running off a few books at one of these services is a nice way to take stock of your work and if you feel the need to share everybody has room for another book on their shelf.

> The spiky thorny question is, are files really photographs yet?

If you can look at them and see a picture then yes.

If you can't, then no.

This is a very quantum mechanical way to look at things. 😃

I don't make many prints. I think "prints" on my iPad generally look better. I *do* have around 15 copies of every file I want to keep around for a long time though.

1 on the main drive, one on the backup, one on the auxiliary backup, one on the cloud backup (probably replicated in the servers N times), one on my personal web site, then 1 copy on each of several portable devices (5 or 6) where I look at the photos regularly. Digital pictures stay permanent as long as you keep copying them.

Maybe some day I'll print them. But 5,000 prints is a lot of prints.

Digital data can be as fleeting as a summer dream - physical prints will also be lost to time eventually. As hard as it might be to accept, perhaps we should abandon hope for permanence?

I feel strongly that the best way to see photographs is in a book. And I'm beginning to pursue the book form as the best way to save the images I want to remember and for my family to remember.

Let me put in a few words for print-on-demand photo books as a way of putting selected photos on paper.
(1) They’re relatively inexpensive. For an 8x10 book, each page beyond a minimum is about 20 cents US.
(2) They demand more selectivity than printing every shot from your vacation at Costco, but less than picking the best 10 from the thousands you took on that vacation.
(3) They have much of the same “objectness” as a coffee-table book: similar impressiveness, similar permanence. For a truly exceptional collection, a 12x12 book is truly impressive.
(4) The image quality is pretty good.
(5) They’re easier to deal with (to store and to show to friends) than large prints, either mounted or unmounted - to say nothing about finding wall space for framed prints.

I think most of us experience reality as a flow of events. Photography's gift is to fix some finite portion of that flow to allow us to examine it in detail at our leisure. 1/500 of a second or 5 seconds, that period is set by the camera's shutter. So I think, philosophically, a photograph is made whenever a period of time is visually represented graphically. That's when the shutter closes, for me at least. Maybe I am being too reductionist about this. True, not every negative was made into a print. But the potential was there. And the crucial necessary, although not sufficient, work had been done when that second curtain closed. . .

ahhh, nuts. Of course it is more interesting and complicated than that. But for now, that's my answer and I am sticking to it.

Funny, in my transition from film to digital, my ratio of keepers is about the same (roughly 1 in 20), but the number of shots is vastly larger (1,000 clicks a year on film, 10,000 in digital). But the number of prints is vastly smaller. Roughly 1/50th of those I produced in my film days, because the paper print WAS the medium of communication. Now, the 1010101000's mostly stay as 10101010000's if you know what I mean.

Digital images are analogous to human memories: they will fade and be forgotten over time. By "fade" I mean the gradual inability of computers to "read" the memory blocks due everything from cosmic rays, deterioration of the media to the media no longer being supported. A print at least has the chance of lasting the life of the paper.

[Even when the electricity goes out? --Mike]

I think if we come to rely on screens as a display medium we will want them to have built-in backup batteries. Come to think of it, the house of the future will almost certainly have hours or days worth of electrical storage.

The first time I saw Bosch's The Garden Of Earthly Delights on a large screen was a revelation. I'd had the poster on my wall for years, and after the first month I hardly noticed it at all.

Mike, this same debate has been raging in our photoclub for several years now. I take the side that says a hard copy of a photo is just another delivery mechanism for an image, just as a digital image is a delivery system of an image. One method is no better nor no worse than the other. The generation behind us, the iPhone generation, doesn’t seem to want hard copy of images what they want is instant sharing. Digital images are perfect for them. Hard copy for us. Who are we to say what is right and wrong? It is how we chose to view the image. Good discussion, can’t wait to read all the responses to the question. Eric

The need to print, grossly over rated today and for the future.

Today is a digital world, tomorrow is a 99% digital world.

The ideal that if you don't make a print your images will be lost to future generations is a bit more than absurd today. The amount of digital photo sharing and backup is increasing to the point where no print could ever go.

And on hard drive crashes and losing digital images. Total shame on you. I have at least two drives with same backups, and many older drives with the same images. As hard drives greatly increase in density and drop dramatically in cost I simply back up multiple old drives to newer ones and keep both. If you really want to ensure multi lifetime storage also use the cloud to backup. Then your safe from fires, which no print or negatives are unless you duplicated them and store in at least two locations.

And to anyone that wants to debate Digital vs Film, have fun talking to yourself, as from my view both are great, just depends on what you want to achieve. Have fun and go out and shoot!

@Gordon Reynolds: I think we’re approaching the moment when electronically-stored files - images, music, documents, etc - will persist for a very long time. The old issues of medium obscolence that bedevilled local storage - one thinks of the BBC’s ‘Domesday Project’ - will disappear as the providers of the cloud continually update their storage medium but also continue to make the data compatible with it, and provide the required software tools to enable the data to be queried.

So it would be possible for a digital Vivien Mayer to be discovered, by having someone simply look through an old data archive that has been stored on up-to-date storage media. Who knows, perhaps the storage companies will start selling old data storage archives....

I hate to go off on a tangent, but I will. You have named your photo above "Three Fish Jumped". Once you did that you focused me on finding the three splash rings rather than just sitting back and letting the image seep into my brain. Once I found the rings I mentally checked out of the image and had to force myself to ignore the focus that was forced on me by your title. As you have probably guessed I am against giving images titles. Maybe a good subject for a future blog posting. I'm sure you will find the camp quite polarized.

It exists as a photograph in whatever form presented, of which the print is its highest presentation.

I have serious nostalgia for my Canon & Leica rangefinders. The weight of steel, brass and glass made a profound impact on me. But it's like going to a railway museum and listening to the sound of steam pushing the drivers in that steady 4/4 rock and roll rhythm with the smell of burning coal punctuated by a whistle at the crossing. Another world that's nice to visit briefly.

A photo is a photo is a photo. Once the shutter trips a photo, for good, bad, indifferent, or legendary exists. We can do much with it after that but the file is our negative that we have to get even if it's sometimes a guessing game scramble like ol' Saint Ansel outside of Hernandez.

I'm grateful for the lower ongoing cost of digital. Right now I could not afford film, chemicals, paper nor have I the space for a darkroom in the trailer I rent. But my EP-3 (perhaps obsolescent but I prefer to think it's just like only affording Kodacolor rather than Ektar :) ), a 25/1.7 normal & my laptop are all I need to continue to try ply my ideas of what this art can be. Thank god for small favors.

I'm not going to argue the reality or otherwise (angels, pins, etc.) but to me personally it's certain that despite the fact that I can take a photo digitally and post it and have it seen by millions instantly, who will all have some degree of emotional engagement with it (okay who am I kidding, about ten people will see it), and that therefore that digital file fulfills the purpose of a photograph more than a print hanging on my wall does; to me the digital file is an ephemeral semi-existence and the print is real and permanent. An actual photo.

Which is odd because I grew up with our whole family shooting slides and having slide shows and almost never printing anything. Feelings, they are not something to question or analyze.

This is why there's a brand new Epson 1430 sitting in my office, not having ever actually owned a proper photo printer before. (And why I'm reeling with sticker shock at ink prices.) I want to create artifacts. I think that's a photographer's job, in a sense.

I consider my photographs to be photographs once they are up on flickr. That means they have been edited (in camera!) and only jpeg files remain. I don't tinker endlessly with the raw files and any unedited file remains on the camera until it's edited. Perhaps a wierd process but it keeps me sane! The very best photos get on the wall or in a photobook, printed by a lab, for personal consumption or as gifts.

I guess another question is whether you would have taken 1,500 pictures if it wasn't digital. Would you have thought about them more and taken better pictures? Or would you not have taken the good ones because you would have been too precious about each exposure?

It all depends on who you are, what you want and how you want to do it. I have almost no interest in darkrooms, either wet or dry. So I'd develop a Canon CR2 in Digital Photo Pro (auto lens correction and all that jazz). I'd send the resulting TIFF to a lab, who would optimize the file, then make a LightJet print on either B&W or Color photo-paper. No software costs, no ink or paper costs. Not much in lost-time costs. Best of all no health costs from sitting at the computer.

I think of myself as a storyteller, not a photographer. So books/zines and videos that tell a story are much more important to me than prints. But I think I'll make at least one 40x50 Fuji Supergloss print from a 4000 dpi (800MB TIFF) scanned 4x5 Chrome—just because I can.

"ow different, as a practical matter, are the files on your stored hard drives from the transparencies that rest somewhere in a Kodak Carousel in someone else's barn or attic?"

A solar storm won't wipe out the printed photographs while it can wipe out hard drives and many other magnetic/electrical media and devices.


I run a computer lab that specializes in digital forensics and part of that field involves data recovery. We have tens of thousands of dollars worth of professional data recovery equipment. When we aren’t working paying gigs, we try to recover data for friends and family. While we have never met, I’d love to try to recover the photos from the dead drives for you. Your only costs would be shipping the drives to our lab in Pennsylvania. I understand that however lost those photos feel, you would probably want to check my bonafides more than this comment box allows. Please feel free to send me an email if you are interested and I can tell you a bit more about it. If not, that’s fine too. Thank you for keeping this site going year after year. I’m not a frequent commenter but I’ve always enjoyed it.

Who is the audience for your work? If you are doing work for hire or fine art then decisions about printing and file handling are pretty straightforward. If you are a non-professional photographer then your audience is likely those billions of eyes staring at screens which so many people seem to sneer at. It is absurd to think that a photograph can only take the form of an image on paper. The perception of exclusivity and craft associated with prints on paper is interesting but no one that concerns me very much.

The notion that digital photography is somehow more or less appropriate as a medium because someone has a bunch of dead storage devices and sleeves of negatives is not a valid point for me. Making appropriate decisions about storage and maintenance of information is a serious responsibility regardless of the medium. What about all those broken glass plates or maybe a Mexican suitcase full of negatives?

For me reinterpreting a digital image is an opportunity for the future not a poor decision revisited. Life is about change as much as anything else so being able to reinterpret images gives me options which I appreciate.

What do you read on your Kindle, books or files ?

Today, I am sorting through my black-and-white photographic prints, saving some that might be of interest to family, mostly but not only portraits, and tossing many others. Next, I will try to do the same with my negatives, saving only the best negatives of people, family and friends, and only the best negatives of places and things personally meaningful to me. No one else will do this. For me, it has been an engaging process, shaping for this moment in time my photographic legacy. Bill Wheeler

In line with that, you can also ask the same question about slides, i.e., are slides considered photographs? They are, after all, designed to be projected on various screens, at various sizes, in different venues, under different [ambient] lighting conditions. Kind of like how digital images are commonly viewed.

Prints for negative processes were the only way to see images for over 100 years. The advent of tv made viewing imagery ubiquitous but the quality never approached that of an emulsion on paper. What we did get from that experience was a minimized value of the image, as anything could be shown on the boob tube.

Fast forward to the 80s, 90s and oughts, kand we are looking at images on a CRT just like the boob. In the context of tv we saw our 1&2 mp files show sadly against prints. Now we surpass film with digital processing. The new fallback position used to devalue digital is now a print; a medium we were forced to use without option.

The print as a standard is sustained by150 years of this, the only game in town. There is a new game in town yet to be defined as photographs.

What's wrong with this picture?

Call it a picture, a snapshot or whatever you like, but no matter how or why a photograph was originally recorded, processed or displayed, the ultimate question is this... How far into the future is that image likely to remain directly visible and comprehensible to the human eye without the need for interpretive devices?

We know for sure that positive or negative images that were physically formed in pigment, metal particles or dye onto a variety of durable substrates can survive for many centuries. If you can get within viewing range of any old painting, drawing, print, or transparency, you will see the picture.

Alternately, with images composed of encoded numerical data, we really can't be certain how long the necessary decoding mechanisms or techniques will be available or workable. The likelihood is very high that currently common file formats like JPG will survive for some additional decades... but centuries?

Our contemporary culture is mostly concerned with the near-term, so digital encoding of information offers every advantage in terms of production, display, duplication, transmission and storage. But what comes after?

Most of us assume that our technologies will go on forever, but history teaches us differently. It has taken more than a century for archaeologists and mathematicians to figure out the lost purpose and function of the ancient Greek Antikythera mechanism. Just imagine the puzzlement and frustration of some future historian when confronted with an ancient terabyte hard drive. Meanwhile, we can admire the beautiful images of gods and goddesses inscribed on Greek amphorae from the 5th century BC without any effort or confusion.

Perhaps your images are not intended for the distant future, but if they are... print them out and put them away in a nice safe place. It's a time tested method.

A CAD model very much exists before it's printed on size E paper, and very often has superior qualities to the paper print.

Often a spreadsheet is much more real and consumable as a live computer entity than as a print out.

Saying that you have more control with a print is kind of a fraud - if you are paid on a contract where an editor gets to crop it, then an editor gets to crop it. Besides, whoever buys your physical print can physically change it, indeed they can crop it just by changing the frame.

A digital image is every bit as consumable as a physical print, and the digital presentation may be better or worse. But often the difference is irrelevent, because the digital form will be seen and the printed form often will not.

The real claim of making a print is that it forces people to finish the work.

A photo is real the moment it gets published in some form, be it online via social media or a photo site, your friends' WhatsApp group chat, or printed out and hung outside your door for passer-bys to see.

I like what Anthony said regarding holiday photos heh; either way they get lost to time, except that the lifespan of digital may not quite be there if you don't diligently keep your libraries up-to-date.

Also, I think this is relevant: https://xkcd.com/1909/

Photograph - drawing with light. To me that implies the creation of the image, not it's destination.


To me, a photograph is made when the light hits the recording medium. From there, it is then a personal choice to continue working with it or not.

Lots to think about in recent posts!

I think that a photograph actually becomes a photograph when it is able to be viewed. So, undeveloped film, or digital files are not photographs (yet), but a physical print or a display would be a photograph.

Storage of materials, both analog and digital, are both subject to disaster and entropy.

With regard to cost, I think that for the vast majority of people (not photographers), digital is essentially free. People can now take and share pictures from a single device (smartphone)without ever having to be a physical object.

Why is it that whenever I have finally mustered the response to a Mike-muse, everyone has already said everything I wanted to say. Almost...

There are data recovery services for old hard-drives.

Information is just information. How it is stored dictates how it is cared for. There are ways to ensure the complete safety of digital data, and they are cheap and convenient. It just requires good habits and common sense.

The same is not true of shoe-boxes full of negatives. I lost half of mine in a flood.

Power cuts is why I use a laptop, and a UPS for my HDDs. You can't see prints in the dark either.

So all the transparencies I shot, in whatever format I was using at the time, but never printed don't really exist?
Is a digital file any more than a latent image on an unprocessed roll of film?
My one of my best ever photos didn't come out after a Kodak Readyload error. I can still see imagine it on the groundglass, that really doesn't exist.

"Do paintbrush artists have similar discussions? Is an oil painting more "real art" than a watercolour painting? Is a pencil sketch really "art"? How about spray painted graffiti?"

I do not know this other "David Brown", but he sounds like me!

BTW (this) David Brown is married to a "paintbrush artist", and yes, some do have those discussions. Fortunately, my Mrs. Brown is not one of them.

I think a photograph is whatever you want it to be, in whatever form you find useful, captured and preserved however you wish. It's no one's business but your own.

As for preserving your work, dust to dust, ashes to ashes. It won't be long before most of us, and our "work," are forgotten. Life is for the living.

Don't discount the problem a horde of prints or negatives or slides or files are going to present for your descendants. Sort the wheat from the chaff yourself while you still can.

Then consider making a few photo books of what's left. Those are more likely to endure on a bookshelf somewhere than thousands of prints, slides, negatives and electronic files crammed into a closet, only a few of which will be of interest to those who follow.

Make a book or two of your "art" if you must. But I think it is the books about your life that will endure the longest. Put your photographic skills to work on that and I think you'll have something that people will treasure. For awhile.

I have said this before but will repeat it, as it fits part of this discourse. I was a professional photographer in Vermont from 1972-1993. When I wasn't shooting for my studio I was shooting for myself. Mostly 35mm and 2 1/4x21/4. Mostly Black and white for my own work. I got used to the limits of rolls of film. Actually didn't see them as limits. The limits were imposed by the developing tanks for the film. I had a tank that would hold 4 rolls of 35 mm or two 120 and one that would hold 8 rolls of 35mm and 4 rolls of 120. Those drove my shooting habits. I actually didn't like to develop 8 rolls of 35mm in the big tank because I was convinced they didn't develop as evenly. So it was a limit of either 144 shots with 35mm or 48 with 120.

I moved to Florida just as digital started to be competitive and slowly transitioned out of my darkroom and onto a computer. But....Here I am 24 years later and I hardly ever go over 108 shots (3 rolls) and rarely over 144. If I'm on a tripod I sort of turn off after 40-50 shots (4 rolls of 120). I do not understand spray and pray. I know pros sometimes do it for portraits or sports, but I can't. Old habits don't die.

Considering what my cameras seem to do best, a digital camera sitting in a box collecting dust on a shelf is no more expensive than a film camera sitting in a box collecting dust on a shelf. Initial purchase price might make digital more expensive because virtually every film camera I own was purchased used. (The last film camera I purchased new was a Hasselblad in 1983, thus fulfilling a childhood fantasy.) But then again, I've bought a lot more film cameras than digital cameras. So it's really a wash.

I would venture that a photograph exists as soon as I see it in my minds eye, how it then evolves further towards a paper object is subject to so many differing influences that it rarely makes that transition, in fact even rarer in these digital days...

none the less, it is still a photograph for me

The comparison of oil vs. watercolor demonstrates a cultural bias. In the West, we consider oil to be the superior medium. Asian art is mostly watercolor. We value the time spent in reflection and rethinking that happens in the creation of an oil painting; Japanese and Chinese tradition values the creation in the moment needed for watercolor, since the artist can't cover up mistakes.

I see the film vs. digital argument as a cultural division as well. The old analog culture that values objects, vs. the new digital culture that values experiences. It's a question of values, not better vs. worse.

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