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Friday, 04 December 2015


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I learned to do digital imaging when I was a child. Back then we called it "finger painting."

Be a long time I reckon before I would be comfortable calling myself a digital imager.

I prefer to call it lens-based media, because in the end it is derivative of light.

If photography is to be understood as 'direct' light writing, I would say that term has to be reserved for daguerrotypes and other media in which the end product started in the camera. Polaroids and perhaps slides might qualify as well, but any negative/positive procedure is -at least to me- closer to digital then to original light writing.

To add to your point, a digital image is not necessarily a photograph. One can create a digital image without using a camera, for example. We've all seen digital images created from scratch with Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop for that matter.

The reverse is also true: a photograph is not necessarily a digital image, just because you happen to be viewing a digital reproduction of it on your monitor. If so, then the Mona Lisa is a digital image as well.

Better reserve the following URL: TheOnlineDigitalImager.com.


Works just fine for me.

Prints are simple: Pixelographs

I know that in this case, you're focused on the definition of the word, photography, but I think of it as an analog/digital issue that applies to sound and movie recording as well. Do we need to distinguish between music recorded on tape versus music recorded digitally ? Video ? And what about photos or music or video recorded by analog means but subsequently converted to digital ?

I was recently bemoaning the persistent use of the qualifier "digital" which has become increasingly unnecessary when talking about cameras. But then I actually went out to a couple websites (like Target as an example) and found that they've finally got around to dropping the word. Now it's just "cameras" and "point and shoots". (Since they don't sell film cameras, there seemed no need to distinguish digital from ... well, nothing !) But DSLRs are still digital SLRs.

So I guess my point is that digital doesn't need its own name because it's the alternative that's the outlier. Kind of like mobile phones are morphing into just "phones" (mobile gets to be an increasingly unnecessary qualifier) and if you can't get cell service, you can always call from your "land line".

I think I shall disagree with you here.

When using a computer to communicate verbal information, we still call it writing, though no pen is involved and the words are "mapped and made plastic" in exactly the same way photons are in digital photography.

There are certainly differences (both for writing and photography) between digital and analog recording of data, but I do not consider them so fundamental as to require them to be referred to by different names except when discussing those differences.

I don't believe I quit making photographs when I began creating images that in some way or another employ digital imaging and/or printing technologies.

For most of my career I have been deeply immersed in the materials and processes of photography, yet I've never been able to carve out a successful definition of a photograph based solely on the choice of materials and processes used to produce the final mage. Rather, I have concluded that the fundamental difference between a genuine photograph compared to images made by painting, drawing, or even photo illustration techniques lies in the photographer/printmaker adhering to the spirit of image recording so aptly described by Cartier-Bresson as the "decisive moment". I accept the fact that a single exposure can be short or long and that in the translation to the final image appearance neither colors, nor tones, nor spatial elements or perspective are required to remain faithful to the original scene content. Yet in order to retain the integrity of a genuine photograph the image presented to the viewer needs to have been formed by essentially just one single image exposure. Whether the process used to capture that single exposure is analog or digital or a hybrid of both is irrelevant to me. It's all just part of the continuing history of photography.

All that said, I do see merit in describing finished prints as analog or digital only because these terms do convey to knowledgeable viewers some sense of the logical constraints upon the degree of image manipulation that would have been available to the artist(s) producing the finished work. However, analog craft is still no guarantee to the authenticity of a photograph. A skilled analog printmaker like Ansel Adams could have easily composited an image of the moon into his famous Moonrise photograph, but had he done so, the final image may have easily tricked the viewer into the pathos of this masterful image but simultaneously destroyed the ethos of his genuine photograph.


Off-Topic (but you're the one who posted the photograph of a real telephone, the kind I grew up with): in rural Saskatchewan the handset was called a "receiver" and you talked into the "mouthpiece." The hookswitch was just "the hook." We were simple folk and disdained the hoity-toity.

The device itself was infinitely more user-friendly than the modern rubbish. Once you'd spun the crank the whole process was voice activated: all you needed to do was speak the number you wanted followed by the easy-to-remember password "Please". Best of all, the telephone intuited your needs and answered questions you hadn't even asked.

A conversation often went like this:
Caller: "One-ring-two please, Jean."
Local operator: "If you want your uncle Bob, I don't think he's home. He was going over to the Wilsons for coffee this morning. Do you want me to ring them there?"
(The local database was awesome.)

Beat that, Siri!

I believe that "photography" truly means "drawing with light" (from the Greek roots) than using a light sensitive piece of silicon is no different than using a light sensitive piece of chemically coated plastic (i.e. film). Both require a lens to shape the photons to strike the substrate (silicon or film).

I agree that the potentially of the result is different between film and silicon. The reason is because there are more tools available for manipulating the silicon (i.e. software) than there is for film (e.g. optical exposure units, paper, chemistry, and rudimentary tools).

Do these differences require us to give different names to the core of what is happening? I don't think so. In fact I believe that the "digital imaging" label is one of the primary reasons there is / has been such a rift of film vs. silicon. We rarely see the term "digital imager" used for one who creates work from "digital imaging"; they are still referred to as photographers.

I agree that using silicon to record light through a lens is still in its infancy (compared to the history of photography dating back nearly two centuries). I suspect that artists (if I can use that term) will figure out a way to use the new tools (just like artist through history figured out how to use brushes, new pigments, sculpture tools / materials, tin plates, glass, paper, and metal) to express themselves about how they view and move through the world.

Making a photograph is less about how the image starts but where it ends up; with a big dose of the artists imagination, heart, and soul in the middle.

I for one do not want to be known as a digital imager.

I don't like the distinction, but you may be at least partially right. My lifelong love is still photography, so such a distinction makes me want to use nothing but film from here on out.

Balderdash! When it is necessary to differentiate the photographic process, it is given a name. Whether you've harassed the chickens to make an albumen print, or ripped into the earth for materials to make a platinum print, it is all one thing. Photography – with subsets – is what we do and love. When distinctions are needed, they will be labeled with the necessary modifier. Oil, pastel, watercolor, tempera, gouache, fresco, and more. They are all painting with a modifier to describe method or material or a combination thereof. I live in Monterey, CA and nowhere are there more rabid distinctions made between "real" photography and digital photography – especially in the art marketing world. And then there is the digital "negative" printed silver or platinum through a process of many steps. From illegitimate to legitimate. Is a silver print of a digital image worthy of being called photography? (playing devil's advocate here;~) http://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2013/10/digital-file-to-silver-gelatin-print.html

I'm not convinced that it matters whether the light is written on light-sensitive silver particles that are then chemically processed, or if it is written on light-sensitive electronic sensors that are then digitally processed. The result is the same: an image is formed based on light striking a light-sensitive surface. Most of the time it is light that has been focused and directed by a lens, and has passed through some sort of box before hitting the light-sensitive surface. Why should the nature of that surface matter when forming this definition?

Compare that to "digital imaging," which can mean anything formed by a computer, including images that are created 100% in Photoshop, having never seen a lens or camera, and having no relationship to or dependence on "light." Or what about Flash animations, or Pixar movies? Those are all "digital images" but none of them are "photography" because light was never one of the building blocks. At best, "photography" can be thought of as a subset of digital imaging — except that some photography ("analog") might not be digital at all.

So just call it photography.

What bugs me more is this never-ending need to always specify "digital" photography. Such as an ad that says "Digital photographers will love these new tripods" or a news caption that says "Digital photographer Bob Smith photographs the Macy's Parade."

Why specify "digital?" Does that means a film photographer won't be interested in those tripods? Does it mean Bob Smith is incapable of shooting with a film camera or a Polaroid? And why must we call a single-lens reflex camera a "DSLR?" It's an SLR that just happens to be digital. The "D" part has no bearing the fundamental components that make it an SLR (single lens, box, prism, mirror).

Why be more precise than we need to be? It can make you just as incorrect as being less precise than you need to be.

I have used that distinction for some time, "wet darkroom" techniques applied in post, dodge/burn, contrast, selective sharpening etc. its still photography, more? its digital imaging, I have no problem with digital imaging but I do like the idea of a different category.
btw,Mike were you aware that Threshold Audio once had an amplifier rated at 1HP (768 watts)

"Digital imaging." It sort of kills off any fun in photographing with digital cameras, doesn't it?
However, you're right. Analogue photography (I have a friend who sells analogue equipment who prefers to call it 'conventional photography', and he's half-right) looks pretty much like the real thing compared to the experience of shooting digital.
On a different domain, I remember NAD (the danish audio manufacturer), back in the late 90's, advertised their 512 and 514 CD players as having a sound quality that emulated the warmth of vinyl. Of course, the guy who carved this slogan never heard a proper vinyl LP played on a decent turntable, but this sounded like they were admitting digital would never keep up with analogue and was a lame imitation of the real thing. In which they would be right.
Digital - in audio as in imaging - isn't about quality; it's about mass production, for which it becomes necessary to reach billions of people and make them happy with sub-standard levels of quality.
Of course your average digitalista will read the above as a rant from some old fart who lives in the past, but it remains true that digital is a false progress induced by a greedy industry. Our times brought us real progress - I'd never even think of reverting to a typewriter -, but some deception too. Digital imaging is among the latter.
So let's stop calling "photographs" to what people share by the bucketload on the internet every hour. It doesn't deserve being named like that. It just degrades real photography.

Yours truly,
a. k. a. Your Average Old Fart (YAOF)

A closely allied linguistic problem comes when we project digital images on a screen (or on a TV) as part of a presentation. The film based version is a "slide show"; that term still gets used even though inappropriate for digital. I can't think of any simple, easily understood, equivalent.

I can't get excited about the terminology-which will probably change over time anyway; In fact, 'analog'(film or other substrate) is as much a mapping process as is digital recording. The number of light sensitive molecules modified by light is proportional to the intensity of the light and its color (for most films, etc.). This is essentially the same as moving a number of electrons in a memory cell by a digital sensor. Analog we read by development in chemicals, digital we read by scanning the file cell values. Both processes are doing similar mapping of the light through the lens. Digital however, permits us to have much more control over the data provided by the sensor in 'post-processing'.

I think of "digital imaging" as what sometimes happens at the doctor's office. And when you think about it, at the basic level, "analog" photography is all just code too, even if we didn't write it. My opinion is that if it looks like photography, and acts like photography, then it's photography, whether there's some computational assistance involved or not. It's still light, and you are still "drawing."

To borrow from Supreme Court Justice, Potter Stewart, "Is it photography? I know it when I see it."

Dear Mike,

I could not disagree more.

Well, I could, but I'd have to go all abusive.

I see no reason to even prefix it, as in "digital" photography. It is photography.

This is exactly as sensible as the folks who said a dye transfer print should not be referred to as a "photograph," as it's not made with light (note to readers-- it isn't, in fact).

That is to say, not one bit.

For that matter, if we're going to be all faux-academic about it, light doesn't "write" on film. Yeah, it does something but it ain't what we call writing. So, we're already into fanciful interpretations with the word "photography."

Redirecting... If using the right word is really such a big concern, stop misusing "dynamic range." Just because 99% of the folks using it don't use it correctly doesn't mean you have to join them. We have a perfectly accurate preexisting term-- exposure range. Dynamic range is not, technically, the same thing.

At least there we have a factual difference, instead of just aesthetic gatekeeping.

Physician, etc.etc.

pax / Ctein

[I don't like that one either, and I prefer to say "eye-ess-oh," too, but one has to go along to get along. Say way I often use the term "digital photography." And by the way, your comment here is "argument by assertion" and those are categorically very weak arguments. --Mike]

Photography - digital, and film.

I use both of these forms of recording technologies. Usually in very similar handling "light tight boxes"* - that is with regards to setting exposure and focusing. They both even use mirrors (remember them?), but not smoke... I hope. Behind the shutter is where the differences start.

Please don't make it more complicated. We'll be arguing over it being "art" or not next... again!

(* Nikon D700 and Nikon F100 - a wonderful pair.)

Having come from the film age, I inwardly bristled when I first heard the term analog describing anything not digital. In silent retaliation, I have concluded that the latest and greatest camera I own, the Fujifilm X-100s, is basically a computer attached to a lens for the purpose of digitally recording photographic images. My 54 old Leica M2, however, is a finely crafted machine with an equally crafted lens designed to record photographic images on film. A more meaningful difference is implied than what just two words can convey.

For most people, "photography" encompasses the entire process, not just capturing light on a medium. The transition to digital drastically changed how we record light but the other choices and possibilities of photography remain unchanged. I think the word photography is strong enough to survive a 1/3 change to its definition.

It makes sense to insist upon technical definitions of terms when there is a risk that the term can be misinterpreted and lead to harmful confusion. Language is about communication. We don't (or shouldn't) insist upon technically correct grammar for the sake of (a) boosting our self-worth and degrading others, (b) some sense of protecting linguistic purity, or (c) satisfying our respective OCD-afflictions.* The only real defensible reason for correcting others grammar is to avoid miscommunication and confusion. Frankly, I tend to doubt that anyone is confused about what we are referring to when we speak of "photographing" using digital cameras.

Moreover, we need to consider the effect on communication of choosing a different term. Would there be less -- or more -- confusion if we referred to forming pictures using digital cameras as "digital imaging" rather than either "digital photography" or just "photography"? I'm inclined to think there would be considerably greater confusion, not just if we choose digital imaging as the applicable term, but for any other term we could adopt.

I don't mean this in a bad way, but you are concerned with a very minor degree of technical imprecision that (as the comments above indicate) is subject to some debate. It seems quite clear that that harm is dramatically outweighed by the general interest in continuing to use a term that is consistently used and understood by the general populace.

Best regards,

* I'm not suggesting Mike is doing any of these -- I'm just referring to how many people treat grammar.

Photography, drawing with light itself, is not media and technique dependend, it is about a particular creative method applied, which can be done with a pin hole box or an Iphone.
A photographically photographed photograph creates the content and story of the image at the point of exposure, is processed wet, dry or digital into a print or other output without altering the content of the photograph contained or recorded in negative, positive or file.

Once you alter the content of your image in post production, or at any other time, the creation of the image is made independently of the point of capture and becomes purely human centric in it's creative phase, like most other art forms, from writers to painters and so on. The beauty of drawing with light is that it limits our human meddling a bit by forcing the photographer to work closely with the perceived reality surrounding him directly at the point of exposure........or something like that. Film supported it a bit better by creating pretty much fixed negatives,digital tempts us a bit by easily altering it endlessly and at will with sliders and filters..........

Pfff that was easy and i do need more coffee..........Hz


You wrote "Digital - in audio as in imaging - isn't about quality; it's about mass production, for which it becomes necessary to reach billions of people and make them happy with sub-standard levels of quality."

I won't weigh in on the subject of digital audio (I have my personal views, but they aren't relevant here), but it seems very, very difficult to argue that analog photography using film was in any meaningful way superior to current digital photography (or imaging, if you prefer). Resolution, dynamic range, color and color transitions are all superior with digital. So are accuracy of focus, cost per incremental image, speed of results and educational value (due to instant feedback).

If, on the other hand, you prefer less resolution, less dynamic range, and less accurate color, there are easy enough ways to achieve all of those with digital cameras, in-camera, without ever engaging in any post-processing whatsoever.

So what is the "sub-standard level of quality" that we are being forced to accept with digital photography/imaging?

(Bear in mind that film recorded light using discrete light-sensitive particles, so it was not a continuously variable recording medium.)

Best regards,

I always say "real photography" when talking about analog, and "digital photography" when talking about, well, digital. I imagine digital photography as detached from reality one more step than analog.
Needless to say, it pisses my fellow photographers who use digital cameras to no end.

As far as digital versus analog goes, my favorite fun fact is that color digital cameras all have analog black and white sensors at their core--it's just all the stuff that happens afterwards that's digital. And conversely, silver crystals behave digitally (either in or off, individually).

I think what's changed is that post processing no longer requires light. We were writing with light when dodging and burning and adjusting the orange filter on the enlarger. If that's essential to "photo-graphy", then I'd agree with you, but I feel like the moment of taking the picture is the essential thing, and that still counts as writing with light.

... plaster cast of a bear print ...

Nice metaphor—but ... it's not the plaster, it's the cast.

Correction: apparently I should have referred to "exposure range" in my comment to Manuel, not "dynamic range"...


Quill and ink, typewriter, ballpoint pen, pencil, computer with wordprocessor, it's all writing and the operator is a writer (if they have the talent).
I don't understand your desire for a distinction in photography.

Photography is the method by which an image is recorded; on a receptor that uses chemicals and light to record what is generally called an image.

Rendering an image using a device which records
imagery not on film or a glass plate is not
photography in the real sense. Until such time as said imagery is actually manufactured and rendered as a positive image or print, it has no more substance that a phart in a windstorm.

It is NOT photography, at least im my mind.

I'm with Ctein. I'll even go further -- photography is already such a diffuse term that trying to pin it down is pointless. About the only realistic definition would be "making an image with a mechanical device." As a reporter in an emergency room, I remember hearing radiologists talk about "looking at the pictures" when they were referring to images made on film but without lenses...and what they looked at could have been contact-printed on standard printing paper and displayed as art photos, even though there wouldn't be any lenses involved at any point in the process. Now, they look at digital images, and not only are there not any lenses involved, there isn't any film -- but the image functions in exactly the same way.

Photography is what it is, and that's a lot of different stuff.

Who among you has ever walked into a store and asked for a 36 exposure roll of "analog"?
Film Photography.
Digital Photography.

I'll still call it Pixelography.

In my own work, and I suspect that of many others, there are important creative differences between choosing to use a film-based photographic method and a digital-based photographic method. I see no doubt about it.

However, there are also important creative differences between choosing one lens or another, between choosing color or black and white, between choosing realism over its opposite, between choosing to make a small or large photograph. And on and on.

On any list of "Important Distinctions in Photographs" the distinction between digital and film-based images will surely merit inclusion. But it would be low on that list.


Hi Mike,

What makes you a writer? You don't put pen to paper in the way Shakespeare did (nor the many who followed him using various definitions of pen). You don't type on an honest-to-God typewriter the way Hemingway did. There seems to be no damn paper involved at all, in fact.

And yet, you do write. The words flow from your mind, are emended and then published to your audience. The technology would be unrecognizable to those on whose shoulders you stand, but they would certainly understand the creative process and be able to interpret the results.

Our art does not depend on the technology, but on the urge of the heart and mind. Some photographs are going to be powerful - some are going to be the visual equivalent of "that's not writing, that's typing." But surely it is a similar creative process and luck that produces everything from the sublime to the ordinary in every form of visual capture from daguerrotype, through film, to digital - and beyond to technologies we cannot yet imagine.

Thank you for a provocative article,


[What made ME a writer was the computer. Specifically, the original 1984 128k Macintosh that I started using in David Adamson's computer imaging class at the Corcoran School. I asked for and received a Mac as a graduation present. I was never a very good writer using a pen or a typewriter because I couldn't rewrite very easily and I couldn't shift sentences and paragraphs from one place to the other. My study carrel at Baker Library at Dartmouth was festooned with cut-out strips of paper taped to the walls because I was forever trying to LITERALLY cut and paste. The computer made that process easy, and without the word processor I would not be a writer now. The technology was very important to the process for me. --Mike]

I thought there were rules on replying to comments. Maybe an exception has been accepted, this seemingly having become a digital vs. analogue argument.
I don't want to argue. I have my opinion and stand for it. I don't feel the need to become defensive. An internet old saying involving the Paralympics comes to mind when the topic is arguing on the internet, but I feel entitled to question TOP's policy on directly replying other people's comments.

Ugh, this bug-bear.

As you well know, `photography' *means* `light-writing'; it is not subservient to your differentiation on the meaning. Its very definition says nothing about how it is done as long as you've done some writing with some light. It is only those who differentiate progress that have to create awkward revised names for the past.

Others have played the "digital doesn't necessarily make it a photo" card, which is also obvious.
I'd like to add that I recently saw a very interesting post [I forget where] which presented several examples of analogue photographic processes involving no camera - folks holding a sheet of POP underwater to catch shadows of aquatic fauna, that kind of creative method.

No, no, NO! Lala lala lalala, not listening…
I do get what you're saying Mike, I just don't buy in to the argument.
A photographer communicates the moment with a device through a medium that creates an image. The image is a facsimile. It has its own life as well as reflecting the subject, the photographer, the camera, the processing, the medium (web, print, magazine, etc) the viewer, the society/culture/environment of the subject/photographer/viewer and the cultural expectations implicit in all those relationships, and, and, and…
To pull out the analogue digital argument as a dividing line between the photograph's perceived truth/reality/validity is isolating one variable and burdening it with a blame that it has had no part in.
The thing that makes a digital image a photo graph is that with a camera, via a lens, photons organised into an image are projected onto a two dimensional surface where receptors turn that into a graphic representation of the subject. How is that fundamentally different from film-based photography?

Don't forget that we still use the term 'stop' to refer to the amount of light the lens passes, and to an exposure change- '"give it a stop more exposure" yet the Waterhouse Stop isn't used too often these days, as far as I know.

As for the telephone, I'm not the only person I know who promises to give somebody a bell, meaning that I'll phone them.

I'm with Ctien and others- photography is the process of capturing, processing and displaying images, irrespective of the media. Would you make a distinction between photohraphy with a lens vs. a pinhole aperture? A camera vs a phone?

I'm not so picky about the words used to describe digital imaging vs. film imaging, but I'm always in wonder over the fact that the film itself was a physical witness to the event that was photograph: it was actually there! It was there on D-Day, Saigon, or Los Alamos witnessing some of the most significant events in recent history.

Is that important? Probably not to most people, but I think film photograph's ontology represents one of the truly unique features of photography in its ability to record and communicate momentous events as they happened. Yes, you could write about it or paint or maybe even make a dance about it, but the immediacy of documenting an event is something unique to photography, and having a little physical piece of it is a nice reminder of that.

I think the distinction is fundamentally not that clear cut. Both are models in some sense. In "analog" photography, light causes electrons to jump and this stimulates a chemistry, which is post-processed during development to a more stable final state. The "boundaries" of each photochemical unit of reaction is not sharp but sort of fuzzy (for a lack of better word). In digital also light causes electrons to jump, which causes a potential difference to occur, that is used to flip bits. The boundaries are not smooth, the jaggedness is defined by pixel dimension and density. Ultimately both are models of the light that passes through the lens: in analog, the model is a chemical construct, dependent on the choice of chemistry, the substrate in which the chemicals are embedded, processing variables, etc. These are all human controlled. In analog, the model includes sensor physics as well as algorithms for converting potential difference to bit flipping and subsequent processing.

Photography is a big enough art form to include all approaches and styles. So, at least photography as referring to the art doesn't need qualification.

Qualifying the term only seems necessary if one is trying to make a distinction. Further, I don't know if it's the case here, but the majority of the time I have run into people asking to make a terminology distinction, they are of the view that one is "better" than the other in some way. This is much like the way people say that anything post-processed is "photoshop" not "photography". Sorry, but it's all still the art of photography. Let's divide only when there's a good reason.

Dan Smith - reminds me of when my kids were growing up in the 90s and their mother would catch them playing some rather graphically violent video game. Their response would be, "Aw, mom. They're just pixels."

David Miller - That's a hoot! And nicely told. As a child of the 50s, I just missed that era in rural Iowa. We had a black dial phone like everyone else, though for a while it was a party line so I did get that experience.

Mike Johnston - (sigh) The light capturing devices will most likely change before the terminology does unless there's a good money-making marketing reason.

Well, anyone can call it whatever they want. It makes no difference as the rest of the world will continue to call photography photography regards of whether it uses plastic strips and chemicals or digital processing.

The only thing that matters in the end are results of the photos. That is, the photos themselves.

Restricting the use of "photography" to film would help those who believe that film is magically superior differentiate their photography from that of others without them having to actually producing photos different from those of others in any way except for the medium. Plus, they would no longer have to specifically mention that film was used in order for us to understand their photography automatically had a magical, mystical quality to them that would would otherwise miss.

Calling only film photography "photography" would be especially useful for those recent discoverers of film who started out with digital. Those who didn't know film back in the old days before it became magic in and of itself.

I find it intriguing that people worry about the distinction between analog and digital photography so much. After all there is so much more they have in common that affects the final art: timing, composition, focal length, stalking the subject, the decisive moment, shutter speed, aperture, exposure, focus, colour palette, and so on. Even in the light/darkroom we worry about contrast, sharpness, maximum black, cropping, tonal curves, paper response and surface for both.

After all that whether it is digital or film seems to be a minor detail. I do miss the tactility of the darkroom, but my prints are far closer to what I want now.

So what am I doing when I 'write' on a computer screen? You still call yourself a writer, don't you? So I'm a 'light-writer' - and proud of it!

Ironically, Mike includes a picture of an early phone in his article. When that phone was in use, end to end transmission would have been completely analogue, but these days the sound is converted to digital for routing over the network. Only the link between the exchange and the handset remains analogue. With mobile phones, which do not rely on older infrastructure, the conversion happens within the device itself. Does that mean we need new terms for telephony as well?

I do digital imaging all day with very expensive macro lenses (confocal microscopes) and I think it comes down to the amount of intention you put into it. To me 'digital imaging' implies a degree of intentionality: you consciously choose the parameters of your acquisition and the actual image capture is only the first step in a process that generates 'data' (or a finished digital image).

Contrary to digital imaging, if you point a camera at something, push the clicky button and upload it to Facebook you are just taking pictures. That is fine as far as sharing with friends goes but, as with microscopy, to capture something that is professionally interesting you need that extra layer of intentionality. Super-duper JPEG engines are streamlining post-processing but you still don't walk away with something people might pay for without putting real thought into what you are doing.

At the fundamental level, photo-chemical and photo-electronic capture processes are both 'technology' that save the photographer from requiring any artistic skills whatsoever to make a facsimile of what they were seeing on a two dimensional medium.

Both involve the photon-induced transfer of electrons from one atom to another, in one case permanently and in the other case, temporarily.

So either way, it differs substantially from the transfer of solid pigment to a canvas using a brush or a knife.

When I did a chemistry degree, I had no idea that it would ever become the subject of nostalgia. I certainly never viewed it as being inherently 'artistic', especially when sitting in a sealed lab, covered with protective gear and a respirator in case I poisoned myself, blew myself up, burned holes in my skin, or developed a tumor. I'm just glad they invented personal computers in time for my final year dissertation.

If chemical photography had not been invented before the advent of the digital sensor, I don't suppose anyone would think it was a good idea now. For one thing, the reproduction quality would not be anywhere like good enough.

It always irks me when people refer to film photography as real photography , when everybody should know that only daguerreotypes were real photography. [I did not do this and this was not the point of the post. This is something you're projecting on the issue. But you're not alone--lots of people respond the same way. --Mike]

Film has to be manipulated before you can get to a final print. And it's even worse with negatives, which have to be reversed first.
That said, I get what you mean when you say that "digital imaging becomes less and less about 'capturing' one single 'still' instant of one specific view all at once on one large sensor". Computational photography is definitely getting farther away from what used to be known as photography, but I still don't see it as good enough a reason to call it something else most of the time. I will call it computational photography when I need to make a distinction, typically because I'm talking about what it can do that "traditional" photography can't, but most of the time I care about the end result and see no good reason to call that something other than a photograph. It's an image of what was in front of me, captured in the way I wanted it to be captured. It's not an objective representation of what was in front of me, but then again photography was never objective (and don't get me started on that one, it NEVER was objective). My personal goal is to share an honest representation of reality, which is not necessarily the same thing as a realistic representation of reality because I want to stay true to how I felt, but most of the time that aligns with objective reality. Others don't care about these things and make images that distance themselves more from reality, but they could make those long before digital cameras were invented. It's easier now, but certainly not new. So no, I don't think the distinction between digital and analogue/film photography is useful or even makes sense.

And it all reminds me how uncomfortable I am every time someone asks me if I manipulate my pictures, because I don't know what they mean by that. If their question is about my using a computer before making the final print, then the answer is yes, I've manipulated my pictures. If the question is about the honesty of my pictures, as in "did it really look like this?", then yes, I'm trying my darnedest to be honest. And I know I can't trust the camera and the only way to make sure I'm honest is to check (and often modify) the file before I print.

Anyway, this subject has already been debated ad nauseam and I should know better than to get involved. I guess I really feel strongly about this one...

Might be a can of worms. What about the practice of scanning negatives in order to make prints? Hybridography?

I occasionally get the urge to buy an old non-electric film body just to use to flick the film advance lever with my thumb. I miss that.

In the same way as recorded music is still music whether it is a physical LP/CD or an MP3 file on an iPod, so the act of photography with a camera is the same whether the end result is a print/slide or an image on an LCD.

You can call the end result by a different name, but photography is photography to me.

In the past, did we have a similar debate discriminating, for example, between wet collodion on glass and gelatin on acetate?

[Of course we did.



In a way, a darkroom is just rough industrial age computer, one that uses chemicals instead of code. Both are machines, tools that let us resolve and visualize captured data. Isn't this what Eastman hinted at, with the old "you press the button" ad campaign?

Darkrooms do have a romanic physicality about them, but so can digital darkrooms. I grew up with computers and coding, writing drawing programs on an Apple II back in the late 70s, so that process of manipulating code to create art is quite natural and "physical" to me. Computers grant me me a very direct and even intimate connection to the light I captured.

I think the familiarity with the machine is what transforms it from a black box into an artistic tool. A darkroom is just as mysterious and artificial as a computer, if all you see it the red light on the outside. But once you walk in the door and pour the chemicals, or boot up the machine and manipulate the code, it changes from a simply machine into a expressive tool.

That's not a handset on that phone. That's a receiver. The handset was a combined transmitter and receiver in one unit.

The earliest receivers had a screw eye coming out of the top. You hung that on a "hook" on the end of the "hook switch". So it was once truly literally a hook switch. But that was fiddly to hang up, and it was easy to hang the receiver up by the wires, which was highly detrimental to the wires. So they pretty quickly designed that forked hook.

I like to keep it simple. If the picture was generated using light from the subject through a lens (or pinhole) it's photography. The rest are just technical details. To me the term digital imaging, or really just plain imaging, conjures up created scenes (drawn, painted, composited, computer rendered, etc.).

As photographers most of us tend to also think about the technical details of how the photograph was made. There the added labels come in handy, but they certainly are not needed to identify that something is a photograph. As to how to distinguish a digital from an photon-chemical process it doesn't seem that any one set of terms works universally. I'm perfectly happy to use the accepted terms digital and analog, even if they are not perfect.

I see the difference being film vs sensor and nothing else. I use the same camera, (i.e. Hasselblad 501cm) and lenses for film as in digital with the only difference being the film magazine and the digital back. I use the same light meter, lighting methods, lighting equipment, and exposure values, etc. Post processing is different, but better for me via digital imaging over chemical imaging.

Evolution from the oven to the microwave (I use a convection as well), etc. makes life easier for some of us!

Photographs are now called images, if you print them do they become photographs?

Daniel Sroka, above, makes a beautiful point. In the creative sense, a digital sensor is just another film type or "film-sensor flavor" to work with for particular results inherent within it's tech.
BTW has anyone noticed the massive expansion and increased application of the photographic phenomena!?
Never has photography had such a rich tool palette at it's disposal, capture wise and more so print wise, rejoice go shoot something!!

Jeepers Mike. If you don't stop this nonsense I'm going to stop reading this blog. It's like calling the "S" on Superman's chest "the Krypton symbol for hope". For cryin' out loud it's a friggin' "S" and taking a picture with a camera is photography. It's recording light on a medium. Do you distinguish writing with a pen or pencil different than writing on a typewriter or a computer? It's words on a page. It's about what they say not how they got there. (Now descending from soapbox!)

"Digital Imaging" is problematic in terms of describing photography. Many laymen will think of the place you go to get a CAT Scan or other radiographic medical procedure. This is a problem a lot of photo labs ran into when changing branding some years ago.

Is analog-recorded and analog played-back music fundamentally different from digitally recorded/played back music? Is one music and the other not? Some argue that neither hold a candle to live music.

Replace recording and reproduction of sound waves with recording and reproduction of light and try the arguments again.

[Nice try, but the arguments in that field are legion, and have been going on fiercely and ceaselessly for thirty-five years. With little sign of abating, although a different side is winning now. --Mike]

I'm late to this party but I think temporal distance matters as well. I am still amused when looking through my mother's record collection to see all her albums from the early '60s that boldly proclaim they're in "STEREO." After a decade or so it was no longer necessary to say so - virtually everything was in stereo and it would have been more relevant to properly label something as monaural if it wasn't in stereo.
Likewise, I think, with photography. I think the distinction you draw will simply disappear and a photo will be a photo (almost always digitally captured) and we will only note "film photography" when it very deliberately isn't digital.

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