Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where the Medium Fails (The boring stability of digital photography)

My disappointment with digital cameras has never been about the quality and fidelity of images. It's actually hard to take bad pictures with most digital cameras. With traditional film photography there are lots of points in the process of both taking pictures and creating prints where things can go wrong. These points of susceptibility and potential failure also allow for manipulation and the creation of more interesting images: negatives can be scratched, bleached, colored, sandwiched together and darkroom techniques — like the technically complex zone system developed by Ansel Adams — are endless. The charm of images taken by Holga's (cheap, plastic, medium format cameras) were a result of the plastic lens and the fact that they don't hold the negatives flat in the camera. The also tend to leak in light.

Digital photography has made possible the creation of million and millions of good pictures that are very. very boring to look at.

The built-in camera on Apples iPhone is an exception. Slight camera movements while the picture is being taken results in odd, wavy distortions. Panning the camera quickly produces a smeared abstract image. That's how I created the images below of a leave covered blacktop path. The idea to assemble the images in a grid of squares came from the camera itself. This is exactly how the images are displayed in the cameras gallery view.

Prior to the iPhone I owned a Treo and really like the kind of images I could create in low light settings.


kathleen said...

The other problem I have with digital cameras is depth of field gets flattened, so that people's faces tend to be distorted, esp children. All the pics we have of Rowan when he was wee never looked like him.

I have taken some of the best pictures with my cheap razr phone. The flattening of depth creates really interesting shots of reflections in windows because you can't make focus choices.

The low-light thing as well, plus it tends to blow out/compress the highlight and shadow ranges.

I read an article once about the destruction of accident caused by digital cameras - people delete the non-perfect shots.

Thomas Sherman said...

it really does remove variation (intentional and unintentional) technically and behaviorally and narrows the type of images rather drastically.

the color gamut of films over the years changes quite a bit with different stocks and formats. Fuji and Kodak in general had different color balances (I think Fuji is bluer). The character differences have been removed and replaced by a narrow standard.

I supposed the overall amount of control of these things has increased but you dont really see it because most image creation defaults to the standard

Alison said...

this is an argument for the ages.

digital photography is no more stable or boring than the photographer. the tool is just that, a tool, often blunt - the person who wields it has the power. digital photography seems to give the impression to people that camera does the work, as if you've given yourself over to what the camera sees. treating a photo and process of photography regardless of the tool leads to a beautiful photograph; often even, a serendipitous photograph. unless you've changes the way you see, then i can't see how the camera really makes the photo in the end. (oh and p.s. don't forget, now, all negatives are scanned, retouched, printed by master printers of the epson scene, and these are probably some of photos you love most ;).

i shoot both by the way; film and digital - film only for formats medium and larger since the cameras these days digitally either don't exist, or a are more than a condo payment.

every camera can you mention between them - pick the best photo. it will have nothing to do with the camera. it will be how you perceive the work, and what i was trying to capture at the time. (ok i feel like i'm tooting my own horn, but you get the idea).

Thomas Sherman said...

Obviously a tool is a tool is a tool and the results produced are dependent on the skill and use of the person wielding it.

But digital tools are in fact less open to easy, direct manipulation compared to analog tools. Digital tool generally usually require more technical expertise to manipulate.

Digital tools are indeed more stable and less likely to produce unintended results. You can't scratch an mp3 file the way you can record album.

Allan Jackson said...

Great post, Tom.

But I got beef with the new avatar.

Those who haven't had the pleasure of meeting you in person, might think it a fair representation. But they'd be wrong.

This pencil necked avatar does not begin to do justice to the beautiful man bag that envelops you.