Digital technology has taken over the photography world. The benefits are enormous, and advances in cameras and software have quickly overcome the weaknesses of early digital photography. But are modern photographers living up to the potential of their new digital cameras? As the owner of a gallery, I have many conversations with digital photographers, and I am beginning to see problems, not with digital photography, but with the mindset it seems to have created.
And I fear that photography as an art form may be the poorer for it. One of the benefits that make digital cameras so attractive is the ability to see your results immediately, and delete a photo if you are not happy with it, at zero cost. Gone are the days of waiting until you finish a roll of film, then facing the expense of developing and printing before you get to see your results. With digital photography, you can take a shot without fear: if it doesn't work, just delete it and try again.
Therein lies my biggest worry about digital photography. The ease with which a photographer can erase a mistake has taken away the need to think about what they are doing. Let's face it, if you take enough shots of the same subject, eventually you will get it right accidentally. When film was king, the delay in seeing your results, and the expense connected to each exposure, made it important to get it right, or at least try to do so. When a photographer had to wait until days later to view their results, the opportunity to try again had usually passed.
Consequently, it was essential to really learn how to use your camera, and to put creative thought into every exposure. Of course there was no such thing as a 100% success rate, and plenty of film was wasted, but with concentration and self-discipline, a good film photographer had a right to expect more hits than misses from each roll of film. These days I meet digital photographers who are immensely proud of a good image, even if they had to delete 50 failed attempts from their memory card along the way.
In these cases, the question needs to be asked: was the digital photographer's eventual success due to good photography or good luck? Moreover, had they learned anything in the process? Presented with the same situation again, would they need to take another 50 photos to get it right the next time? All too often, if you care about good results, that approach is simply not good enough. In my field of nature photography, many opportunities last no more than a few seconds. Birds fly away, clouds cover the sun, the colours of a sunset change. Fleeting moments are not rare in photography, in fact for some artists they are what photography is all about.
So how does the random snapper cope in these situations? I suspect in many cases the tendency is to blame the bird for flying away, or blame the digital camera for not doing its job properly. The notion that the photo should be easy for someone who knows what they are doing would not compute. Why? Because the sheer convenience of digital photography, with its automatic features and ease of deletion, does not encourage us to actually learn how to use the camera. Imaging software is part and parcel of the photography industry; I accept that.
In fact, to get a truly high-quality print, even the best digital photographer has to do a little 'work' on an image from time to time. But computer wizardry should never replace skill with a camera. Sadly, these days many people are relying on software to fix their mistakes, instead of learning to take better photos. I look at it this way: time spent fixing up a mistake using software ' minutes or hours.
Time spent getting it right in the first place ' about 1/500 second. If you have a good digital camera, I urge you switch it to manual and learn how to use it. Not much has changed since the old days. The main things you need to learn are still aperture, shutter speed, light and composition. Practice has never been cheaper, and learning from your mistakes has never been easier. A little patience and self discipline is really all it takes.
Go on ' make your camera proud!.
Nature Photographer Andrew Goodall has a gallery, a top ranked website http://www.naturesimage.com.au and now two highly popular ebooks on the art and skills of good photography. Find them at http://www.naturesimage.com.au/page/25/default.asp