Tag Archives: digital photography

Exceptional (Akihabara night taxi)

Akihabara night taxi, by Camera Freak.

I proclaimed earlier that digital photography is not a real revolution because it had not brought with it a new visual language. Even when writing that I was well aware of this exception: HDR (High Dynamic Range Imaging). Perhaps one will soon grow tired of the effect, but some of the images can look quite remarkable at times when the effect is used in moderation. Like in this example, this can work quite well for landscape/cityscape photos, esp. Tokyo (not my photo by the way, just blogged via flickr as an example of someone taking good images of Japan using that technique [although my friend Mr Higashimori is bound to object, with good reason as always]). At the moment more convincing than camera tossing or the various ways of trying to emulate a film look, but one can clearly feel half-life ticking away. When does an effect end being a pure effect and become a new language? I suppose when you are able to detect an artistic vision behind it. A lot of the digital work seems to be done for its own sake, just because we can. You run the software and you’re there. And so is everyone else.

One other thing: has anyone else noticed that there is no decent discourse about digital image making? All attempts to do so in public fora are destined for the dreaded digital vs. film debate. We realise once more that few intelligent comments are drowned in the myriad of average voices. This is the down side of the great equaliser and why I suspect that Web 2.0 is of limited interest to the minority that matters.

The instrument versus the recorder

A lot people all over the place keep talking about the digital photography revolution and the fact that we are in the middle of a major shift, at the beginning of something grand and new. I have been thinking long and hard and I have come to a different conclusion. I have a number of friends who are professional musicians, mostly classical. And when looking at their art and their way of working, I find a lot of parallels to photography. First and foremost, there are instruments and there are ways to record, store and reproduce music.

In this post by Digital Photography I am mainly referring to digital cameras, mostly because digital photography in the sense of digitally manipulating images has been around for a quite long time (Adobe Photoshop was first released in 1990).

Most importantly, with the advent of digital cameras there is no new instrument producing images. There is just a new way of recording images using a light-sensitive sensor and magnetic storage media instead of film. However if you think about it a little more, the way of recording something has limited impact on the end product, the photograph.

If you compare the rise of 35mm photography about 70-80 years ago, enabling handheld picture taking, or the emergence of colour photography to the change to digital you will find that those were truly new instruments and enabled a new visual language that simply was not available before. Digital photography does not have that property at all. We are still photographing the way we did before, we are just recording, storing and reproducing differently. Like variable contrast paper in the darkroom (as opposed to graded paper) or the use of film instead of glass plates, this new tool facilitates producing the result and does this in a very versatile manner, but fundamentally does not go beyond what was achievable before, even though it took more effort to achieve it.

Thinking about it more the actual revolutionary aspect of digital photography lies predominantly in the network. The emergence of the Internet coincided with development of digital cameras and for me is the real catalyst behind digital photography. However, the network is the result of the “internet revolution”, and not due to the emergence of digital photography. This timing is coincidental and an enormous promoter of digital photography. Digital photography exploits the network, and does so very well, which is justified and an exciting step forward. The network is to photography (and naturally the written word) a repeat of the invention of the printing press, which -to go back to the initial thought of the instrument vs. the recorder- did not produce better literature. Record, store and reproduce.

Which leads to another interesting observation: the benefits of digital photography without the network are surprisingly few. On a high level they are instant review, ease of editing/manipulation and perhaps selective printing. All of these aspects were already available, albeit requiring more effort and included limitations. The major change lies in distribution and communication which are all owed to the network and the overall “digital revolution”, which as we said above occurred independently. At the moment I do not believe that digital photography has ground-breakingly changed photography, even though many seem to think differently. It is mainly make believe. There is no reason to feel that one is missing out on opportunities to create images when not using a digital camera. All that’s different is how the image is created in the box.

Digital photography is a godsend

Sometimes and for some people. Yesterday I was asked to take some pictures at an internal event at work, which I was only too happy to comply with. I haven’t done this for several years, but it made me realise a few things.

First, while I have regretted at times the relative size of the Digital Kiss, it is a Canon EOS camera after all and behaves in operation just like my trusty EOS 5. So in terms of handling routine, it all came back to be pretty quickly and could concentrate on the job at hand, ignoring the camera.

Secondly, at occasions like these, why would anyone in their right mind prefer film for this? The instant feedback is priceless. Especially when taking photos of people talking – surprisingly difficult as they are mostly pictures frozen with funny facial expressions – you keep and eye on the LCD or go back through the last shots and see whether you nailed it or not. If you have you can move on, if not keep shooting till you have.

As a third point, a zoom lens will give you the flexibility needed to take a wide shot and from the same position zoom in and get a head shot. In situations where you cannot move around much, this is a must.

Lastly, there is cost and turnaround. This session has not cost me anything and I am able to provide results today.

What else do you need?

The moral of the story is that the tools always have to match the requirements of the task. The requirements of the professional photographer are entirely different from those of the amateur and it is thus pointless to debate what’s “better”. For my personal work, this setup would not satisfy me at all and the advantages are meaningless to me. For someone who does this for money I cannot see any reason whatsoever why you would not want to use digital. You can discuss endlessly about hidden costs or media failures, but those discussions take place on web bulletin boards, where most people are unable to deliver on an assignment even if it meant taking a picture of something in their own back yard.

A good photo podcast at last

I have been looking for a decent photography related podcast for a long time, and all I found was technique, technique and digital photography technique. Just like photo magazines really.

Then I came across Jeff Curto’s History of Photo recorded lectures. A must-hear for anyone not having studied photography or the visual arts. Even better when not seeing the pictures he is talking about!

Happy New Year!

My first time

…with a digital SLR was last Saturday, as mentioned before. It appears that Canon had invited about 200 people over the whole weekend, spread over time slots of around 3 hours. We arrived just after eleven in the morning and were greeted -as it is custom in Japan- by staff with Canon signs lined up at the station and on the way to the venue, where we checked in.

Naturally, we underwent a setsumei-kai i.e. a meeting for the purposes of explaining how the basics of the camera worked, fire some test shots, changing lenses and cards etc. After that we were given our zoo tickets and were free to roam until 2:30. Due to the rainy weather and the fact that it was lunchtime and we had not eaten yet, we missed the return time slot by an hour, but again as it is custom in Japan, nobody raised an eyebrow.

When we returned, we were given a pack of 10 sheets of paper and led into a conference room filled with desks, on them Canon Pixus printers with cables ready to connect our camera to. Again we were explained how it all works and spent almost another hour or so printing, with staff looking over our shoulder. When we were finished (otsukaresamadeshita) we handed our gear back to the reception and received a bag full of marketing materials, as can be expected. All very well organised, courteous staff (even hovering around us in the zoo, offering to take pictures; not very good photos though, still appreciated) and generally appearing very generous.

Continue reading My first time

Real world digital photography

I have just come across a news article stating that Iraq is probably the most photographically documented war ever.

OK, you think, that is probably a good thing. Well, there’s more. What they actually refer to is the widespread personal use of digital cameras by the troops. We have already seen the torture images from places like Abu Ghuraieb prison and this phenomenon seems quite similar. It is about people picturing themselves with what can only be viewed as some sort of trophy: burnt bodies of enemy combatants, splattered bodies after suicide bomb attacks, human bodies literally shot into pieces. Next to them smiling soldiers, cracking jokes, thumbs up and all, as if we have gone hunting or fishing.

Then someone creates some sort of online forum or gallery web site, where you can submit your pictures under categories like “clean head shots” or “guess the body part”. I don’t have a link as it was not provided, and I am not keen to research, as you will appreciate.

In a way I can grasp the phenomenon, and the strange need having to photograph oneself in the most extraordinary and violent of circumstances. On the other hand, this is clearly a case of mental derailment and seriously unhealthy.

Whenever we have seen a breakdown of respect towards human dignity and life, bad things followed. Photography is an interesting medium. One reason is that all we keep looking at is an image of ourselves, the beings behind the cameras.