While I’m still quite thrilled with my Canon Digital Rebel (interchangeable lenses! real manual focus! precise exposure control!), a piece Tim Bray posted yesterday reminded me of how far I have to go to regain skills I’d developed long ago on a much more manual camera in a much less forgiving environment.
After writing about how Photoshop affects the way people work with images, Tim writes:
I can see the lure of a cult of photographic puritanism and minimalism; take the bits the camera gives you and push ‘em out on the Web. Because once you’ve decided not to colour-correct and sharpen, shouldn’t you also give up on cropping? If I took that vow there’d be a lot fewer pictures here, but each would, I think, somehow mean more, because you’d know that nobody, however well-intentioned, had pissed in the pipeline from the camera to your screen.
That cult seems alive and well in the thousands of raw cell-phone pictures posted daily, in all of their weird white balance, graininess, and odd composition. It’s much like the way that Instamatic pictures processed automatically showed the world however it had been in the camera, without any opportunity for the taker of the picture to retouch it.
Professional photographers have rarely been members of that cult, however, as darkroom skills have been important as long as there have been cameras. Cropping, dodging, and burning have always been key tools on the path from film to print.
I never developed my darkroom skills too far. I’d always thought that was unfortunate, but now that I compare the results I’ve gotten from my first three months with a new SLR and my last three months of active photography with my old and utterly manual Pentax K1000 SLR, I see that perhaps it was an advantage.
I shot slides in college because the overall costs were lower, paying the premium when I needed the occasional print. After a few years of doing that, even though I wasn’t taking pictures all the time, my compositional skills improved dramatically. The disconnect between the time I took the picture and the immutable results I would get forced me to pay careful attention to framing and exposure. The cost of film (and sometimes the hassles of changing rolls or simply running out) kept me from shooting multiples in the hope that one might work out.
The pictures I’m taking now, even when I’m shooting similar subjects in similar conditions, just aren’t as good. I can feel ten years’ worth of rust that needs removal, but I also feel myself resisting the kind of discipline I used to have. When I can go from original to good enough with a few minutes in Photoshop, it’s tough to convince myself to put in the extra effort when I’m taking the shots.
Maybe writing this will shame me into paying that kind of attention again; otherwise I guess I’ll just have to buy a film body and shoot slides for a while.
Ever find that working with less makes you perform better? (I know assembler has that effect on people.)