To a person trying to learn a bit about photography the amount of information you seemingly must know just to ask an intelligent question is overwhelming. Cameras, lenses, gear, software, paper, ink, etc., etc. just rushes at you like water from a fire hose. And the jargon – who makes up all these words and acronyms? All I want is to make pictures – just show me which button to press.
[As an aside, ever notice when someone asks you to take their picture (usually a couple or family that wants everyone in the image) they always point out the shutter release button? You know, just "push this button right here." You'd think camera manufacturers would put the button in the same place, colored in read, with an arrow and writing saying something like "press here to take picture."]
Well, it is complicated. It’s complicated because you have so many options to make the image you want. Someone once said computers ought to be as easy to use as a toaster (really? have you seen toasters lately?). Great idea, simplicity incarnate. Of course all you get from them is toast. Cameras and gear are that way. If all you want is the standard vacation image then get a simple camera and push the button. To really give yourself options to make the images you want, you’ve got to get into the complicated.
And it’s always been this way. Do you know how many different films existed in the heyday of film photography? It seemed every photographer had their favorite film, processed with their favorite chemicals, printed on their favorite paper, also processed in their favorite chemicals. And you think Photoshop is hard to learn. At least you can see what you’re getting in Photoshop and you can work in the light. For film the desired photo and the delivered photo were apart by hours, days, months (if you forgot and left your film stuck in the seat cushion of the car for awhile).
And why was it so complicated? Well, as artists photographers had different views of the world and were able to present those for others to appreciate by using all those special tools. Were they really different? Let’s take a look.
Here’s a digital image processed through the NIK Color Efex Pro tool to render images similar to different films. Note – these are not images from these films but rather a digital approximation created using profiles the people at NIK developed by analyzing the actual films and incorporating their various attributes (sensitivity to different wavelengths, dynamic range, saturation, contrast, resolution, etc.) into the software.
Kodak Elite Chrome 100
Original Digital image
Kodak Portra 160NC
Fuji Velvia 100
I used this image because of the limit color palette – little if any warm colors. You can see the varying responsiveness to the blues and greens across the images, some subtle, some more obvious. There are differences in contrast, particularly in the clouds. Differences you probably wouldn’t notice if you looked at the images separately rather than side by side. Nonetheless, there are real differences and photographers of that day usually picked a “look” and stuck with it, learned how to get the best performance from it and made that their signature. A few of them even made the film itself famous (well, that and lots of marketing dollars from the manufacturers).
With digital we run the risk of all images looking the same unless radically post-processed intentionally. Digital sensors are generally designed to render “flat” exposures and color saturation, leaving it up to the photographer to decide what the final image will look like. But sometimes that just makes it harder. At least with film you could pick one and get on with it. Digital has so many options and such a learning curve that at times you wonder how you’d ever develop your look. Sure, the software usually has presets you can configure to run a set of steps with one click but then you have to remember what that preset is supposed to do!
Film, pick one and go.
Photography – more than a hobby, less than a compulsion…..maybe.