Wednesday, May 12, 2010

in praise of digital photography

Just as the best exercise is the one you'll actually do regularly, perhaps the real benefit of digital photography is how effortlessly it can become part of daily life. I know there are purists who lament how shooting real film has dropped away and become almost a folk art, and I also know there are differences between the finished look of digital versus film. I'm not insensitive to these observations. and there is much to be said about the complex beauty of film.

Not long ago, I finally packed away my old Pentax SLR film camera. And despite my tendency to steep myself in poetic nostalgia in such crossroads moments, this actually was not a terribly hard thing to do.

However much we may love and appreciate the art and craft and history and specific look of "real" film and processing, what digital technology has done to open up photography is nothing short of revolutionary. Freed from the ritual of shooting rolls of film then submitting them for the process of developing, our photography can open up and become something new in our lives. Suddenly free of a constraint many of us have grown up with, we can easily shoot virtually as many images as we want of anything that catches our eye, from serious to playful.

The first photographs I ever shot were black and white, with a Brownie box camera. I was twelve years old. It might have been exciting waiting to see how these turned out, and every roll of film thereafter, but the romance and appeal of that 20th Century ritual has its limitations.

Now approaching a half century of taking pictures, I find myself in the digital age. No longer must I ponder the selection of Kodachrome versus Ektachrome and then keep the rolls out of the heat, or worry about getting the exposed film quickly and safely to the lab. I no longer think of photo sessions in terms of 20 or 36 exposures because now my images can pile up by the hundreds on tiny disks that hold gigabytes of data, happily firing away as long as I keep my battery charged. I'll never again experience the deep despair of finding that a roll of film never moved through the camera. I can shoot a brilliant sunrise series, and then turn my lens on my morning orange juice.

Does all this ease and quantity lead to a loss of quality? This is a fair and logical question. Did the limits, both practical and psychological, imposed by film impart any uniquely positive characteristics to my photography? I don't honestly think so. I can, and do, still take my time over a photograph. I still play with lighting, think about composition, and enjoy the process. Photography still gives me great joy, both on location and in a controlled studio setting. And I still am pleased-- even excited-- when I review my images.


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