Monday, 06 October 2008

Photography in the digital age

Digital photography represents freedom to the photographer. Freedom from film. Freedom to shoot whenever and wherever. Freedom to use your pictures instantly. Freedom from the Dark Room! The photographer can print directly from the digital camera to the printer. Photographs can be posted to an on-line gallery, distributed and shared with the world - all the the click of a mouse. Life, for the digital photographer, has become much simpler and much less expensive!

Photography remained very much the same for many years. The technology improved, light meters became more accurate and electronics began to play a major part with automatic exposure, auto-focus, and the ability to imprint a name or a date on a photograph.

Through all these changes, the basic principles remained the same. Film at the back of the camera captured the image that came through the lens when the shutter opened and shut. Film was developed through immersion in a series of chemical baths. The outcome was either positive images (slides) or negatives that had to be printed on special photographic paper. Processing was done in a dark - either in an automated machine or in the dark-room.

As the digital age dawned, it became possible to scan the photographs onto a computer. Images could be manipulated on a computer screen using a number of editing techniques. Exposure errors could be corrected, colours could be changed, and pictures could be cropped, enlarged and touched up. Share photo's over the Internet or sending them by email became popular. Instead of printing pictures, they could be scanned directly to a CD. Photo sharing had arrived.

Digital cameras seemed a long time coming. The earliest of these had low resolution, and an annoying delay between pressing the shutter and the picture being captured. These rather primitive devices produced poor to average results at a high initial cost. Far superior film cameras were still available at a much lower price. But not for long! As with all things digital, as the quality has improved, the price has dropped. The range of digital cameras available today rivals - probably exceeds - the traditional film camera.

Before long, almost every cell-phone included a digital camera. Initially these were low resolution - great for snap-shots but not much else.

Today, each new camera offers more for less. Digital cameras are available with resolutions that match the resolution of film.

My Canon SLR is capable of taking some very good photos. But, it uses film! This has become my reserve camera, only for use for special events. For most purposes it has become obsolete.

The camera that I use the most doubles up as a cell phone! The 5 mega pixel resolution is good enough for most purposes. It can do almost anything - compensate for exposure, change the medium to black and white, adjust the colour balance and so on. With 1 GB of memory, hundreds of photographs can be taken before the space is used up. Of course it has limitations. The Carl Zeiss lens is a high quality lens but is rather small. There is no optical zoom, which means that zooming-in loses resolution.

Digital photography has given us a new freedom with photography. Not restricted by film size, we can shoot until we get it right. We can experiment without any cost penalty. Photography in low light conditions is easy with or without a flash.

Of course the camera is always with me. If I spot something I want to shoot, then I shoot! There is no cost for shooting more. Apart from the cost of the camera, photographs are free. Most are loaded onto the computer and shared on the Web. A select few are printed at minimal cost. There is no developing charge and no cost of film.

Digital photography has freed me! The dark room is gone, and my old enlarger gathers more and more dust as the years pass.

But there is a down side. Everyone has a digital camera. Many take dozens of pictures at every event. These near identical pictures are shared on Face Book. The same 150 identical pictures are emailed to all and sundry. The ease of point-and-shoot has led to some rather sloppy photography. Blurred pictures, red-eye and camera shake don't worry the photographers. Every picture is posted and shared.

Digital photography is both a blessing and a curse. For me it is mostly a blessing. Cell-phone photography is in its infancy, but with five mega-pixels, I have little need for anything else. Apart from printing a few enlargements for an artist's portfolio, I rarely need to spend money on a hobby that used to be very expensive!

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