Sunday, January 04, 2009

The Win/Loss in Changing Media

The Ideas section of today's Boston Globe has a great piece on what's lost when we move from color film to color digital images. Unlike a lot of pieces on the topic, this one doesn't try to lament the loss of film, but take an even look at what we gain and what we lose with the change from film to digital.

I still shoot quite a bit of film along with my digital images. I'm even playing with my pinhole Polaroid, just to see what I can get. My local camera shop greatly appreciates my film habit.

Unfortunately, the thing people haven't yet learned, whether it's film or digital, is how to edit. At least with film people didn't snap indiscriminately hoping for one decent shot. They aimed, shot and then forgot about it for a few months until they bothered bringing them into the local CVS for developing.

The change actually started long before digital back when we went from having to focus and meter to what my wife calls PHD cameras, as in "Push Here Dummy." When I give my son my old manual focus AE-1p, he spends time framing his shot. Hand him a similar auto-focus camera and he snaps much quicker spending less time on framing. It gets worse with digital when people think "I can crop later."

A photo teacher told me that he tells his students to crop with their feet. He also says a major problem with digital, for him, is that he only sees what his students want to share, he can't get a full contact sheet to see what they did right and wrong. One of my great "ah-ha" moments in photography was seeing Diane Arbus' contact sheet and noticing that she had blank images and some lousy exposures.

Not long ago I went to a local camera club meeting where a woman showed off pictures of her trip to Italy. Some of the shots were quite good, but the 20 minute presentation that involved her dumping EVERY SINGLE IMAGE SHE TOOK into a slide show program, then just hitting "go" was painful to sit through. Had she bothered to look through her image, think about the story she wanted to tell and then used the images to tell it, she could have had a beautiful and strong presentation. Instead, she left a lot of us longing for the end of the interminable show.

So while it's easy to click "send" on a few hundred images, think about what you want to say with those pictures. One or two images that tell a story are much better than 25 that say nothing.

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