• Digital photography: the more things the more they remain the same.

  • Digital photography has created an interesting divide between two schools of photography. There are the old-school film photographers who dismiss all things digital as inferior, not the same as 'real' photography. Then there are the wholehearted digital converts, who think film photographers are living in the dark ages.

    For the record, I use film. That is not because I don't like what digital photography has to offer. There is a very simple reason why I am sticking with film for now; after 20 years of photography, I have a thousands of images on film that have yet to be put to good use. If I switched to digital now, those photos would probably be neglected for another 20 years and finally be thrown out. That's a lot of memories wasted.

    However, as a gallery owner, photography teacher, writer and club member, I am among digital photographers every day. Having lived and worked through all the years when photography has accellerated into the digital age, I have observed something that will surprise many people; not much has really changed.

    The skills of traditional photography are as important as ever for the digital photographer. You need to be able to work with aperture and shutter speed, understand depth of field and know how to handle moving subjects. A digital photographer requires sensitivity to light and contrast, and must develop a talent for creative composition.

    In teaching and writing about photography, I have been amazed by just how much things have remained the same. In some instances I have been certain that the new technology would create new challenges - only to find that for all practical purposes, nothing has really changed.

    Here is one example that is so similar it's spooky. In the days of film, you could buy film that was rated at different ISO speeds, relating to how quickly the film reacted to light. Faster films were great for allowing quicker shutter speeds in low-light conditions, but there was a sacrifice in quality. Photos taken on fast films had a grainy appearance, making them less suitable for printing big enlargements.

    Digital cameras have adopted the same ISO system. You can adjust the ISO setting on your camera, changing the speed at which your exposure will react to light. As before, this can be a great benefit, especially in low light. But here's the spooky part. When you set a higher ISO rating, your images become 'grainier.' Some people tell me it is pixellation, others tell me it is digital 'noise.' I don't know and don't really care. The point is, here is a whole new technolgy, recording images in a completely different way - and the outcome is exactly the same!

    Digital photography: the more things the more they remain the same.

    Of course there are some major differences. The most obvious change, and certainly a change for the better, is the elimination of film and developing from your list of expenses. Add to that the convenience of being able to delete your mistakes and print your own photos, and your hobby just became a lot more cost-effective.

    That, however, has nothing to do with the actual skill of the photographer. Neither does the other revolution in the photography world. That revolution is software. With the aid of computers, people can work digital magic on their photos like never before. This has both positive and negative elements. Positive because the almost universal fascination with computers has seen a whole new generation take a real interest in photography. Negative because people too often rely on the technology to correct their mistakes, instead of learning to take better photos.

    Software can be wonderful. It can add a little 'zest' to a slightly flat image, or it can completely trasform a photo to portray colours and details that never existed in the real world.

    But software cannot overcome all the problems caused by bad technique. It cannot focus an out-of-focus image. It cannot correct a blurry photo caused by using the wrong shutter speed. And while cropping, cutting and pasting can solve some issues, they are no substitute for developing a real skill for composition.

    So, to return to my original theme: despite the worldwide migration from film to digital photography, in practical terms not much has really changed. That which is new is largely peripheral. While there are some advantages in terms of cost and convenience, most of the changes won't make you a better photographer.

    So here is my advice to photographers on both sides of the divide. Film photographers; dont be dismissive or suspicious of the new digital world. Embrace it, make the most of its advantages, and you may be surprised just how easy it is to make the switch.

    Digital photographers; don't sneer at your more old-fashioned counterparts. The skills they have grown up with are the ones you really should be learning.

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    Andrew Goodall is a nature photographer of over 20 year's experience. He is also a gallery owner, a teacher and a guest speaker. Recently he has released two top-selling ebooks to help new photographers develop their skills. Check them out at http://www.naturesimage.com.au and while you are there, sign up to the free online newsletter.
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