The first twenty years of my photographic life were spent with black and white film. Finding your subject, you set one or two camera functions, composed the photograph, pressed the shutter and moved on to the next photograph. If the subject was static and you had time, you “bracketed” your photograph, that is, you took several pictures varying the exposure. If the subject was a portrait, you took a few because she or he may have blinked. But every photograph cost money and you never wasted film.
After you had finished the film roll, you went to the darkroom and processed it (or “souped” it as we used to say.) Washing the film, you hung it to dry. Then you cut it in strips of five negatives.
Now the excitement started building. You placed the strips on a sheet of photographic paper, exposed it under the enlarger, and developed the paper by immersing it in a tray filled with Dektol, a developer. You held your breath under the dim red light of the darkroom as the pictures magically came alive on the paper. This was the contact sheet.
Seeing the result of your work on the contact sheet was the most exciting moment, the moment of truth, the revelation of surprises. Here was the essence and joy of photography. “Expose for the secrets, develop for the surprises!”
Fast forwarding, the second twenty years of my photographic life have been digital, accompanied by remarkable benefits – no film costs, no messing with chemicals, and no prints to store.
But digital has its distractions. For example, chimping, the habit of checking the back of the camera every time the photographer takes a picture.
The term derives from what happens afterwards. The “oohs” and the “aahs” and the gesturing towards friends to look – I guess it (unkindly) reminded someone of chimpanzee behaviour!
My complaint with chimping is that it distracts my attention from the subject at hand. It takes half a second or less for a bird to take flight, and I will miss it if I check the last picture I took. Also, running the display unnecessarily consumes battery.
But my biggest issue is that chimping takes away the surprise and joy of photography.
So I have turned off the automatic display on my camera back, and use it only if I really need to check something for correctness– the exposure, focus or composition.
Another digital problem is shutter diarrhoea. You keep taking pictures – “spray and pray” – because you think one will come out right. After all, it's free, isn't it?
Wrong. You get a good picture because you thought about it, because you can compose it, because you understand photographic technique.
Then there are those who think they can take a sloppy picture and fix it later in software. But if you underexpose a photograph, no matter how much Photoshop you apply, it will not have the sparkle of a correctly exposed photograph. The same goes for out of focus or badly composed photographs.
Still, I love digital photography. I don't have to worry about chemicals. And I can take pictures I could only dream of taking with film. Just don't ask me to start chimping!
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