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Thread: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

  1. #1
    epmi314's Avatar
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    Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    I just had a long conversation with a photographer who once taught classes at a local community college with a highly respected photography program. I trust he is a pretty good photographer albeit a bit of a curmudgeon.

    He basically said there was a time when it took remarkable talent to be a good photographer. He felt that new photographers either "had it" or they didn't and added that the photographic eye could be taught to some extent but not entirely. He framed it in this manner... "There are people who can dance and those who have learned to dance and when you see both of them dance you can tell the difference.

    There is no doubt that the digital age has ushered in many a photographer (myself included) as the cost and/or time in developing has been reduced to how much cash you care to spend on post processing software rather than chemicals and film.

    Has photography truly changed? Have we traded laborious developing techniques for highly complex post processing techniques? Can you develop the eye or is it an innate talent? Are great photographers still great? Have I asked too many questions??

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    Scott,

    In essence this is another case of the nature/nurture discussion. On the "nature" side, it would be reasonable to assume that photographic ability would follow the pattern of other characteristics - i.e., some form of normal distribution curve. This shape of graph will always show that the percentage of photographers who would be described as “great” will be very small, just as it does for great athletes, musicians, scientists, etc.

    However, on the "nurture" side, digital technology seems to be making it easier and cheaper for, 1: more people to be involved in all stages in the photographic process, and 2: more people to develop their potential towards its natural limit. This would still result in a similar normal distribution curve, but there could be greater numbers of photographers at each level of competence along the graph.

    Philip

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    Interesting - here's my take on it ...

    If one either "has it" or "doesn't have it" then why would that have changed? (since the implication is that it's "mystical" or even "genetic"). I'm not so sure I buy into that to be honest. If it is the case then I for one surely aren't a "natural" (I still struggle to think of myself as an "artist") (but I'm getting there).

    Perhaps closer to the truth is that some people "catch on" to photography quicker than others -- in a film world (without the benefit of instant feedback) those people appeared to be "naturals", whereas in a digital ("instant feedback") world, people who are naturally slower to catch on to all things photographic possibly achieve more, but in less time because of the instant feedback.

    Having just said all that, I think there is little doubt that "photography is where art meets science" - personally - I've always been very strong on the "science" part, but it's been a long long journey for the "art" side to even begin to catch up (but I think I'm getting there). Having just said that though, I do tend to approach photography more from the "science side" than the "art side" (to the point where many commercial jobs are done more "by the numbers".

    I talk too much!

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    I talk too much!

    Cheers,

    Colin
    Believe it or not Colin, I for one like to hear you talk.

    I think your photographer friend may be a bit "over saturated" (if you'll pardon the photography language) for my taste.

    Yes, there are those with natural talent and pick up a camera and take wonderful shots without even trying, just as there are those that can dance without lessons. (I for one have about 20 left feet.) But these are the exceptions in our world. I agree with Philip on his bell curve idea.

    He felt that new photographers either "had it" or they didn't and added that the photographic eye could be taught to some extent but not entirely.
    Who is the one who decides who "has it"? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder or the photographer in our cases. There are so many types of photography as well. If you couldn't stretch yourself and try to learn something new, what a boring life this would be.

    I also think a great teacher should also be an encourager and try to stretch his student to reach their highest potential. If you go around saying to a new student, "you ain't got it" he will most likely live up to that potential.

    I am very grateful to this forum, just for that reason. You all are so encouraging to the members, old and new, that it keep me coming back for more.

    Now who's talking too much!

    Thanks for listening and continue to good work everyone.

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    Scott:

    "Has photography truly changed?"
    I started out years ago with a Kodak 44 (127 film) and over the years progressed up to Nikon FM2 (which I no longer use.) I now have a Nikon P500 (I'd guess, a bridge camera between point and shoot and DSLR). What it lacks in features my FM2 had it makes up for in its affordability (for the time being).

    I also used to develop my own film, first B&W and then color slides. With B&W I could push the film when I developed it and could over- or under-expose prints based on exposure times with actual masks for dodging and burning. For color slides it was pretty much what it was, but it was cheaper and faster to do it myself.

    Funny thing though, it's still just as tricky today as it was years ago to get that 'perfect' shot. While I understand the relationship between shutter speed and aperature I had to learn how my particular camera applied those functions. Has it made me a better photographer? Dunno, but...it does give me the opportunity to re-take a shot (under many circumstances) over and over until I DO get something I like.

    So, "has photography truly changed?" Nope, not at all. It's still the same challenge to take that 'perfect' picture although granted, you can now find out right away if you did or didn't.

    "Have we traded laborious developing techniques for highly complex post processing techniques?"
    Let's see, I would first have to mix the chemicals (at the right temperature), then carefully load the film into the developing drum without accidentally exposing it to light. Accomplishing that, it was then a matter of pouring developer in, stirring, timing, emptying, rinsing and then fixing the film. (hopefully, I kept track of the developer and wasn't using exhausted developer, in which case I might ruin a roll or 3). Once fixed, the film came out, rinsed again and hung up to dry (don't forget that weight at the bottom of the film, other wise it would curl up and fight you the rest of the way). Since these were B&W negatives, it was difficult to really see how good any of the shots were, so you'd make some contact prints, in which you basically laid your negative (cut into 3 or 4 shots per strip) onto a sheet of printing paper, turn on your enlarger (or your contact print light box), then develop that paper in the tray, rinse, fix and dry, then examine under a magnifying glass, find your best shots and print full size (4x5, 8x10, whatever). You could spend an afternoon (easily) in the darkroom and end up with pictures that still were not that great. Or you would go back in and start playing with exposure times, masks, dodging and burning and making notes all the while so your final print was reproducible. And that was just for B&W, color film was a whole different animal.

    Having done the 'laborious developing techniques" I'll take the (not really all that) "complex post processing techniques." I can accomplish in (literaly) a couple of minutes with PP in B&W that would have taken me an hour or more in the darkroom. Nope, I'll take PP any day.

    "Can you develop the eye or is it an innate talent?"
    Yes. Yes. Certainly a person can be taught to take great pictures. Of course, it depends on who is doing the teaching, who is being taught and how "a great picture" is defined. I have no interest in taking pictures of food but there are people out there who (I'm sure) make a great living doing just that. And you would have to be very good to be able to take pictures of food that both represent the real thing and make it appetizing to look at. The same is true if you commercially photograph clothing, automobiles, people, pets or architecture. You have to be technically very good. And I suspect that most anyone could be taught to be technically proficient in anyone of those areas and much of what they shoot could ultimately be considered 'art' and could even be sold (and bought) as such.

    But I do believe that there are those people that have an innate talent, that see things (photographically) differently than most other people. They may shoot food, or people, to pay the bills, or they may rebuild engines or remove suspicious skin moles but when they go out with their camera, they are looking at things differently than the rest. They are the ones who, when they offer to show you their pictures, they may have put it in (which I think is pretty niffty) a book format, or framed and on their wall or even just in loose prints or on their computer but, when you see THEIR photographs, you are impressed. That's usually an innate talent (and they're usually pretty modest about their ability as well.)

    "Are great photographers still great?"
    Hell yeah, why wouldn't they be? Perhaps the biggest difference (or maybe greatest change) is that where once the 'great photographers' were almost exclusively older, white, male and (usually) affluent, today great photographers (and photographs) are not bounded by such limitations. So a person today has an opportunity to become a great photographer where years ago they would not have had that opportunity and because today the technology is better, cheaper and readily available.

    I suppose I could eliminate all of the above and answer your questions with this:
    "It's a poor carpenter who blames his hammer."

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    What a wonderful topic for discussion.

    Anyone who reads a lot of what I write on here, will know that I strongly beleive that the ability to learn is the greatest gift that humankind has and I get very angry when the opportunity to learn is denied to so many people in our society (but that's just my politics).

    But, in terms of the questions posed in this discussion, I am more on the 'nurture' side of the fence thatn on the 'nature' side. And in the context of the artistic, learning is about unlocking the person's ability to see; to imagine; to fantasise ... all with the intent of allowing that person to create a vision.

    We can show people what the 'photographic eye' is about and help the individual develop the skills that will best help the him or her see the world in that way. But most of all what we can help the person do is throw off the shackles of conformity and uniformity, so that the photographic eye is enabled to develop.

    So, I don't think you can teach a person to see. But you can teach him or her how to allow themselves to develop that skill. Learnign is not aboput trying to push information in, despite what some teachers have, in the past, stated on here and elsewhere. It's about helping a person open the windows and the doors so that the information can float in and be absorbed.

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    We all have had the advantage of a great education in photography but, have we learned from it?

    We are in the midst of a visual explosion. There are television stations without count, magazines on every subject you can imagine along with web sites on every subject you can imagine (and some you can't imagine).

    All of this media contains images, some excellent, most run of the mill and some horrible. IMO, there are people who just "look" at the media and there are people who actually "see" the images displayed.

    Those who are able to see imagery from the start have a jump on those who have just looked at inages throughout their life.

    Is it easier to obtain a decent digital image than it was to obtain a decent image on film. I would say that it is.

    Is it easier to obtain a excellent and creative image digitally than on film? I would say no! Because then the equipment needed to acquire that excellent image is located to the rear of the camera rather than within the camera and you cannot purchase that...

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    I'm old enough to have tried to learn to touch up negatives with opaque and to adjust contrast with dodging and burning. The equivalent operations are absolutely trivial now, and can be done by the likes of me in color to boot. While the photographic eye is still a rare commodity, the rest of the things needed to reduce your vision to practice have become very accessible for anyone who is interested. A work of art is never only a vision -- the mechanics of realizing your vision are absolutely essential to creating the work itself. Anyone who thinks that there has been no progress on that front is either ignorant or old enough to have forgotten what it used to take.

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    Out of interest, the other day I purchased a book by Gloria Steinem - featuring photos by George Barris - on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Most of the shots were taken around 1960s - obviously film - and apart from being great photos of Marilyn, I none-the-less was quite "shocked" at how poor the quality was. I'm not trying to knock film, but it did just make me think how "cleaner and brighter" modern digital technology is, over the technology of "yester-year".

    I have a location shoot planned for this Sunday (weather permitting), and I'm hoping to replicate some of the shots in the book; I'll post some comparisons if I get the chance.

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    MrB's Avatar
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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    Quote Originally Posted by Donald View Post
    What a wonderful topic for discussion. Anyone who reads a lot of what I write on here, will know that I strongly believe that the ability to learn is the greatest gift that humankind has...
    Agree, Donald.

    ...and I get very angry when the opportunity to learn is denied to so many people in our society (but that's just my politics).
    This is also an interesting point, Donald - but by "our society" I would assume that you are referring to GB or UK, so I don't really understand what you mean by this bit.

    It seems to me that politically correct policies in our schools and colleges have worked perversely to increase the influence of a minority who delight in rejecting the myriad opportunities for learning that are available to all young people in our society. What upsets me is that their selfishness has been allowed to act to the detriment of the majority who want to enjoy those learning opportunities without constant disruption. (But thatís just my politics!).

    Learning is not about trying to push information in, despite what some teachers have, in the past, stated on here and elsewhere. It's about helping a person open the windows and the doors so that the information can float in and be absorbed.
    Donald, good teachers frequently involve both, to make the learning process more efficient. To extend your metaphor - sometimes information needs to be pushed in first to enable the person to unlock the door; sometimes information pushed in stimulates curiosity so the person wants to open the door; sometimes, even when the door is open, information just floats around unabsorbed until given a push.

    Apologies Scott, if this has strayed too far from your thread.

    Philip

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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    Good thread!

    I think most of us older fellows come from a film background. I joined the camera club at school at the age of 13. I won competitions, both at the school and at quite a few camera clubs.

    I was told I had a natural talent.

    If only those people had seen the rejects!

    So the point I'd like to make is this;

    1, yes, a certain technical skill has to be achieved,
    2, yes, an artistic vision of the end result may be required,
    3, but an element of luck, skill, vision and enviroment will always play a part in whatever form of photography that you wish to pursue.

    So to nail my colours to the mast;

    Film; Yes, we had to learn all of the real basics of exposure before we even thought of composition. Talent? It's relative.

    Digital; What a fantastic move forward. Although I had to come here to work out how to fine tune white balance and sharperning techniques. (Cheers Colin and Sean)

    So how to tell if a photographer has real talent?

    Look at their pictures.

    On a lighter note, I think I'll start a "Look at my mistakes!" thread sometime soon to encourage newcomers.

    Or maybe not.

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    epmi314's Avatar
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    Re: Old timer(Film) vs. New timer(DSLRer)

    Quote Originally Posted by MrB View Post

    Apologies Scott, if this has strayed too far from your thread.

    Philip
    No apologies necessary Philip.

    I am thankful to all those who responded. My goal was simply to start an interesting discussion and let the subject stray where it may.

    Perhaps my initial question(s) could have been summarized to some extent by asking if Ansel Adam's amazing skills would have been lost in the digital age?

    It is good to see many have chimed in, including members that have both a memory of working with film and knowledge of digital and current post processing software. I would call the responses enlightening albeit not unexpected. Technology has made it easier and faster. That is exactly what it is meant to do.

    A great photographer is still great, personal preferences aside.

    Most importantly, we can all learn and continue to get better!

    The lot of us will never be famous photographers or make money from our hobby but we can all capture ever improving images that hold a great deal of meaning to ourselves and the varying circle of influence that surrounds all of us. CIC is a nice part of that circle. Where all of our lives, however remote from one another, intersect briefly to reinforce our love of the craft.

    Much to learn yet but I'll just keep kicking rocks down the road.

    Thanks again!

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