Over the years, digital has gone from being the new kid on the block to the new standard in image capture. Early on there were many comparisons between digital and film, often intended to demonstrate film’s superiority. Such comparisons are now moot, as no one can dispute the digital camera’s ability to deliver stunning images.
But I’ve found from personal experience that digital photography can make you lazy. In fact, if you’re not careful, digital’s very superiority can lead you down the path to inferior photography.
When I shot film, I always shot in full manual mode. I seldom used the in-camera meter, opting for a handheld incident meter. I had calibrated this meter to my film and the labs I used. I shot only a very few films and knew how they performed and how to get the best from each one.
On location when using lights, I’d meter many times — always checking the output of my strobe and how the light fell across the scene. Only after numerous meterings would I pop a Polaroid to check the light. I always had a very good understanding of how the image was going to look just from what the light meter and Polaroid told me.
Even on shoots that were outside with only ambient light, I’d use my handheld, never even looking at the in-camera meter.
Once when I was working news in Atlanta, a photo stringer for our newspaper was telling me about all the new functions on my Nikon F4s camera. Bill was an NPS repair tech for his full-time job and was very excited about all the neat things the F4s could do.
I told him, “Bill, as long as I can turn the camera on, put it in manual mode and figure out how to change the shutter speeds and aperture, I am happy.”
I never shot that camera in any mode other than manual. When I switched to Canon EOS gear, I never used my EOS1 bodies at any setting other than manual, either.
Then I began to shoot digital. At first I was just as fastidious with all my shooting habits. I worked much the same way I did with film.
But after I began to shoot in RAW mode, I saw how easy it was to adjust the exposure in post-production. I began to shoot more in aperture priority. I seldom used the handheld meter. I was not as concerned with having the exact correct exposure. I could be off slightly and fix it in post.
In other words, I got sloppy. I’m afraid that digital is very good at making sloppy photographers.
In the past few months, I have gone back to shooting in manual mode, back to paying more attention to the details. I’ve found that in doing so, I’ve cut my post-processing time in half. The images are all exposed the same, and many more are correctly exposed.
It’s been a wake-up call. Getting it right in camera is still the best way to get it done.