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Don’t Let Digital Photography Make You Sloppy

Posted By Harrison McClary On July 21, 2009 @ 6:48 am In Art of Photography | 9 Comments

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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.

Manual Mode

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.

Digital Dilemma

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.

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9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Don’t Let Digital Photography Make You Sloppy"

#1 Comment By Nat Carter On July 21, 2009 @ 7:46 am

Great! I agree, I was just thinking some of the same things this morning, When you shoot with an on camera flash, do you use it in "ETTL" mode or something else? I prefer to shoot without a flash whenever possible, but I also need to really learn how to use and maximize my Speedlite 580EX. What are your thoughts>

Thanks,
Nat

#2 Comment By musicoooool On July 21, 2009 @ 8:48 am

Digital,lose some spirit of photography,but add some civilian life.

#3 Comment By Terry Day On July 21, 2009 @ 10:53 am

Great post! It seems like most people using digital cameras believe that the camera is capable of doing the thinking for them. I believe that they are missing out on the creative process that digital photography affords them. I have always approached photography by pre-visualizing the end result and then taking what ever measures necessary to create the image I have imagined.
Keep up the good work, Terry

#4 Comment By Tony Blei On July 21, 2009 @ 12:15 pm

Great post! I think short cutting leads to mediocrity. While I frequently shoot in Aperture priority, I am continually evaluating what the camera is doing and I'm always working the exposure-compensation dial too. My assistants look at me funny when I walk around with a light meter for a shot I've lit. I like seeing the numbers and figuring the ratios. It makes it all so much easier to duplicate the next time.

Hopefully with all of your attention to detail, you have a calibrated monitor AND you've calibrated Photoshop for your chip.

#5 Comment By Greg On July 21, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

As far as exposure is concerned, I prefer digital because I can bracket 8 or nine shots in 1/3 increments. It's free (relative to processing) so why not...but the fact that I bracket so much is a hold-over from film. In reality, with digital in post-processing, that much bracketing does not make a difference.

#6 Comment By Carla On July 22, 2009 @ 9:16 am

Digital opened up a world for me from film so fast that I don't miss film at all - the learning curve was instant!

You call it sloppy - I call it opportunity. The digital camera provided the opportunity to get shots in a pinch that I would have NOT been able to make with film.

Maybe it's a sloppy opportunity [smile here].

#7 Comment By Talbert McMullin On July 29, 2009 @ 11:32 am

How refreshing! I'm a purist also and I have always preferred working in manual mode (Using an old Hassy or view camera, there was no other choice.) Even in the days of film, I avoided automation, even autofocus.

I'll do it myself, thank you.

Even with digital gear, I still shoot in manual mode when possible. Unfortunately, I sometimes must rely on autofocus because my vision is not quite what it used to be. Age has not killed me or my love of photography....yet.

Enjoy shooting in manual mode while you still can.

#8 Comment By TOD SPELICH On July 31, 2009 @ 8:01 am

WHAT A GREAT ARTICLE, MY BROTHER ALWAY'S SAY'S WHY WORRY ABOUT IT I'LL FIX IN ADOBE. I STILL SHOOT FILM AND I'VE LEARNED OVER THE YEAR'S THAT THERE'S NO SECOND CHANCE, SO IT MAKE'S YOU A LITTLE MORE DISIPLINED. HOPEFULLY KID'S TODAY WILL LEARN TO SHOOT MANUALY WITH THERE DIGITAL CAMERA'S AND OPT TO STAY OFF THE COMPUTER......

#9 Comment By Talbert McMullin On July 31, 2009 @ 10:50 am

I doubt you will pull kids away from their computers. I a perfect world, kids will all learn to shoot manually. But it's not a perfect world, is it?


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