The Digital Influence

Everything’s digital, right? Well, now it is. I say that because I was talking to a design intern who’s taking classes at a local college for graphic design. He said they’re making him take a class on mechanicals. Not sure if I was more shocked that anyone still knew what they were, or that somewhere there was a school still teaching it.

(Mechs, as they were known, were how you prepared your job for printers to print from, and were not only time-consuming to assemble, but were not entirely accurate when it came to the finished product. Long story short: learning how to do mechs now is the same as learning how to use a typewriter. Useful for museum guides. In the real world, not so much.)

Hiss-and-Scratch Nostalgia

Then it got me thinking about the role of digital and how it’s basically altered not just how we live, but the way everything is done in other creative disciplines.

And no matter what, there will always be a few purists who say the old tech is better than the new, that digital this or that is not as good as the original no matter what.

When CDs first came onto the scene, record freaks were worried that music would now sound, well, digital. No more hiss or scratches in the recordings. If anything, however, digital revealed more details than had been heard before.

Then along came the Napster generation and downloadable MP3s. Hiss? Who cared. All they knew was that they could now get all their songs on their PC, then later, an iPod.

Movie Editing for the Masses

In film, directors talked about digital cameras and non-linear editing systems becoming the norm. Editing in the old days meant editors had to physically cut film by hand on a table. A time-consuming process, but one which gave the directors more time to carefully think about their choices when putting together a scene.

Then came the Avid, and directors could have multiple scene options, all because dragging and dropping clips on a timeline happened instantly. Now, apps from iMovie to Final Cut Pro make anyone an editor.

As for shooting, 35mm faced a threat when hi-def video cameras came out. Now directors could shoot it, replay it on the monitor and shoot over if needed. Why wait for dailies?

When it came to advertising and design, designers tended to reach for a mouse rather than a marker. Yes, we got more done in less time and the client got more options to choose from. Problem was, more isn’t always better.

Just because you can whip out 20 versions of something doesn’t mean you should.

Do You Miss Anything About Film?

Which got me to thinking about digital photography. Sure I had to learn how to shoot 35mm and process it myself in school, then spend hours swearing in a darkroom on a Friday night trying to get my B&W prints just right. But that was then, and something I haven’t given much thought about now that I shoot digital.

I carry a little Olympus around for short business trips or use a Nikon D70 for other stuff. Both make it easy for me to take idiot-proof pics that I can quickly upload to Flickr hassle-free. (Granted, pros would obviously take the time to light a scene and think more about things regarding their subject — but for my needs, those cameras are pretty good.)

One thing I dislike about the move to digital, however, is something consumers might not care about, but that I noticed: The resolution and quality of a lot of images in mass media is not what it used to be.

I’m interested in hearing from Black Star Rising readers (veteran photographers as well as those just starting out) about some of things that the digital influence has meant to you, and to photography in general — both good and bad.

What do you think?

[tags]graphic design, digital photography [/tags]

3 Responses to “The Digital Influence”

  1. I think digital photography combined with Photoshop makes photographers less careful, less thoughtful about each shot they take. Whatever you do wrong can be cleaned up afterward. So I think it makes photography less of an art and more of a craft. Obviously, there's no substitute for the great photographer's vision ... but...when you take enough photos, as the saying goes "even a blind squirrel finds a nut every now and then" .... meaning that with enough volume, vision is not always required.

  2. I started photography right on the cusp of the "digital revolution". In design school, we shot color film, had it processed and scanned the negs. I felt cheated. As a combat cameraman in the Marines, the year I got to my first duty station, was the first year they used their darkroom as a storage closet. I finally bought a home darkroom setup and learned to process and print black and white film. I love it. I love the print. People say that you can do anything digital that you can do with film. Even my boss a vietnam veteran combat cameraman who tells stories of souping film in combat helmets by a river on a moonless night says I'm wasting my time in the darkroom. I still maintain that there is a difference in the final print. That's the thing. People are so used to looking at pictures on Flickr and in e-mails that they forget that it's the print that matters. Maybe it's not better or worse, I just think it's more artsy. I've seen tutorials on how to get that film look. I've got your tutorial: "Shoot film" Don't get me wrong. I still shoot digital, but you wont catch me trying to get the film look with it.

  3. I started shooting film when I was about 10 years old, about 30 years before the first digital cameras. I learned 35mm film using my fathers old Yashika with some cool filters, fixed lenses and converters, but the automatic functions were shot, self taught iso, f-stop and shutter speed before my first HS photography class. By the time I had taken 1 million images with film thanks to a lot of Vegas weddings the industry kinda forced the change. I still prefer film for it's rich and vibrant colors, like with Fuji Reala for example, still no one wants to pay the additional cost of the film, processing, scanning to digital files (oh another speck of dust, scan them again) not to mention digital camera's only work for so long then you need a new one where an old film camera can be fixed if it ever malfunctions. Hooked on digital mainly for cost purposes though the cost in the long run is greater with digital when you consider the time editing a wedding, giving a difused glow to all the images that a speciality film will do when exposed, film has a wider exposure latitude, getting the exposure right is like hitting the bulls eye on a dart board with digital capture and with film hitting the door it's hanging on is fine, either way having a good printer is esential. Photo shop programs can be not only expensive but not very user friendly, going digital definatly means you need computer and knowledge of at least one program to adjust lighting, color, cropping and resizing or the basics. Film tought me if it dosn't look good don't take the picture, which makes my digital work a little better. The newer digital cameras have some high iso's that make low light images at higher shutter speeds, but synking the flash at higher iso's does not seem as important as the ability to shoot in hd video. In my oppinion you get better pictures with film.

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