Am I a digital dinosaur?
Although I have taken digital photography to my heart, I am rather old-fashioned in my general views of the art, as I am frequently reminded.
Every week, online newsletters tell me how to fix photos by digital trickery: dropping in a ‘better’ sky (there are even complete apps/programs to do this – for example), using special effects to jazz up a boring scene, or putting together different elements for a postcard-bright result.
My response to 90% of such tips is “Sigh. It would have been better to throw away the poor shot and wait till you got a good one.” Of course, any file straight out of the camera needs some adjustment of contrast, and sometimes saturation or colour balance, to represent “how it was” or “how I envisage the result”, but that isn’t what I’m talking about.
I am also frequently exhorted to go out and take hundreds of shots because, “with digital, it costs nothing”. What they omit to mention is that, if you take hundreds, most of them will probably be pretty average unless you are an extraordinarily gifted and lucky person.
And in an online forum I frequented, I once had a long and fairly impassioned correspondence about the importance of effort before and after pressing the shutter button. I feel it is more of an achievement to get a good photo in camera than to do it in PhotoShop. My correspondent viewed the end result as all-important, however it was attained.
For me, the process of getting my images is an important part of the end result. Not only because I feel that a photo that captures some aspect of a real place and time has a certain integrity, but because an image that took care and forethought to get is more of a personal triumph than one turned out from the computer using premade bits and pieces. As I do photography for my own pleasure, that’s an important consideration
So, I am probably a bit odd because I’d rather go back repeatedly to a location till the light or weather is right before taking what I think is the best photograph I can make. While I am there, I spend more time looking, and less time pressing that seductive shutter button. The more selective I am, the better, on average, the results are. (And the less time I need waste in weeding out duds afterwards. As it is, I have thousands of images squirrelled away, many of which should be deleted!)
Of course, the results of extensive PhotoShopping can be just as eyecatching (if not more so) than my modest efforts, but that’s just not what I want to do.
I’d rather accept that sometimes, the good photo just isn’t there, and that no amount of fiddling about is going to make up for deficiencies of location, weather or light. Silk purses and sow’s ears come to mind: and not in the harmonious context of the above image, either!
Here’s a mini case study. One of my favourite subjects is beach huts, which are plentiful at Lyme Regis. I have the opportunity to revisit often, and choose the best lighting conditions. In the examples below, you can see how different the same scene looks in mid-afternoon, and at sunset on the few weeks of the year when the setting sun strikes the faces of the huts. How much more satisfying to visit on the perfect winter evening and get the image right, there and then, rather than spending hours torturing the rather ordinary version into something more interesting.
(Postscript: these lovely structures have now succumbed to the vagaries of coastal erosion, and replaced by rather boring square cabins.)