From my experience from a lifetime of photography I have learned better than a new lens, or camera, any gadget or gizmo the best resource for getting better pictures and enjoying making photographs is information, understanding the tools I already have and how they work. The only way to get out of a camera all that it can reproduce is to know how it works, the only sure and easy way to control the photographic process to reproduce the images that you imagine and hope for is to understand how the photographic process functions.
I receive usually several e-mails each day asking questions about digital photography, and attempt to answer them all to the best of my ability. Although some may have the impression I am a walking encyclopedia, I sometimes don’t have the answer off the to of my head, but I know where to go to get the needed answers, so most questions get a resolution. In this process some of the questions are worded in ways that have produced a picture in my mind of what many Shutterbug readers don’t understand and why sometimes digital photography is a challenge, maybe providing less fun, enjoyment and satisfaction in the photographs obtained than many would like. A lot of Shutterbug readers are individuals who have had photography as a hobby for some time using film and have at least a working understand ing of the analog process of making photographs and know how to handle a camera to make an exposure to obtain a photograph using film. And because, especially with dSLR’s, a digital camera looks much like its analog film predecessor photographers are misled to think digital is just a different kind of film. But when it comes to how a digital photograph is made and reproduced, even though the lens, shutter, light meter function as well as auto-focus works similarly a digital image has almost no similarity to a photograph made with film. Analog film and digital photographs and the process that produces each could not be much more different and have so little in common. So cameras and lenses mislead photographers to believe their thinking about the film based process of photography can be applied to digital and what they do on the basis of that old analog thinking will work. Well, some of it may up to a point and when reached I get an e-mail asking a question because a problem arose and an expected result did not materialize.
To me one of the most obvious differences is the fact a digital image have no material existence and a film image is a physical thing locked into the film it is recorded on, and is something my curiosity revealed early when I first began doing digital scanning, but few others believe. Digital images made with a sensor, whether an area array chip in a camera or a lineal CCD in a scanner in a raw capture are very soft and low contrast. If anyone who has a dSLR and sets it on Raw and turns the sharpening in the LCD menu on the camera’s back down to zero or as low as it will go, and then takes a picture of a detailed subject, on screen the downloaded image on a computer display will be very soft and low in contrast. Zoom in with Photoshop or any image editor so you can see the individual pixels and you will begin to realize why. Compared to film grain pixels, individual sensor chip receptors are huge and all they record is the amount of light that they receive from a corresponding square of the reality from the subject scene, which in a pixel on screen is one even toned square of density and color. A digital sensor does not record the sharpness of image detail like film. A digital camera image is delivered sharp and at normal contrast only after being processed by a chip in the camera after exposure that adds sharpness and contrast. Sadly I must conclude that very few photographers ever examine a digital camera file very thoroughly to see what is really there, and particularly in a true, raw, unprocessed form that is the image information actually captured by a camera’s sensor chip. This is not my opinion but is well documented information that’s widely published.
So what I am going to suggest is a way to get more fun and satisfaction as well as better digital photographs easily that costs nothing but a little time and effort, but may do much more than any new expensive digital gizmo you may no longer want to afford to buy in these hard times. When I first got into photography in the early 50’s I was eager to learn, and read all the magazines like Popular Photography, Modern Photography and several other publications no longer in print. All had one thing in common, many kinds of stories and pictures that were exciting and inspiring, but little or no information about how I could make pictures like what I saw reproduced in the magazine. This was frustrating because even if you wrote to the author of an article, and I often did, but either got no answer at all, and if I did get a letter back in response it was just an acknowledgement my letter was received. In addition local libraries had few how-to books on photography if any, and the books in camera stores were expensive especially considering most were not all that helpful. Obviously those impediments did not stop me as I did find ways to learn photography although it was a longer and harder road than it would be today with digital. We now have computers hooked to the internet and a wealth of useful information available.
I’m not looking to receive fewer reader e-mails asking questions of course, but here are a few tips to access a better understanding of why and how digital is different from film and how you can make it work better for your photography success and enjoyment. All of the major computing companies and the software publishers like Adobe, as well as all of the photo companies from Kodak to camera makers like Nikon and Canon have web sites. In addition there are all kinds of independent repositories of information on the web. Nearly all of these web sites have support sections and what is often called a knowledge base (digital library) of documents, articles and papers about their technology and products. For instance for PC Windows users you might not imagine that there is a lot of good information on that often puzzling topic Color Management on the Apple website. Just go to: http://www.apple.com/search/support/?q=colorsync, and in the colorsync section under “markets” there are many good articles listed on the subject of color management. OK so I’m a Mac guy can you do the same thing for Windows? Of course just go to the Microsoft web site and click on Support, then knowledge base, then in the search box type in Color Management and specify which version of Windows and you’ll get a list of articles you can open, read or print at: http://support.microsoft.com/search/default.aspx?mode=r&query=color+management+windows+xp&spid=global&catalog=LCID%3D1033&1033comm=1&res=20. Or maybe you want to explore information about how to scan slides and color negatives. You might try Lasersoft at: http://www.silverfast.com/documentation/en.html, where you will find the complete SilverFast software users manual, or just individual chapters to download, as well as information on subjects like workflow and color management. In addition there are reprints in Acrobat .PDF of articles about SilverFast from various publications. If you click on the “scholar” icon at the top of the main homepage for SilverFast and go to the site’s knowledge section they can be downloaded.. Of course one of the richest resources for digital photography is the support section knowledge base on Adobe.com where you can find all kinds of tutorials about using Photoshop for instance, at: http://kb.adobe.com/selfservice/microsites/searchEntry.do. And finally there is Google’s search capability. However I would suggest you learn how to use their Advanced Search function so you can narrow your looking for information as doing a general search for generic digital photo subjects will often return thousands, even millions of references and going through pages of stuff to find a few useful gems of information articles can be extremely time consuming and tiring.