Sunday, June 21, 2009


A friend recently forwarded a link to a web site that had a detailed listing of some 40 on-line photo magazines. Many if not most of them were as well done as any paper magazines of the recent past when the internet was still an idea for the future. Like in days of the past some are largely focused on the tools of the trade, cameras lenses and now software for computes, other were about images, and some about photographers and what they do, like photojournalism. Exploring many of the 40 was interesting and occassionally enlightening, particularly for an old-timer like me, that todays photographers make images distinctly unlike what previous generations. I think part of the reason is that so much of the world and what is in it has already been made familiar by iconic images made by the great photographers of the past. A young contemporary photographer, to grab attention and become recognized has to create images that are unfamiliar, that stop the viewer and holds their attention, and photographs of subjects already familiar can’t do that, as soon as the image is recognized as familiar the viewer moves on. You aren’t likely to see a portfolio of photographs of Yosemite in any web photo-zine, unless it is a retrospective of the work of a long dead lensman.

There is a lot of really good material of interest to most photographers whether interested in digital camera gear, in looking at inspiring photographs or becoming acquainted with new and emerging young photographers in the on-line magazines I explored. So as not to just tantalize and leave everyone hanging, here is the URL with the listing that was sent to me:

But the reason for writing this blog was not so much what others are publishing about photography today on the web, but what they are not talking about that concerns me. What is missing is any discussion considering how a photographer is able to perceive reality and recognize a photograph in what is seen, and then make the decisions that result in actions applied to using the camera to capture that image as seen in the mind’s eye and obtain a photograph which replicates that personal vision. Some will of course chalk this ability up to some innate talent, and talent is a factor. But talent alone is often like the singer-song writer who produces a song that becomes a one hit wonder. It can’t be followed up with another because that demands a disciplined knowledge of music. In photography Ansel Adams referred to it as “visualization”, and what he meant was through an understanding of the photographic process and how it works, a photographer learns to see as a camera does. This means that how a lens focuses a subject (on film in his day), how the latent image is recorded, developed and printed had to be understood and learned thoroughly; sufficient to become second nature to a photographer, to be able to control visual perception to look at a scene, recognize a picture in it and know what photographic factors must be applied to reproduce that picture as perceived so it would become a photograph. By knowingly controlling an exposure, and processing the image with understanding so what will result is a print image that realizes the mind’s eye perception that inspired it.

Inspired talent can result occassionally, but rarely, in image gems that are like the songwriter’s one hit wonder. And of course there is the shotgun approach to creative photography, shooting everything you see. But then you have the task of culling out all of the exposures that don’t make it as a picture. That’s a bit like gambling in Las Vegas. Although called “fun city” the many times I have been there for trade shows and conventions, when I have been out on the streets or walking through the casino in my hotel, I’ve seen lot’s of people and by and large they are the saddest, unhappiest faces anywhere. That’s because most are loosing, few are winning; very much like editing a shotgun photographic result, mostly a loosing proposition with few winners does not produce happiness, fun from photography..

So the alternative to relying just on inspiration and talent for some, is NOT to invest in a more expensive and a supposedly better camera, but in yourself by learning to understand the digital photographic process as thoroughly as possible and to train your perception to see like a camera does. One of the biggest problem involved in learning this is the confusion that persists between analog film photography and digital photography. Yes there are similarities between digital camera and film cameras, even the lenses for film cameras work quite well used with some digital cameras, but when the camera makes an exposure on film or with a built-in image sensor chip the similarity ends and the results are very unlike. This can be even more confusing when the same words are used in both film photography and digital, like “resolution” for instance. In film photography resolution refers to the resolving power of lens or film in its ability to record fine subject information, specifically so many parallel lines equally spaced per millimeter. While digital resolution refers to the size of a digital image in pixels, applied to an image, how many pixels in height to so many pixels in width. Applied to digital cameras, its megapixels, how many pixels in millions are captured by the area of the image sensor.

I began my career in photography in 1952 so obviously most of a life’s full-time employment has been in film photography. Of all people Ansel Adams writing about his experience with Acme Press publishing his Monograph and being able to get more out a scan of his images in the printed pages of his book than he could do in his darkroom, was handwriting on the wall for me the future of photography was digital. So I made the switch and have done almost nothing but digital since 1990. At that time it wasn’t easy because everyone was flying by the seat of one’s pants, there were no experts with experience to turn to for guidance. But after just a few years of being on that bleeding edge of technology, I found I had better control of what I was doing than I ever enjoyed with film. Digital photography has many fewer variables to deal with like the fact almost every emulsion batch of film is different from the previous batch. Besides being infinitely controllable, digital photography is consistent and much more predictable because a digital image is just numbers - think about that and don’t assume what is true from film experience applies to digital and your photography life will get simpler.

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