Ever since playing around with vintage film cameras I have had to explain to my fellow digital photographers why I love them. They can’t comprehend why one would want to goof around with a $10 camera when one could play with a- zillion mega pixels and digital editing software that would make a Pixar filmmaker jealous. I understand most of the arguments for digital, including the convenience factor. But I really never understood why digital? Really? Is it an artform or just pixels in space? Why sit for hours at a computer monitor and tweak your picture until it’s your idea of perfect?
So I turned the tables on someone and got an interesting answer. Digital, this person stated, is MY medium. What I create out of pixels is art to me just as your tangible film negative and resulting print is art to you. Interesting. But I was still having trouble wrapping my mind around it all.
Enter a particularly challenging photo gig and the need to tweak some horribly exposed pictures in something other than PS. I was contemplating switching to Lightroom to ‘perfect’ digital shots of an 80th birthday party. I understand the need for the sharp, crisp look, especially when folks are actually paying you for that type of product. An innocuous how-to video really crystallized the answer to this question for me.
The video was explaining how the photographer got these fantastic colors in the sky of a gorgeous landscape shot of what looked like the Grand Canyon. Immediately I looked at the shot and thought “Wow,that is so fake” and it was. This guy made no bones about it in the video and explained that he took the original picture, which was very drab and unimpressive, and turned it into what he remembered the shot ‘feeling’ like in the moment. It was intriguing to hear his explanation. This picture was taken in the warm light of the morning and the original just didn’t capture that warmth. He felt that the altered version of the sky really captured the what he was feeling in that environment and what he was trying to convey in his photography. So THAT’S what it’s all about!
Just like those of us in the film community love the retro, grainy and imperfect look of our shots, digital photogs love the sharp and perfect look they can attain through mega pixels. I look at the film way as a more ‘organic’ view of the world; relatively unaltered, imperfect and natural, while the digital view of the world is ‘enhanced’; saturated, perfected, possible cut-and-pasted and totally in the electronic realm until one actually prints a copy of the photo onto paper.
Understanding the digital photographer’s need to fill their pictures with surreal colors and shapes helps me appreciate what they do a bit more but I have to say, as a film girl I resent the fact that the public has become accustomed these overly-saturated shots as the norm. It seems as though popular tastes have shifted towards a more unrealistic view of the world through a lens. My film shots look really drab in comparison to digitized ones and they always will because I don’t like making them look fake. Oversaturation due to crossprocessing is one thing while vibrant reds, purples, yellow and oranges in every sunset picture you’ve ever taken is quite another.
I guess that’s why us film-o-philes don’t outnumber the digital heads. And that’s okay. Each art form has it’s place. Understanding what compels someone to work in the fully digital world has taken my acceptance of it to a new level. Next time I see an unnaturally colored sky or flower I will know that it represents more than just mad PS skills. That’s cool with me but I think I’ll stick with the natural, organic film look.