I think I get it

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.

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About ipdegirl

analogue girl in a digital world View all posts by ipdegirl

6 responses to “I think I get it

  • Shirley Buxton

    I find interest in what you say here. I know I’m not a “real” photographer; just a person who loves to take pictures and who occasionally, despite my ignorance, is able to snap one that most anyone would say is pretty good, but who has rarely been in a darkroom and has never has seen my negatives “come to life.” I now own a digital camera and find great joy in being able to bring them up on my computer screen and dink around with them a bit, using so far the tools I find on Flickr and on my iPhoto program on my Mac. Last week I bought Photoshop Elements and plan to do a little more manipulation.

    But I understand what you’re saying, and sometimes when I increase the saturation or the sharpening, I think: “should there be limits to this?” Can it be as a woman with so much makeup that her face is “lost?” Or an aged person with lined and drooping skin and the white-bleached hair of a teen-ager?…something’s not right, perhaps.

    Anyway, I’ll keep enjoying my digital while thinking of your essay, and I will honor and respect those of you who are more talented than I…and who probably are more honest. Perhaps. Perhaps not.

    I believe I understood your writing as not to be a castigation of those who use digital. Completely understand your non-judgmental approach. I did enjoy the reading…and your pictures.

    • ipdegirl

      Thank you for commenting! It’s good to hear from a digital photographer. I absolutely meant my comments in a non-disparaging way. There are some phenomenal works being produced in the digital world, it’s just not the medium I choose in which to express myself. It really was an eye-opener to get a new perspective on what inspires digital photographers. The more we understand each other the more we realize we’re pretty much the same.

  • ralph

    Funny thing is that a lot of people shoot film to get that highly saturated look or other unnatural looks; just consider the popularity of Velvia, the excitement over the introduction of Ektar 100, the popularity of the Lomo LC-A, the growth of cross-processing slide film, the use of expired film, and Polaroid (all of which I’ve played with to one degree or another).

    There are a lot of issues around the differences between film and digital. I shoot film because it’s the most appropriate medium for my photographic intent, which is about nostalgia (I’m not a fan of it), authenticity, and expectations. There is enough difference in the way film and digital shots look that looking at something shot on film seems to trigger an automatic subconscious nostalgia response in viewers that I enjoy subverting. That wouldn’t work if I was shooting digital. I also like playing with “archaic” technologies and showing that there’s still life in them. In that vein, I’ve really been enjoying shooting Kodachrome lately. Plus it makes a nice break from my day job, which I spend entirely in front of computers.

    • ipdegirl

      Very true, Ralph and I certainly love getting unnatural looks with film. Velvia is one of my favorites to shoot with. I have a series of shots that I took with a macro diopter on my Lubitel with Velvia. The subject is yellow leaves on a Crepe Myrtle in full bloom in the fall with reddish-golden sunlight. The leaves are a crazy shade of red and the background turned out blue–not at all what I intended or what I was going for but a crazy, highly-saturated result none-the-less. And cross-processing Velvia makes me even happier! The crazy shade of pink that tints everything, making the world look rosy. I think when it comes down to it I enjoy the nostalgic feel of film as well and, like you, don’t enjoy sitting in front of a computer for hours, either. I really admire those digital photographers who can and do learn PS or other programs inside and out and can make stunning shots. Especially HDR pictures. They look almost 3-D and are REALLY crazy-cool-looking.

  • alexandrak

    Hello Jenni!

    I’m trying to find the best way to email you!

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