My Acceptance of the Digital Art

by Terry Staler


I have been immersed in photography for almost 25 years. I have been semi-professional for the last 5 of them. And I have been playing with digital photography for the past 3 years. I love it all and I have learned quite a bit. The advent of digital has taught me more about some of the basic concepts of photography than all of my teachers combined.


What is this digital photography thing, and why do we hear so many people expressing fear concerning it?

My guess is, as with most new things, that it is fear of the unknown. I can identify with this; until I started playing with digital photography, I considered it a threat. I felt that the chemical darkroom's days were numbered and all that I had learned was to be for naught. I have since modified my thinking about this, primarily because of my involvement with the digital aspect.

First and foremost, I now consider my computer and its image-based software to be nothing more than an ADDITIONAL TOOL to assist in my photographic endeavors. I currently use my darkroom to make all of my images, and use the computer to adapt them to a form that I can use in my promotional material. I do not yet output to film or to photo-quality prints. However, as prices for various pieces of hardware continue to fall (and they are falling very fast and very hard), I will probably shift my emphasis towards the computer. Will I abandon my darkroom? Easily answered .... NO. I envision taking pictures on film, processing that film, scanning it into the computer, altering the image (dodging, burning, removing those danged power lines), making a new negative on my $500.00 film recorder, and then going back into the darkroom and making prints from the new negative. (To be realistic, in 5 years I may change my mind. Perhaps even sooner, digital cameras will be affordable, will rival film in image quality, and true photo-quality printers will be available. What then of the traditional darkroom?)

It is very conceivable that digital photography will eventually surpass conventional photography in numbers of practitioners. In fact, with the emphasis on environmental issues, chemical photography may become something of a pariah. (In fact, it has been rumored that Santa Barbara County, in California, has outlawed the sale of sepia-toner. If this is true, it may be the first of what eventually will become chemicals that are more difficult to find in ready-mixed form.) However, it will always be possible to find, if not ready-mixed chemicals, at least the raw ingredients needed to make one's own products. (Please see the article "IDEAS FOR ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND PHOTOGRAPHY" for information on soothing your guilty conscience AND actually doing something about minimizing the impact of dumping chemicals down the drain.)


I would like to avoid creating an article that seems to solely support digital photgraphy, but I must be honest with you: digital photography is neat. It has taken about 2 years for me to finally understand it and to be able to do "stuff" with it that actually makes me happy. My conclusion about whether or not this new technology is a good thing or not is simple: I have no conclusion. But I do have realizations, and they are:

1. Good digital photography is not easy. It Is easy, however, to make a mess of an image, and to do it very quickly and permanently. The moment you hit the "SAVE button, it doesn't matter if the added neon red background is appropriate; you've got it!

2.GIGO. This is an acronym for Garbage In, Garbage Out. It doesn't matter if one is the BEST manipulator of digital images on the planet, for if one is a lousy photographer, the results will be lousy. The basics don't change: compositon, light quailty, and technical skills will always be required. The old adage is true: "What matters is not the equipment, but, instead, the person holding it."

3.The computer can be a great teacher. Things such as gamma, hue, saturation, and even contrast, have been a fuzzy, although utilized concept to me. In the chemical darkroom, so much time transpires between 2 prints of different contrast, that what I really did to get from point A to point B becomes hazy. (Change filters or paper grade, make a new test print looking for correct highlights, make a new print and check for proper low-end details, probably make another print to fine tune the changes, and, after deciding that it still isn't right, do it all over again.)

So, where does all of this lead us? Nowhere, actually! We must each decide for ourselves as to which methods we will use in the ultimate quest for the "PERFECT IMAGE". Whether it is achieved thru bits and bytes or chemical reactions is inconsequential. After all, it is our customers, the viewers of our art, who will decide what is, or is not, acceptable.

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