Making Pictures With Professional Photographer John Enman:

The final performance

During the time I taught photography in the 1990s for the University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson River University) my students used film. In my initial lectures I would tell them that as well as acquiring camera skills, they must become proficient in negative development and printing photographs. I would emphasize that those learners serious enough to strive for a perfect final photograph would come to realize that what they did with the camera was only the beginning, and that their final print would set them apart as a photographer, and I would quote famous photographer Ansel Adams who said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance…” Most serious photographers have now discarded film, although I expect artists will use film creatively for years to come. Nevertheless, even with advancing photographic digital technology I think Adams’ words from the past are still significant. The digital camera isn’t making a picture in the sense of light permanently imprinting itself with different intensities on a chemically sensitized surface like film. Instead there are sensors and in-camera computers processing light from thousands of photosites that are transferred as data files to our computers for conversion into countless pictorial possibilities. With that in mind, one could say that the image once placed on film, that has now become a RAW image file, is only the “score” to the final performance – the photographic print. A young photographer that came into my shop a while back got me thinking about this when, with some kind of misplaced pride, he announced would never use any type of post production program on any of his pictures because he was only into true reality. Although I didn’t comment, I thought about the manufacturer presets that were applied in-camera to his image files, the sensor’s dynamic range of only about five stops from black to white, the limited colour spaces his JPG files gave him, and regarding his statement about reality? I didn’t begin to agree. There was a photography movement in the mid 1970s that some of my friends embraced. I don’t remember what it was called, but they would only use a 50mm lens, never crop their prints, and as with that young photographer, refused to do anything to the negatives or prints. All I remember is seeing lots of poorly composed, improperly exposed pictures. I once attended a photography workshop where one of the speakers said in the past he would get up early and drive to some scenic location hoping to capture an exotic sunrise, after which he would package up his colour film and send it to the lab leaving all decisions to some technician’s personal vision. However, now he transfers his colourful image files to his computer and he alone controls how his photograph will be processed for viewing. It is now his personal vision. Now I might say the same thing to modern photographers as I did to my students back in the 1990s. That what they do with the camera is only the beginning, and I’ll again quote Ansel Adams, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance…”

These are my thoughts for this week.

Contact me at or emcam@telus. net. Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. I sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. Don’t hesitate to call me at 250-371-3069.