During the time I taught photography in the 1990s for the University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson River University) students used film. In my initial lectures I would tell students that as well as learning to acquire skills using a camera, they would need to learn how to become proficient in negative development and printing. I would emphasize that those 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.
I would quote famous photographer Ansel Adams who said, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance…”
Film has now been discarded by those serious about photography, although I expect artists will use film creatively for years, nevertheless, even with advancing photographic digital technology Adams’ words from the past are still significant.
Remember that 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 we transfer to our computers as data files for conversion into countless pictorial possibilities. And with that, I am more than ever, of the opinion that the image once on film, although now a RAW image file, is only the “score” to the final performance – the photographic print.
Personally, I don’t shoot JPG files (Joint Photographic Group). That would mean my images would be pre-processed in-camera and I would loose some control. I prefer shooting RAW (not an acronym like JPG, RAW is unprocessed data) that, like a negative gives me total control over my photograph or, more importantly, my personal vision of how I want the final photograph to look.
A young photographer that came into my shop last week got me thinking about this when, with some kind of misplaced pride, he announced that he would never use PhotoShop 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 his statement about reality. Not really.
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 during which 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 film and send it to the lab and leave all decisions to some technician’s personal vision. However, now he transfers his image files to his computer and he alone controls how his photograph will be processed for viewing.
Although PhotoShop is the most popular, there are many programs available for photographers to enhance and create final images for more than just in-camera assembled documents of our world.
As in the days when I processed negatives in special chemicals and manipulated prints by adding and subtracting light, I now use computer programs to process my RAW images in my quest to perfect my vision of each. And I say the same thing to modern photographers as I did to my students, that what they do with the camera is only the beginning, and to repeat myself, I quote famous photographer Ansel Adams, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print to its performance…”
These are my thoughts for this week. Please don’t hesitate to contact me. Email your comments and suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 250-371-3069
John Enman owns and operates Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops, selling an interesting selection of used photographic equipment and offers professional wedding and event photography. Check out www.enmanscamera.com.