These pictures were made analog, 20 years ago, and inspired me to
some thoughts about photography in the past …. and the differences today !
In 1995 “portable” digital imagers were either extremely bad in resolution and dynamic range, or extremely expensive, or both. The digital photo-camera had not really been “invented” at that time and the photographer’s world was still analog, except for some freaks, who could afford to play with drum scanners and digital proof printers at incredible high raw material costs.
Like many other amateur photographers (and professionals as well) that time, I used slide film therefore, usually Kodak Elitechrome EB100, simply because it was the most affordable way to make a “reasonable” number of alternative shots from the same scenery, apart from b&w film, that I did not want to use for landscape or travel either. And I could check the results fairly quickly with reproducible and stable quality of the slide film development process from many labs world-wide. With a reasonable Leica Projector and projection lens I achieved one or the other ‘wow’ effect during my evening slide shows – in the end, however, I have to admit that most of my friends and family were just tired and glad the shows were short and we could move to dinner and drinks quickly.
I had a Minolta “Dynax 8000i” 35mm-SLR, which was kind of high-end at that time, with shutter speed of 1/8000s (!) – but I rarely made use of that speed.
I only owned two lenses: The Minolta AF 70-210/4.5-5.6 and Sigma Zoom 28-70/3.5-4.5, so nothing special, at all.
But why am I telling you these boring details ?
Well, I re-discovered recently these 20-year-old slides about Paris, below. They were buried in a file of archived film-stripes, that my wife had thankfully sorted, some time ago.
I found them astonishingly “good” and scanned them using my old Minolta AF2840 film-scanner.
If you compare the results below with a new series of digitally taken pictures about Paris (I did with a series I took in Spring last year) you will potentially notice, like me, the different atmosphere and flair the speaks from these pictures.
How comes ? Are these just sentimental memories ?
I started to think a bit more about it and tried to remember how I made pictures in the past, during “analog” days – and compared it with my “digital” way of photographing today.
The theories and practice about picture composing and construction, contrast, light, structures, form and texture, I had obviously understood and applied since many years, and applied analog and digitally (i.e. today) in the same way – at least that’s what I thought, initially.
So what’s the real difference between “past” analog and “today’s” digital ?
One significant difference of course: Since I own a digital camera I make far more shots than I made back in the analog days. About a factor of 10x more !
But is there anything wrong about this ? It costs nothing and it’s so easy with all the automatic modes in D-SLRs. SD-Cards and hard disks are inexpensive and – how can it be a bad thing to have more “material” at hand to select from ?
One of my old tutors after all had said: “My worst picture is the picture that I have never made” – and with digital technology I can finally and effortlessly act according to that slogan, right ?
True, but the result however is somehow disillusioning:
The absolute number of “good” pictures that are worth to show or exhibit, at least to my taste, has not increased at all, just because of digital technology – i.e. in the same amount of time I do not produce at all more “good” pictures ! What I do produce with digital cameras is initially a lot more “raw”-material to choose from, later.
But does that really help me, and is this really productive ? More about this thought below….
In the past analog days I carefully planned almost every picture, for two simple reasons: a) raw material i.e. film and prints were expensive, and b) convenience – I did not want to reload the camera with a new film cartridge every 10 minutes, when 36 images were full.
Instinctively therefore I applied at least a minimum of discipline to select scenes, to compose a picture, considering light, situation and scenery, and desired content and effects, and I spent much more time to wait for the “decisive moment” !
And finally, I shot only the scenes that I really wanted to shoot – i.e. I wanted to make THIS picture – which is the true meaning of the quote of my tutor above.
This discipline, I somehow partially lost, as it seems, since I started using digital cameras.
To be honest: Sometimes – and increasingly often – with a digital camera in my hands I do not even spend a thought about which picture I finally want to achieve, at the time when I shoot it. I just hit the trigger – doesn’t harm anyway and it’s a picture more, right ?
I rather “put the problem in the backlog” and postpone the creative process to the digital post-processing stage at the PC at home. Then, at the PC, I desperately try to “create” some effect, after choosing from the excessively available “RAW material”, and often influenced by images with similar scenes or some fancy effects on photo forums and social media – I try just to copy some effect into a picture that feels somehow anonymous to me. The results are somehow arbitrary. Typically this needs several experiments using the abundantly available “digital toolboxes” for post-processing – but it it uses up most of my time, sadly.
Is this time well spent ?
The disillusioning bottom line, after all is: I spend so much MORE time these days on post-processing the pictures and “playing around” with the digital toolbox, to achieve some acceptable output results with at last some “fancy” effect – but the number of satisfying or good pictures is not increasing at all, compared to my analog days.
Aparently I waste my time on pictures that are seemingly not worthwhile. They are simply “there” on my PC, but there is something fundamentally wrong with them, that one can not correct by post-processing: Missing or boring image construction, or an un-inspired, not visible idea, or no color, or no contrast, or no textures, or a mixture of un-satisfying basics altogether !
So what is my conclusion and lessons learned ?
Take yourself just some more time, at the scene, at the location, and look for a better position, time, viewpoint, or wait for better light, or just a better moment.
Make less, but better quality exposures.
Don’t spend your time during post-processing with exposures that are not worthwhile.
The slides for this post I had produced during a 5 day’s tourist stay in Paris, 1995, simply by spending some time on planning, and shooting the pictures I wanted. And I wanted these pictures to look like this ! They are not an arbitrary result.
The lab processing took a week, after our return from Paris, including mail delivery back and forth.
All I had to do to complete the series was selecting good from less good pictures – using a light box and a magnifying glass – no post-processing required at all !
By working like that over years, by the way, I also somehow developed a certain unique style – although there is always influence coming from books I read or pictures I saw from photographers that I admire.
Well, finally, I started to read all my old favourite books about photography again – the old books from good old analog days, to recall things that I once already knew – back in Paris days – 1995.
Since some time now I have changed my work-process:
I continue to use digital cameras and technology but i try to make the pictures the good old analog way, that starts with a picture idea upfront before I start to shoot, and with a thoughtful creative thinking process that continues till the pictures are presented.
This is a lot of work, but it’s time worth spent !
Finally, you may ask:
What was the digital revolution in cameras good for, then and after all ?
Well, here is my answer: The process for publishing pictures, using all the possibilities of digital media, has been dramatically simplified with digital technology. This includes also the way to produce hard copies with today’s affordable fine-art printers or printing services. The possibilities of self-publishing and reaching potentially millions of friends and fellows or followers were not even thinkable and could not even be dreamed of, back in “good old analog days”.