Dr. Photographylove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Photoshop

There is no denying the fact that photography has changed forever. We will never go back to the days of seeing people carrying around twenty canisters of film in their pocket. We will never un-see the countless Myspace angles and Facebook party pics. We live in the digital age.

My very first camera that I owned was a film camera. Its was a crappy plastic point and shoot, that I literally had to tape together when I used it, not that it mattered because it still light leaked all over the place. My first professional grade camera was a Canon EOS Elan II. I learned how to use a darkroom before I learned how to use Photoshop. But, I know that I am one of only a few these days that still learn these things at all.

Learning analogue photography before digital photography gave me a very different approach to photography than some of my peers. I loved analogue photography. I loved the thrill of seeing the photograph develop before my very eyes. I loved the care that was needed when transferring the photographs between the developer, stop, fix (and then to the drying racks). I loved being able to play with dodging and burning and using high contrast filters. I loved spending hours in the darkroom doing all of this. When it finally came to being forced into digital photography, I desperately tried to struggle against it. I even asked my teacher if I was allowed to do film photography, scan my negatives and then print them digitally (she said no). She said I needed to learn the difference between analogue and digital (to which I rolled my eyes dramatically at).

Some of the advantages of digital photography is obvious. You have instant gratification. You do not even have to wait to see the images on your computer, because almost all digital cameras come equipped with a back screen for viewing (whether or not this actually a good idea I’ll get to later). With Digital SLRs, you can even see the images histograms and where if the image is blowing out so that you can correct your exposure while on the field. With film photography there was always that slight gamble, maybe you did not get the shot, maybe it was over exposed or under exposed, maybe it was blurry. If you took the time to develop the film and photographs yourself, this could take quite a considerable amount of time, and if you fucked up your negatives or exposures then you get to start all over again. If you decide to let someone else develop your negatives and photographs, then you run the risk of them not printing them right (once I brought a roll of black and white negatives to a photography store to develop, only to be severely disappointed that the negatives came out really thin due to poor developing). To add to the instant gratification of seeing your images, you also get incredible amounts of digital storage. Instead of having to carry around rolls of film, you could potentially have thousands of photographs on something that is the size of a toonie.
But these two advantages come with a severe backlash. It allows people to be lazy. Instead of taking the time to properly frame, and expose a photograph, people think that they can fix everything and anything in Photoshop. White balance? Photoshop. Horizon line crooked? Photoshop. Want the background fuzzy but do not actually know how to achieve that in camera? PHOTOSHOP. The first thing my photography teacher told my class was that the best Photoshop editing you could do was the Photoshop editing you did not notice when looking at the final print. A photographer should use Photoshop like a digital darkroom. This means, only fine tuning the image, and preparing it for printing. This does not mean throwing on some stupid filter that makes it look like some sort of deranged painting, adding some paint brush stars and some stupid cliche text all over the place. This, is not a photograph. It is a bastardization of might have been a photograph.

Despite the conveniences of digital photography, there are actually a lot of downsides that people do not know about. Most people do not actually understand how a digital image is taken. People tend to be surprised that two different cameras, both with say ten megapixels, will not actually take the same quality of photograph. In fact, a point and shoot camera that is fourteen megapixels could take worse quality photographs than a ten megapixel digital SLR. Why? Because megapixels are not the only factor in digital quality.
One factor that you can gauge by simply looking at the camera is the lens. How do you expect a little itty bitty lens that maybe goes out an inch to be equal to even an 18-55mm lens (which is the standard kit lens for most digital SLRs). Format is another aspect that people do not consider. With film photography, you used the same film for a point and shoot as you did for an SLR (of course there are other sizes of film, which will be different quality such as 120, disc film, large format, and Polaroid/ instant film but that is an entirely different discussion). But with digital photography, there are a variety of formats. JPEGs are the most common file format because they are relatively small and easy to upload. But, JPEGs are probably one of the worst file types one could use for photography. They are constantly compressing themselves, meaning even opening the file degrades the quality even if only a little bit. Although many people do not know the term compression artifacts, they can still point out edges that are no longer smooth, digital noise, and blocking that can occur in JPEG files. Most point and shoot cameras can only take JPEG files, while most digital SLRs also have the capability of taking RAW files.
Back to megapixels. Just because a camera says it can take twenty megapixels, does not necessarily mean that it actually CAN take that many. Surely companies can lie to you about megapixels though, right? A digital photograph is taken by light hitting a sensitive little sensor inside the camera. But not all sensors are created equal. In order for point and shoot cameras to take photographs with such a little lens, the sensor needs to equally small because the distance between the lens does not allow for a larger sensor (and if the sensor was too large for the lens then you would not be using the entire sensor therefor negating the benefits of a larger sensor in the first place). Not to mention the fact that megapixel count goes off of single colour sensitive photosensors. Oh, and do not even get me started on dynamic range of cameras.

Of course, this boom in digital everything has had serious and negative effects on photographic markets. Stores that used to sell film and home developing supplies are becoming fewer. Quality film printing is harder and harder to find. But what about the professional photographers? Suddenly everyone and their dog has a digital camera and think that they too are an amazing photographer. With such outlets as Facebook, Flickr, and a plethora of blog hosting sites, the internet is saturated with lack luster, usually over Photoshoped images taken by people who have no idea what they are actually doing with any camera. Most of the so-called photographers are never going to get better, especially when they have their friends and family praising every single shit filled image they put up. Simply owning an expensive camera does not make you a photographer, it simply makes you another person with a camera.

So, what makes a photographer? Is it being paid a couple of thousand dollars for a wedding? Or is it doing a portrait shoot of a famous actress for a magazine? Maybe it’s neither, and it’s simply taking photographs for your own pleasure but growing and learning with each click of the shutter. I am not about to start another argument about what makes a “professional photographer” because I suppose I do not really care about the idea of being a professional. I want to be a photographer, and the best photographer that I can be personally. Despite my deep love for analogue photography, I have come to realize that digital photography is never going away. The over saturation of both images and “photographers” is also never going to go away (unless you know, the Apocalypse happens, then I guess I might be one of the only photographers left in the city and then maybe business will be a booming). Photographers are a dime a dozen, but quality is not. If you want to succeed in the digital age, you need to understand all of this and be able to rise above the standard crap. So this is how I learned to accept digital photography, and love the bomb, I mean Photoshop.


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