DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY WHAT DOES DIGITAL MEAN? digital photography n. A method of photography in which an image is digitally encoded and stored for later reproduction. http://www.answers.com/topic/digital-photography A Revised Definition • Pushing your finger (which is a digit) on a shutter button to make a picture. • Reproducing that picture with digital technologies. • The finger (digit) is more important than the digital technology part. In 1941, this book was in its 28th printing. The Most difficult Photographic Problems: • Knowing where to stand. • Knowing when to push the button. The Easy Parts: • Understanding photographic technologies • Understanding digital technologies What is Photography? The Romance of Modern Photography by Charles R. Gibson, 1908 What we call photography is a technology. More accurately, it is a branching family of technologies, with different uses, whose common stem is simply the physical marking of surfaces through the agency of light and similar radiations. Patrick Maynard, The Engine of Visualization (1997) p. 1 Making pictures is only one aspect of photographic technology Photography emerged in 1839 after a long period of experimentation, exploding over the course of the 1820s, by over 150 different “inventors.” Two people are often given credit for its development: Henry Fox-Talbot in England and Louis-Jacques Mandé Daguerre in France. People went crazy over it right away. Around 1822, Charles Babbage came up with the idea of a mechanical calculator called the “Difference Engine.” By 1835, he was working on a second version called the “Analytical Engine.” People didn’t go crazy over it. In 1970, photographic technology created a revolution in calculators. The Integrated Circuit An enlarged view (400x) of the sort of integrated circuit that makes computers possible, taken by a scanning electron microscope. Scanning electron microscopes are not “cameras” in the conventional sense, and yet they are photographic. Scanners connected to computers are also based on photographic technology but they are not cameras. Learning “When to push the button” has two distinct senses when applied to digital photography. There is the button on the camera, and then there are the buttons on your computer. We will tackle the buttons and controls on the camera first. Camera: Art & Technology Have You Read Your Camera Manual? I didn’t think so. Manuals are Boring • They don’t have much in the way of plot or characters. • There isn’t a lot of action-- nothing blows up, and nobody falls in love. • The only reason to look at a manual is to find out how to do something. What do you want to do? • Unless you understand something about camera technology, you have no reason to know what you want to do. • After class today, you should have some idea of what you can do-- it is up to you to decide what you want to do. Cameras: The Beginning • Camera technology is much older than either photographic or digital computer technologies. • Things haven’t really changed much. The first camera was called the camera obscura. Camera= Latin for “room” Obscura= Latin for “dark” Early camera obscuras did not use a “lens” A pinhole created an image inside a dark room. An artist could then sketch or paint the scene to preserve it. Rooms (cameras) were not very portable. Eventually, with the addition of lenses to amplify and concentrate the light, portable camera obscuras became quite popular and remained so into the twentieth century. During World War I and II, portable camera obscuras were used to determine the speed and direction of enemy aircraft. The position was drawn, measured, and timed using the metronome on the left. A more portable device for sketching, the camera lucida remains fairly popular. The camera as a scientific tool has always been well accepted. As an artist’s tool, however, the reception hasn’t been so positive. Painter David Hockney has argued that painters were using camera-based drawing devices for centuries longer than was previously thought. Cameras were a “dirty little secret.” If we suppose a view of nature represented with all the truth of the camera obscura, and the same scene represented by a great Artist, how little and mean will the one appear in comparison to the other, where no superiority is assumed from the choice of subjects. The scene shall be the same, the difference only will be in the manner in which it is presented to the eye. With what additional superiority then will the same Artist appear when he has the power of selecting his materials as well as elevating his stile. Joshua Reynolds, Discourses on Art, 1786 Joshua Reynold’s camera obscura, designed so that it could be folded up and disguised as a book. The scene shall be the same, the difference only will be in the manner in which it is presented to the eye. The primary control that you can exercise over a basic camera is simply knowing where to stand. This requires the experience of the artist-- it isn’t something that a person automatically knows. The difference between a “scientific record” and an “artistic photograph” is mainly a difference of point of view. Why did Joshua Reynolds feel that a painting or drawing by an artist was superior to a journeyman drawing created by a person using a mechanical drawing aid? When photography became popular, a common source of debate was “is it an art?” The answer was almost universally NO! Portraits have always been a particularly thorny problem for photographers. Without referring to M. Claudet’s well-known experiment of a falsely coloured female face, it may be averred that, of all the surfaces a few inches square the sun looks upon, none offers more difficulty, artistically speaking, to the photographer, than a smooth, blooming, clean washed, and carefully combed human head. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 The high lights which gleam on this delicate epidermis so spread and magnify themselves, that all sharpness and nicety of modeling is obliterated—the fineness of skin peculiar to the upper lip reflects so much light, that in spite of its deep colour it presents a light projection instead of a dark one—the spectrum or intense point of light on the eye is magnified to a thing like a cataract. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 If the cheek be very brilliant in color, it is as often not represented by a dark stain. If the eye be blue, it turns out as colourless as water; if the hair be golden or red, it looks as if it had been dyed, if very glossy it is cut up into lines of light as big as ropes. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 This is what the fair young girl has to expect from the tender mercies of photography—the male and older head, having less to lose, has less to fear. Strong light and shade will portray character, though they mar beauty. Rougher skin, less glossy hair, Crimean moustaches and beard overshadowing the white under lip, and deeper lines are all so much in favor of a picturesque result. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 One hundred and fifty years later, things haven’t changed much. However, we are accustomed to seeing photographic portraits as somehow more “true” than paintings or sketches. Eastlake’s observations do, however, serve to provide a caution to those who believe that superior technology automatically provides a more pleasing result. Cameras do not make pictures. Photographers do. By 1857, millions of photographers were taking pictures all around the globe and attempting to improve the process. Eastlake was not particularly optimistic about the prospects. Our answer is not in the affirmative, nor is it possible that it should be so. Far from holding up a mirror to nature, which is an assertion usually as triumphant as it is erroneous, it holds up that which, no matter how beautiful, ingenious, and valuable in powers of reflection, is yet subject to certain distortions and deficiencies for which there is no remedy. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 But while the ingenuity and industry—the efforts of hundreds working as one—have thus enlarged the scope of the new agent, and rendered it available to the most active, as well as for the merest still life, has it gained in an artistic sense in like proportion? Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 The science therefore which has developed the resources of photography, has but more glaringly revealed its defects. For the more perfect you render an imperfect machine the more must its imperfections come to light: it is superfluous therefore to ask whether Art has been benefited, where Nature, its only source and model, has been but more accurately falsified. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 If the photograph in its early and imperfect scientific state was more consonant to our feelings for art, it is because, as far as it went, it was more true to our experience of Nature. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 Mere broad light and shade, with the correctness of general forms and absence of all convention, will, when nothing further is attempted, give artistic pleasure of a very high kind; it is only when greater precision and detail are superadded that the eye misses the further truths which should accompany the further finish. Lady Elizabeth Eastlake, “Photography,” 1857 In other words, the technical precision of photography is not an asset, but rather a liability for artistic purposes. The abundance of detail, inadequately controlled, is to Eastlake the major reason why photography cannot be Art. A mere hint of a sketch can suggest conventions that provide more information of interest to the viewer than the incredible surplus of detail present in a photograph. Too many choices and too much information can be a big problem for photographers. That’s why people don’t usually read manuals. Limiting your choices can actually be liberating. Thinking about photography’s history and conventions can help you break free from the problem of too many buttons and too little skill. New does not always mean improved. Let’s take a look at some classic examples of “art” photography as a way of thinking about the most basic controls of all: 1. Where you stand 2. When you push the button Time and space are the most important aspects of photography. Eugene Atget, Saint-Cloud 1921-22 You can control detail by carefully choosing where you stand Eugene Atget, Quai d'Anjou, 6 a.m. 1924 Controlling when you push the button is important too. “He knew where to stand.” -Walker Evans on Eugene Atget Knowing where to stand is the first step towards “taking good pictures.” Do not expect the camera to save you from moving your feet. One major reason why Atget’s photographs look so different from typical “snapshots” is that they were done with a huge camera on a tripod. Large cameras force you to slow down and think about where you put them. Handheld cameras can give you a dizzying array of scenic choices. Lee Friedlander Self-Portrait, Haverstraw, New York 1966 Lee Friedlander uses small handheld Leica cameras. How was this picture taken? The photograph was made using a small tripod and the self-timer feature of the camera. Finding this feature is in your camera manual is a good thing. It increases your possibilities. Using the self-timer not only allows you to get in the picture, but it also allows you to avoid causing camera-shake that can make your pictures blurry. The “surplus of detail” present in a photograph can be used to your advantage if you manage to make it seem “right.” The modern city is a complex thing; to really communicate what it is like to live in one requires managing a great deal of complexity. Sometimes it is better to forget the rules about what is conventionally beautiful to take better pictures. Friedlander works within the conventions of the casual snapshot to produce very complex artwork. Lee Friedlander Akron, OH Plate 13 from "Factory Valleys" 1980 Atget’s cityscapes did not normally include people. He was attempting to capture the disappearing Paris of the early 20th Century. Friedlander’s cityscapes often include people to better transmit the sense of scale involved in the modern city. In Friedlander’s cityscapes, timing is everything. Lee Friedlander Pittsburgh, PA Plate 22 from "Factory Valleys" 1980 Timing can be a matter of Lee Friedlander New York 1963 patience, or athleticism. It takes practice and luck to make good street pictures. Other photographers, such as Paul Outerbridge have thrived in more controlled circumstances. The point in common to each of these trajectories is that a photograph is made with careful attention to every detail included. Paul Outerbridge Self-Portrait 1927 Paul Outerbridge Images de Deauville c. 1936 Party-mask with Shells 1936 Tradition and convention play a large part in all image making activities. Sometimes, limiting yourself to a “classical” approach can actually force you to express yourself in new ways. The fine-art tradition of photography is not commonplace. Most of the conventions you are familiar with are constructed by the media-- television, Internet, news photographs and a large dose of advertising. Being conventional doesn’t always make it “good.” Looking at different sorts of images can help you create distinctive photographs that are your own. If you pay attention, you learn when you look. From the beginning, photography copied painting and drawing. It took the conventions already established and pushed them further-- sometimes by breaking the rules. Digital Photography emerges from the classical photography tradition and attempts to go further because it is easier, less expensive to practice with, and better connected with a new potential audience on the Internet. Like most things worth doing, it’s not easy-- in fact, it’s sort of complicated. There are no “rules” to learn, only suggested conventions. You must practice. Exercise your digits! Lee Friedlander Nina Szarkowski, New York City, New York 1976 Getting started • If you don’t have one yet, consider getting some form of tripod. Even a small pocket model can be useful. • Learn how the self-timer works on your camera. Use it any time you put the camera on a tripod if you do not have a remote release. • Look at lots of pictures, and not just the ones in magazines or on the Internet. Ask yourself: How did they do that?
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