Digital Photography - Visible Darkness by dffhrtcv3


digital photography

A method of photography in which an image is
digitally encoded and stored for later reproduction.
    A Revised Definition

•   Pushing your finger (which is a digit)
    on a shutter button to make a
•   Reproducing that picture with digital
•   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
•   Understanding digital technologies
      What is

The Romance of Modern Photography by Charles R. Gibson,
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
   Patrick Maynard, The Engine of Visualization (1997) p. 1
Making pictures is only one aspect of photographic
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

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
Scanning electron microscopes are not “cameras” in
     the conventional sense, and yet they are
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.
  Art &
Have You Read
 Your Camera
   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
•   After class today, you should have
    some idea of what you can do-- it is
    up to you to decide what you want to
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

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
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

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
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
                  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

                  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
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

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

                   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

                   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

Limiting your choices can actually be

Thinking about photography’s history and
conventions can help you break free from the
problem of too many buttons and too little
New does not
always mean
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
    -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
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

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

Finding this feature is in your camera manual
is a good thing. It increases your

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

Friedlander works within the conventions of the
casual snapshot to produce very complex
  Lee Friedlander Akron, OH
Plate 13 from "Factory Valleys"
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
Lee Friedlander Pittsburgh, PA
Plate 22 from "Factory Valleys"
   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

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

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
•   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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