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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Why I (begrudgingly) love digital

I'm one of the first people to stand up and say I love film. I enjoy shooting with it. I love the colours that are obtainable through properly exposed Velvia 50. Blown highlights and lost shadows actually become part of the image itself, in contrast to the digital necessity to keep everything within the histograms' brackets. If you blow up an image using traditional techniques (we're talking getting into a darkroom and getting chemicals on your fingers) the level of quality is incredible. A good cibachrome print from a 35mm trannie can seemingly be enlarged far beyond what the digital numbers tell us (admittedly this is not the same when we digitize the same trannie as grain rears it's gritty head). And when that trannie happens to be 6x7 or even 4x5"...whoa, wow!

But! aside from the obvious comments on cost, the feedback loop in learning, the amazing quality of digital as high ISO, oh and cost again. What film photographers aside from those working on major publications, could bang off 20 rolls of film on a single bird - hoping for one good shot? I remember a piece from the National Geographic double issue on Ancient Greece where the photographer celebrated his 1000th roll of film. Nowadays the number of exposed frames is more than likely doubled if not trebled (although as an ironic aside...the hit rate per shot has on average probably gone done).

No, the reason I begrudgingly love digital is that it makes it possible to do what would have been impossible, or at the very least extremely difficult, on film. Stitching and blending of exposures in particular has allowed a whole new range of images to be achieved. Here are three examples taken on the same workshop while demonstrating techniques to my students. The first image is actually in the previous blogpost and is a stitched panoramic of three shots of the photographers getting ready for the sunrise from the Witches below Sentinel Peak. Yes, these stitched panoramics are possible on film, but tricky to get right at the digitizing stage (I've done it successfully, but find the digital capture considerably easier and more likely to get right).

Then there's HDR. Quite a fad at the moment, but certainly a worthwhile technique to add to the photographers arsenal. Again, possible on film, but oh so much easier with a digital capture device.
Finally - long exposures. The jury is supposedly out on this one, but I'm becoming increasingly more attached to the digital capture method. With film it's necessary to know something of the law reciprocity failure when calculating exposures. This is also means that some subjects are simply not possible if you want to include a star-trail in the background. Lighting foregrounds with film can also be touch and go. through the use of stacked and blended images it is possible to not only get around some of the issue regarding long exposures and digital sensors, but it enables multiple attempts at foreground painting in the same long exposure shot and a far wider range of tonal values can be accommodated for (e.g. imagine shooting a lodge in the foreground with a circular star trail above it. with film, the lodge's lights would burn out long before the stars make a decent trail in the sky. Digital, not a problem - simply calculate the longest exposure possible for the lights with an aperture that will still capture the stars above and shoot multiple examples of this until you have enough frames that when blended together show the star trail).

I miss many things about film. Although I have the opportunity to pull out my old film 35mm (various Nikons) and even my large format Linfhof, they tend to get taken out very infrequently and never for actual 'work'. Yup, I'm a traitor to the filmic cause.

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