You Never Get Owt for Nowt: A Potential Problem with Digital Photography

Here’s a thought experiment:

Imagine that your digital camera is, instead, a 35mm film camera and that you buy a 36 exposure colour film with an ISO of 400. And when you have taken all 36 shots you have it developed into 36 5″x7″ prints.

On average, for a good quality film you’d pay about £18 (I’m talking quality here eg. Kodak Ultra Max) and on top of that the price you’d pay for developing works out at about £12. So I guess you can say that the total price of each print cost approx 84p.

Let’s go a little further into this thought experiment: You are a wildlife photographer and you have decided to photograph wildlife on a particular day which you have planned to do for some time. Remember though, you are using a film camera and you only have one film with 36 exposures. The weather is good for the ISO of your chosen film and overall conditions are pretty good.

You’re not a wealthy individual (who is these days?) but you are a very keen amateur wildlife photographer.

Question. Do you think you would be more thoughtful about the photographs you take? By this I mean thinking more carefully about light, composition, metering, exposure, focus and doing your best to avoid camera shake. And remember that you have no control of the processing of your images – no Photoshop. And remember too that every time you depress the shutter button it costs you 84p. The last thing you want when you collect your prints is to see that some are not what you thought they’d be and some were unable to be developed.

Those of us who remember using film cameras because there was no choice (Digital didn’t exist then) recall the disappointment of those ‘lost’ images because we didn’t quite get things right when we took the shot. But we did learn from our costly mistakes: we gave each image more thought before we took the shot.

The pro photographers back then produced some stunning images that have stood the test of time. That’s because they learned their craft and understood what their final images would look like before they depressed the shutter button. Of course, there were some who had an almost innate sense of what they wanted to achieve and by careful use of the tools and skills at their disposal brought to reality what they envisioned. And those were the days of ‘analogue‘ photography.

Can we learn anything from all this? Most certainly we can. But what? Well this seems all rather too easy to put into words but here goes: Think, be proactive, envision the image before you take it, plan, get the metering right, choose the right priority mode, get the exposure right, look all round the viewfinder, check composition, use live view, check your histogram, take a test shot and, if it helps, imagine that each shot costs money: cash, dosh, dough, brass, folding stuff, funds, loot, lucre, spondulix, wonga etc. It may only be 84p per shot but if we had to throw away 84p for every bad image we’d taken in the last year I think we’d be very cheesed-off…and that’s putting it mildly!!

We shouldn’t treat our photography with the attitude that says, ‘It doesn’t matter if I did take a bad photo because it was probably the camera’s fault that time. I can always take another hundred shots, and the best thing is…it costs me nowt!


Happy snappin’ folks

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