Digital Cameras: They are Creating Impotent Photographers

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All images by Lester Cannon. Used with permission; also be sure to check out our previous interview with Lester.

This was a Facebook comment left by a very passionate film photographer I was chatting with in a group a few months ago. I thought to myself, “That sounds pretty harsh”. As I thought more about what he wrote, the words ring true. Here’s why…

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When photography was learned on film, there was a lot of trial and error. Besides learning the three basic functions – Aperture, Exposure time, and ISO – you had to do lots of experimentation. You had to try different films to see what you liked best for certain conditions and subjects.

Without an LCD screen to preview your image, you could invest a great deal of time, money, and effort and end up with a batch of bad photos because you made a mistake, don’t like the results of that film, or just didn’t take good photos. Racking up a pile of uninspiring images can be very demoralizing. This can cause people with only a casual interest in photography to give up, or move on to a different hobby.

I have tried and failed at getting some of my photographer friends to try shooting film. The fact that they can’t see the image before they press shutter scares them away. This mentality baffles me. I personally have heard this exact statement from people who tried shooting film “My pictures never come out right.” Then I ask what film did you use? What ISO? etc..etc.. and it seems as if I am speaking a foreign language to them.

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Then you have digital cameras. Powerful photographic tools that advance in technology, year after year, making photography fast and easy. You don’t have to think at all just pick up the camera and shoot. Photography is art. Should art be “easy”? It has been a while since I have been in a photography class so things may be different now.

As a photography student when I was in school, you were given the most basic camera (usually a Pentax k1000) with 3 settings and thrown to the wolves. That’s how you learned.

Read a book, figure it out on your own, or just keep taking bad photos because the camera isn’t going to figure it out for you. Now it seems that with “auto everything” all I hear about is “sport mode”. My favorite analogy is like driving a car with an automatic transmission or manual. It kind of sucks driving that 5 speed through long boring traffic jams. But when you get out on the racetrack you want to have full control of the car and make it do exactly what you want it to do–If you know how to drive.

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I get a kick out of reading the instruction manuals for some of my old film cameras. Some of them contain what seems like a basic photography 101 lesson. How to hold the camera, exposure times for certain light conditions, how aperture and shutter affect your image, all in a simple little booklet. The manual for my DSLR looks one of the Harry Potter books.

I once heard someone say that pro photographers are upset because the advances in technology make digital photography readily accessible to the masses. I disagree. Photography has always been accessible to the masses it just wasn’t easy because the camera relied heavily on the photographer’s expertise to produce the desired result. The masses are lazy and now are able to rely on the expertise of the camera. If every digital camera disappeared from the face of the earth today I wonder how many photographers turn to film and keep shooting, and how many would simply quit.

END RANT