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Attitudes to digital


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#1 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 07:29 AM

From time to time I like starting general discussions on various aspects of our pursuit.

From the subtitle of this discussion you may think that this post is a few years too late.

But I am interested in hearing real examples of how you have seen attitudes in the world of underwater photography change in the last few years as a result of digital. I hope this will be a wide ranging discussion and include the opinions of all who see underwater images (from photographers to clients (editors, publishers, designers and art directors).

I hope we will hear both positive and negative attitudes here on Wetpixel (despite us being a digital UW photography website!).

Alex

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#2 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 07:41 AM

I guess what prompted me to start this discussion is a quote I saw on DPreview today:

"I have been a pro for ten years with a high end clientelle. This digital transition is making me feel like a complete amateur!"

It reminded me of a point I made a few months ago in the "Talking Megapixels" column I write for the diving magazine Fins. Here is an excert:

"Away from the water, the coming-of-age of digital technology has produced major ripples in the social hierarchy of diving clubs and underwater photography societies worldwide. Some ardent film shooters, for instance, reject all digital images as computer-enhanced snapshots and seem irrationally prejudiced against new technology. Perhaps it’s because they feel digital technology undermines their long-standing authority and photographic knowledge? Yet these photography veterans should know better than most people that the laws of physics remain fundamentally the same, whether we’re talking about film or digital technology.
Advocates of digital imaging can be just as bigoted, constantly lauding the strengths of new technology while seemingly oblivious to the fact that great images are still being taken on film. These persistent pixel-pushers can be absolute nightmares on dive boats, thrusting their LCD screens in everyone’s face, bragging about how their particular camera is the latest and greatest model, available exclusively from the factory gates in Japan.
As with many things in life, most sensible people fall in the middle, but the views of the silent majority are not always heard above chatter from more vocal extremists."

I guess I am a vocal extremist in starting this discussion!

Alex

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#3 Drew

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 07:52 AM

Well, David Doubilet in 99 or 00( I can't remember the exact year) said he'd never go digital because he's "old school." Doug Perrine would've never gotten the many shots he did in that baitball without his D60.
I actually switched from Nikonos to video because of the limitation of 36 frames ( then later the strobe effects on marine creatures). Digital video also allowed every tom dick and mary to shoot "broadcast" quality stuff. Eg, the movie Deep Blue (the cut short version of Blue Planet with additional scenes), some of the sequences were all shot on DV and uprezzed to 35mm and they look good. It has keep costs down and allowed a newer generation of people who would've balked at film and development costs.
I personally think digital media has opened up the playing field for the masses. Look at the disaster in London, all photos and clips came from cell cams. Who'd have thought that even 5 years ago?
Unfortunately, the bad also comes along with the good. I feel very strongly that for u/w shooting, the widespread access has been detrimental to the health of reefs. Nowadays we can shoot up to 800 pics of anything if we want. The stress of having 200 shooters on the same reef vs 2 just 15 years ago has made a difference. I've seen people with bad buoyancy strut around with 2 Seacams (one macro, one WA) and basically trash 100 yr old coral. Fish go blind from strobes and people holding sealife down to take a shot. Chris Newbert's gardener gloves is being copied for those who know they will intentionally lie on coral and be in contact with hydroids so they need protection.
I've seen "esteemed" photographers harass sealife and trash coral for "the shot", now more so because there is increased competition from new shooters. There's no going back from digital media, we just have to learn how to control ourselves.

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#4 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 07:53 AM

Image quality is another issue that seems to rumble on. I know my own mind on this but there are mixed messages out there.

There are no lack of digital photographers who are convinced that the image quality of their current digital cameras is ideal for their needs. The top story of Rob Galbraith is currently about an ex-medium format shooter who went over to a Canon 1DS
"Ultimately, will you see a difference on the printed page when this is turned into dots and ink? And the answer was, no, I would not."
http://www.robgalbra...cid=7-7883-7913

But is this just the camera industry talking? Certainly it is in Canon and Nikon's interest to push the story that digital is better than film (so they can sell us all new cameras).

The flip side is that it is also easy to find plenty of photographers and editors who still prefer transparencies. But is this just them rejecting the new, because like the quote said in the previous post, this new technology undermines their authority? Or do they have a point that the manufacturers and the photographic media don't want us to hear?

How objective are either of these opinions? Are these people influenced too much by their investments (either the dollars in their new cameras or the years in mastering the old technology) to give a fair assessment?

Alex

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#5 TomStack

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 09:44 AM

Alex,

I can clearly remember speaking to a group of 300+ photographers at a 1993 San Francisco
seminar and nearly being laughed off the podium when I told them "Film is dead, you just
don't know it yet. I don't know if it will take three, five or ten years." I already had two
years of Photoshop experience and was doing some beta testing for Eastman Kodak. We'll it's
taken a little longer that I thought and there have been some interesting twists along the way
with the current state of the publishing industry still caught in a certain amount of freefall.
This is a new and interesting piece on Luminous Landscape, click and SCROLL DOWN:
http://luminous-land...h-already.shtml
I am still amazed at the number of photo editors and art directors who do not know about
an image's embedded meta data and constantly send emails back asking "whose image is
this?"
While I still marvel at being able to capture 100+ images on a dive (I'm still conservative
about triggering the shutter having spent a lifetime limiting myself to 36 shots on film!). Workflow and proper image filing are no joy either! Many of the editors who still prefer film are those who receive poor, often overworked digital files from photographers.

Tom Stack
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#6 Paul Kay

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 10:13 AM

Alex

Personally speaking, I am taking more and better underwater images both in terms of content and technical quality on my EOS1DS than I ever did on film. I've just spent two weeks off the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides where, despite Force 4~6 winds, mist and rain, the number of 'quality' images I achieved was higher and better than any trip I undertook with film. The versatilty of techniques and settings available together with the large file sizes has rejuvenated my outlook on underwater photography. All in all we undertook 27 dives averaging over an hour each and all equipment operated fine (even the laptop and DVD writer on a rolling liveaboard) enabling me to backup onto two hard drives and a DVD whilst in the field.

I fully accept that some people still shoot film with superb results, but for me digital has fully replaced film and I will not go back
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#7 james

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 11:08 AM

Digital photography has literally revitalized our local underwater photo society called hups.org. Every year we pick up a few more members from Seaspace and recruiting, and almost all of them are interested in learning how to take better photos - with their compact digital camera and polycarbonate housing. I would say that roughly 50% of our club is shooting digital now.

The fact of the matter is that until recently, uwp was just too expensive. You need a housed SLR to get consistently good photos - especially as a beginner. There were a few 35mm point and shoot film cameras, but they were very difficult to use and yielded pretty mediocre results, even in the hands of a pro.

With the advent of the consumer compacts, this has changed - you can take GREAT photos with a sub $1,000 system.

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#8 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 11:19 AM

My own view is the thing that I am most excited by with digital cameras is the ability to take types of images that I could not on film. A subject I have banged on about enough!

I am with James on the positive effect on Societies including online ones. My article I quoted from above goes on to say:

"In general though, the increasing popularity of digital cameras has done much to unite the underwater photography community in a way that has been missing for many years.
For example, when joining the widely respected British Society of Underwater Photographers thirty years ago, new members would receive a copy of the Society’s Data Book — a treasure trove of technical knowledge. Photographers back then were united against common problems. Before wide-angle lenses for underwater use were common, for example, a major aim in the United Kingdom was photographing a diver full length in the low visibility water!
But as off-the-shelf kit became more widely available and improved in quality, the friendly world of underwater photography sadly changed. Tips became closely guarded secrets; knowledge was horded, not shared.
Digital has brought the altruistic spirit back to underwater photography, as photographers are once again united against a new set of challenges accompanying the latest technology. Being digital divers, we’ve formed online communities like www.finsonline.com and www.wetpixel.com to share news, knowledge and experience, forging friendships along the way and having a great time."

Alex

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#9 Paul Kay

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 01:21 PM

Hmmmm. Whilst I would agree with James that some great pictures ARE being taken with lower end digital cameras, I do not believe that such cameras are capable of the precision results obtained by digital SLRs, and consequently they tend to serve a rather different purpose (at least in UK waters). There is no doubt in my mind that digital equipment is revolutionising underwater photography, but on my most recent trip it was interesting to see that although there was a variety of equipment being used, the view from one beginner (who was judging purely by the results seen from various cameras) was that digital SLRs were far sounder tools for getting considered results. (In fact the guy actually bought a D70 after the trip with the intention of housing it - after viewing the various images from several cameras).

What was more interesting was that he himself was using a 'simple' housed digital compact and saw this very much as a stepping stone to better things.

On the underwater photography society note, NUPG (Northern Underwater Photography Group) in the UK has seen some increase in interest but membership has not shot up dramatically, and I reckon that such societies are still seen as being made up of real enthusiasts who dive to photograph - whereas many divers simply want to record something of what they see - which is where digital compacts are making the biggest difference. Still NUPG probably is 50/50 digital/film by now.
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#10 fdog

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 01:41 PM

Alex, as I re-read your starting post, I see that you refered to underwater photography specifically.

I have seen a proliferation of mediocre images, that are for the most part technically "correct" insofar as focus, exposure, occasionally composed well. Yet, these images are missing the crucial "spark", be it composition, subject, story, or timing. I often look at these (often lauded by others in forums) and think "vacation snapshot". And there's lots of them.

I think a contributor to this would be how easy the modern camera makes it to get good technical images underwater now. Missing is the difficult apprenticeship of film and its nuances, which most of us went through, where we slowly learned the lessons of composition and moment as we learned exposure, wet processing and printing.

To my eye, image quality as a overall population has fallen. And the dividing line between those with the "eye" for an image, and those who have yet to learn it, has grown sharper and wider than ever.

All the best, James

#11 fdog

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 02:33 PM

OK, I can’t resist! I thought I’d interject these observations of the non-underwater photography world.

In journalism, it’s all digital. Most (large to medium circulation) newspapers had the wet processing equipment dragged out a year or two ago. If you want to see a ripple of consternation, walk in with a roll of film of a newsworthy event that nobody captured on pixels.

Digital doesn’t seem to have changed my shooting habits any. I see that I still shoot in “bursts”, moving from image to image, several (maybe 3 to 6) frames of a single composition, varying in a few small tweeks. When I look back at old film assignments, I see the same thing. On the other hand, a gal with the nickname “Machine Gun” now seems to come back with even more near-identical images… So maybe, digital has emphasized bad habits, as well as giving us new tools?

Some editors, not all, have become much more Photoshop savvy. Very often I’ll hear “can’t you bring up the brightness more” or references to sharpening.

I don’t mean to convey the impression that you’ll be looked at like a space alien if you walk in with a film camera, but pretty close. It’s all about the deadline demands of day-to-day journalism. Thankfully I only have to do it part-time now!

All the best, James

#12 ssra30

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 03:24 PM

I have seen a proliferation of mediocre images,
To my eye, image quality as a overall population has fallen. And the dividing line between those with the "eye" for an image, and those who have yet to learn it, has grown sharper and wider than ever.

All the best, James

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


I think you are seeing a lot more of not so great pictures because there are so many people now who are taking uw pictures who are 1) not a serious photographers, 2) are still learning 3) hopeless 4) vacation snapshots 5) don't dive enough to really develop the skill but heh, the setup is cheap now aday 6) misc... Also 10-20 years ago, internet is not what it is today, you can't just post and show off your result readily with a few click of buttons. I imagine that in the closet of many film photographers, there are plenty of slides of bad pictures that none of us will ever see.
With 36 shots limit, may be people were also really taking their time and spent a lot more time with setup, composing, selecting subject than any digital shooters would. Unlike me, I just keep shooting and hope to get lucky once in awhile :o

#13 ReefRoamer

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 03:41 PM

There are many huge positives to digital photography. The downside, I think, for many is that we now spend an unfortunate amount of time in front a computers, learning hardware and software and adjusting images. This is one aspect which I think puts off long-time film shooters. Many photographers are essentially creative types who much prefer the capture to post-processing. They aren't really interested in computers and resent the intrusion of this technology. Regardless, there's no going back now! A whole new generation, and much of the previous, has accepted digital with open arms.
One downside Ive noticed is many more people with inexperience or poor diving skills now carrying inexpensive digital photo setups underwater. Too often, when one of these divers attempts to get a shot, watch out. The result is often increased pressure on the critters, the coral and other parts of the marine ecosystem. We all need to pay close attention to continually developing and/or refining the diving and bouyancy skills that enable us to get our great shots with minimal impact. I particularly appreciated a pro's presentation at a recent "photo week" concerning effective ways to approach critters without harming or displacing them.
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#14 MikeVeitch

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 03:59 PM

There are many huge positives to digital photography. The downside, I think, for many is that we now spend an unfortunate amount of time in front a computers, learning hardware and software and adjusting images. This is one aspect which I think puts off long-time film shooters. Many photographers are essentially creative types who much prefer the capture to post-processing. They aren't really interested in computers and resent the intrusion of this technology. Regardless, there's no going back now! A whole new generation, and much of the previous, has accepted digital with open arms.
 

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Actually thats not entirely true. I have a huge library of slides back at home, and i have them with me here in digital form!
Since the late 90s a lot of film photographers were submitting their shots to mags/editors etc in scanned form.
I know i hate submitting my slides and don't do that, was always submitting dupes then i got a decent scanner so was much easier to do it using scanned images. Bet you find most pros who use film also scan images and submit that way.

And there is actually more work involved on the computer to colour correct/remove dust, crop the edges of the mount, rotate etc using slides than straight out of a digital camera...

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#15 james

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 04:20 PM

Heh, a few years ago, I was one of those guys posting all those mediocre images. With your help, hopefully I've moved beyond that.

There are more mediocre images being posted because more people are shooting digital and more people are posting images. The images aren't mediocre because they were taken with a digital camera...;-)

Cheers
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#16 fdog

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 06:00 PM

<snip>...  The images aren't mediocre because they were taken with a digital camera...;-)

Cheers
James

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Exactly! It's because the shooters have little experience with photography. If anything, digital has made their images far better than they would have been with film.

I believe that digital has brought photography to the masses in a way that film never could. However, as their numbers have grown in underwater photography, the percentage of mediocritry has risen as well.

I am truly grateful for the lessons I gained from film; but, there's plenty of great shooters that learned solely with digital. If you really love photography, and dedicate yourself, it will show.

All the best, James

#17 davephdv

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 11:08 PM

I don't know if digital is "better" than film; but one thing I know is that it is a lot more fun. Being able to look at your shot and change it if you think you can do better makes the whole process more interesting. It's more like creating a painting. You don't make a painting in the dark and wait a week for someone to turn on the lights to see what you made. Viewing your work and improving it is the art of the science of digital photography.

A friend of mine was trying to decide if he should get the D2X or the Cannon. He borrowed my D2X and took it to a friend of his who is a highly regarded landscape, scenic nature photographer. This guy has a spot in Santa Barbara up in the mountains where he takes all his cameras and lens to test taking the same shot. At this spot he determined that the Cannon camera was "better than the medium format shots he use to take and make drum scans of. Considering that landscape photographers tend to think of medium and view format cameras as the best for that type of photography; it says a lot that a top photographer in the field considers the cannon digital to be capable of superior images.
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#18 Paul Kay

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Posted 01 August 2005 - 02:21 AM

Just to go back to my last post (and try to put it more succinctly) whilst I see a lot more divers taking underwater photographs and being pleased with the results (as opposed to those that they got from film cameras), I am seeing images which are far better technically but not necessarily better in any other way. Those that are better still seem mostly to come from enthusiasts who are taking up underwater photography more seriously and can take on board the knowledge required for film photography and see beyond the limitations of film and apply techniques previously unavailable or too 'risky' to use with film. Sadly I don't see a huge increase in such people.

I don't think that digital is fundamentally 'better' than film but I do know that it opens up a far wider vista for people prepared to learn the photographic basics and apply these in a more open and creative way via digital capture. At the end of the day the final image is what counts and the method of taking it is not as relevant as its content and composition.
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#19 MikeVeitch

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Posted 01 August 2005 - 02:26 AM

At the end of the day the final image is what counts and the method of taking it is not as relevant as its content and composition.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>



Bingo!

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#20 JamesWood

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Posted 25 September 2005 - 04:54 PM

I’m not sure I agree with the early posts mentioning that digital uw photography is less expensive. . . at least at the top end. How long was the Nikonos V in production? It was the industry standard for a very long time. Now, my camera, like my computer, has a much shorter shelf life. And that goes for the housing and the strobes and the sync cord and the. . . Less expensive?

Yes the bar has been raised, but an excellent shot, digital or film, still stands apart. While you CAN get an excellent shot with a $1000 system most editors won’t take you seriously. How many cover photographs are shot with digital point and shoot or APS film cameras? For prints to show your family and friends, POS cameras are great, and for most people this is all they need.

The biggest change for me is the instant feedback. When used to fly somewhere exciting to do some research on cephalopods I never knew if I had THE SHOT or not until I flew home and sent off the film to be developed. If I missed the shot then I had to come back NEXT YEAR and hope I’d see whatever it was again. Fat chance! Now I know I got it, or at least got something useable, in real time. After years in graduate school, I'm all about instant gratification!

Also, while I can and do take more shots, I don’t think I’m getting sloppier because I really love being in the water with my camera but am not a fan of spending hours with Photoshop. It is a great tool but I’d much rather edit in my viewfinder if at all possible. Your milage may vary.

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