Monday, September 27, 2010

Is technology taking our photographic creativity away? Will the Pentax K-5 allow better image compositions than the old Pentax Spotmatic?

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Hi Pentaxian friends.

Is technology taking our photographic creativity away? Are we better photographers now that we have Digital SLRs that shoot good images in practically total darkness? (The K-5   ISO goes up to 51,200)  Nowadays, everything is programmable, from scenes to portraits, from fully auto to fully manual, from fastest to slowest shutter speed, from largest to smallest aperture. Most new DSLRs have shake reduction, live-view, some have lens correction, scene recognition, self-cleaning sensor, etc.

Before giving my opinion on this, I would like to cite a comparison I experienced myself years ago, actually ten years ago. That seems like old school stuff now, but goes;

Although photography is my passion now, there was a time when music had priority over my photography. Like many of you readers, I'm a guitar player. I'm not bad, but I'm not about to replace Santana or Eric Clapton. Anyway, about ten years ago, I invested in a home recording studio. I had a couple of keyboards, drum machines, digital recording console, mixers, sound modules, MIDI interfaced Computers and Software and a recording room dedicated to my music projects.

Music: You see, when I was in my late teens / early twenties, I played in a band, back in Montreal. It was great back then. It was during the British invasion, (for those that don't know what that is, it's when the Beatles and Rolling Stones and a plethora of British groups took over the world with their music). Our group had two guitar players (lead and rhythm), a bass guitar player, a keyboard player and a drummer. We all sang, but  I was the lead singer and lead guitarist. We traveled all around the Province, on weekends, and played in front of excited and sometimes out-of-control teenagers. Oh! that was the good old days.

...So back to ten years ago, I wanted to recreate that music we played, but I then lived in Oregon and the band members were and still are scattered all over. There were no chances of getting back together. So...I figured that by getting a recording studio, with MIDI instruments, I would be able to recreate each musician's part and blend  my voice and guitar parts into the mix. It worked pretty well. I'm not a keyboard player, but with digital keyboards, I was able to play the parts slowly and then bring that up to tempo and pitch using software, similarly to using a word processor  package like Microsoft Words. To be precise, I was using a software package called "Cakewalk". I programmed the drum parts and even "humanized" the drums so it wouldn't sound so "digitally-perfect". While recording, I never worried about mistakes and bad notes. Those were corrected after the fact, by inserting the proper notes or licks in just the right place. As for the voice parts, using multi-tracks, I was able to recreate the main voice and add harmony on other tracks. All this led to the grand finale, where I would play my guitar lead part. It was like having my band with me all over again, or so I thought.

I enjoyed doing that for about a year, cutting better and better tracks and programming spectacular music arrangements until one day...I realised I wasn't enjoying playing  guitar as much as I wanted to. I was spending most of my time laying down tracks of other instruments parts, correcting the parts, harmonizing, arranging drum tracks, etc. All this programming for weeks on end, to finally playing my guitar part.


 The digital revolution has changed everything we do for the better! Huh...Maybe not. I eventually sold all of my recording equipment and instruments, except for my guitars. I still have many guitars. I don't often have a chance to play with other musicians, but when I play one of my guitar, it's not some kind of programming. My fingers do the playing and the feel comes from my soul. I hope that by now you see the correlation between my musical endeavors and my photographic endeavors.

Photography: I used to have a fully manual Pentax Spotmatic. I had to decide what the aperture was going to be, according to what I wanted to create. I had to measure light with a handheld light meter. Depending on what film I was using, I would set the shutter speed for action or long exposure. There was no anti-shake, no auto-everything.  Color films at ISO 400 ( back then is was called ASA) was about as fast you could get. Yet, I enjoyed every seconds I was out taking or should I say making pictures. I got good at it to the point I wouldn't wonder what the images were going to look like after processing, I knew ahead, by intuition and experience.There was no instant viewing and films came in cartridges of 12, 24 or 36 exposures.  I would get up at 5:00 A.M and go shoot wildlife in the natural morning golden light and fog. My heart would beat so fast when I knew I had taken a good shot. I couldn't waste any film, so I would meticulously chose my subjects and surroundings. I would come back home around mid-day and develop my color reversal film strips (transparencies, diapositives or slides, as called back then) with E-6 chemical and then, I would enlarge my best images using my Beseler enlarger,with the advanced Dichroic head.  I would make 8 x 10 enlargements with cibachrome paper and chemical for better color rendition. My best images were sold at Arts and Craft events and local stores. I lived in Alabama by that time.

Back then, I was really making pictures. I was the master of my camera and images. I was composing every image carefully. I had  the craft of photography almost mastered.

Now...I think the Digital cameras are the masters, along with  Photoshop and all of the digital innovations.  We are the slaves. Yes, the quality of the images is so much superior. Yes, you can make enlargements "poster size" with exceptional clarity. Yes, yes and yes; everything is better...except creativity. Like with my MIDI recording studio, whereas I was programming music, with my DSLRs, I am programming images. We all are and we don't even realize it. When you look back at your images, are they of what you actually shot or are they of what you imagined the scene to be, after changing it with Photoshop? Do you print your images or do you save them on your hard-drive until your computer crashes? I agree that someone with talent and a photographic background or education, can utilize today's tools to further expand their creativity. The majority of the current generation of photographers  want a DSLR that is fully auto-everything and one that does the majority of thinking. They prefer exchanging or posting their images through the internet (at a low resolution) or sending images through their cell phones. It's all fine, but it's the camera that is creating and we  take the credit.

Go ahead, will you put your DSLR in full manual mode and go create images.

Thank you for reading,

Yvon Bourque
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