I taught photography in the 1980s and 90s for the University College of the Cariboo (now Thompson River University) when the only way to make a photograph was using film.
In my lectures I informed students that as well as learning about their cameras, they must become proficient in negative development and printmaking. I would emphasize that those serious about the medium of photography would come to realize that what they did with the camera and the negative it produced was only the beginning, and that it was their final print that would set them apart as a photographer. And I would quote famous photographer Ansel Adams, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print…its performance…”
Film has now been discarded by most serious photographers, although I expect artists will use film creatively for years to come, nevertheless, even with advancing photographic digital technology Adams’ words from the past are still significant.
The digital camera isn’t making a picture in the sense of light permanently imprinting itself with different intensities on a chemically sensitized surface like film. Instead there are sensors and in-camera computers processing light from thousands of photosites that are transferred to computers as data files for conversion into countless pictorial possibilities. I have become, more than ever, of the opinion that like the negative, the RAW image file, is now the “score” to Ansel Adams – the photographic print.
I know there are those that haven’t bothered to move their camera selector off JPG (Joint Photographic Group). However, choosing JPG files means those images are pre-processed in-camera and the photographer loses control. I prefer shooting RAW (not an acronym like JPG, RAW is unprocessed data) and choosing RAW is like having the negative Mr. Adams discussed, affording us total control over those data files or, more importantly, allowing a personal vision of how the final photograph will look.
A young photographer that came into my shop last week got me thinking about this when, with some kind of misplaced pride, he announced he would never use PhotoShop on any of his pictures because he was only into true reality. Although I didn’t comment, I thought about the manufacturer’s presets that were applied in-camera to his image files, the sensor’s dynamic range of only about five stops from black to white and the very limited number of colour spaces his tiny JPG files gave him.
Some years ago I attended a print-making lecture during which one of the speakers said in the past he would get up early and drive to some scenic location hoping to capture an impressive sunrise, after which he would package up his film and send it to the lab and leave all decisions to an unknown technician’s personal vision. However, now he shoots RAW and transfers his image files to his computer and the decision has become his to control how his photograph will be processed for viewing.
As in the days when I processed and altered negatives in special chemicals and manipulated prints by adding and subtracting light, I now use computer programs to process my RAW images in my quest to perfect my vision of each. And I expect the same thing is true now as it was with my students all those years ago, that what they do with the camera is only the beginning, and to repeat Ansel Adams, “The negative is comparable to the composer’s score and the print (is) its performance…”
I look forward to all comments. Thanks, John
My website is at www.enmanscamera.com