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But I also believe that in many ways, digital has ruined the art behind the craft of creating good photos. Film forced photographers to get it right the first time – bad images cost money.
Bad images still cost money, the accounting has changed, so you may not notice, because now it is the cost of the body divided by the maximum shutter count and the cost of the time that went into taking the image.
I used to shoot slide film simply because I could count on the lab developing it and I could also count on the lab not messing with my photos. They never saw them until they were being mounted and unlike prints, once the slide is developed, it’s pretty much good or bad. A lot could be done during printing.
Those of us who are a certain age grew up with Time, Life and National Geographic, which were the standards of photography through the ’60s and ’70s. Time and Life were slanted toward news while National Geographic did features, so it was the pinnacle in many respects. Over the years we heard about air-brushed photos in fashion magazines, and how a lot of photos went into a single magazine article. At the time, it was all word of mouth, which may just have been due to my not reading any of the trade publications. Now, sometimes I do. Also, the Internet is available and a lot of information is available there. Duggal wrote about the last photo shoot of Marilyn Monroe, which is in a magazine I have somewhere, but I was able to find the article on line, here: http://www.digitalphotopro.com/business/visioneers-gallery-marilyn-reinvented.html. Duggal wrote: “Way back in 1962 when I had just set up Duggal as a photo lab, I processed and developed Bert’s photo rolls from the now historic “Last Sitting” photo shoot, where he shot over 2,500 photographs of Marilyn Monroe over three days for Vogue magazine. Taken only six weeks before her tragic death, …” Two thousand, five hundred photos sounds like a lot, but it pales in comparison to Joe McNally’s effort for The Sense Of Sight (November 1992), shot for National Geographic. They ran something like 40 photos in the article. To get those 40 photos, McNally took almost 1200 rolls of slide film over 6 months! That’s about forty-three thousand photos to sort through to get the final few that were used to support the story.
From time to time I hear someone talk about getting the photo in one shutter release, and that is a worthy goal. But, people blink, there could be a better angle, light changes, ideas evolve as shooting progresses. You should strive for the best photo you can get every time, but it is obvious that those at the top of the game are taking way more than one or two good photos to put into the magazine, they are choosing the best 0.1% or even the best 0.01% from a slew of really good photos!
Digital has made it easier for everyone to get a reasonable snap shot. Even your phone can produce a decent photo. So the bottom of the market has moved up quite a bit. At the same time, digital has helped the top end of the market because it is far more cost effective to take a thousand photos to get that perfect one, and you can see what you took immediately on the camera’s back so you can check to see if everyone had their eyes open. Composition still matters, seeing the light still matters, gear still matters, understanding how your gear processes light still matters. You can take an excellent photo with a cell phone, and you can take a terrible photo with a 1Dx, D4s, Leica or Hasseblad with thousands of dollars worth of glass mounted on the body. Digital didn’t ruin anything, it just made things different, mainly in good ways.