Things That Suck About Digital Photography

That's a fairly harsh title. I am not sure if it is totally accurate in my meaning either. In any case let's just go with that title and expand the meaning a little with a few additional sentences. First addition - automatic functions that go hand in hand with digital also suck. Yes, of course you can turn them off or not use them but wait a  second and see what I am talking about here. All of this is coming from my continual self conflict in shooting with cameras I love - mostly film cameras vs. shooting digital with cameras I don't love so much and trying to get to the bottom of why I feel this way.

The end of this thought process is obviously the goal of removing the internal conflict that I have. I am not there yet and today is bash digital day for me. Don't take this too seriously as I have equal respect and admiration for digital and some of the new and amazing things that my itty bitty cameras can do. For those of you that don't ever want to touch film again please read on as there may be a few tidbits in my list that at least make you think about how you shoot no matter what medium and device you choose on a given day. One disclaimer here - I am going to be blaming a lot of my own personal shortcomings on the gear but have no doubt they are things that I fall prey to when shooting digital as much as the next guy.

Here we go…

  • Autofocus sucks for 90% of most things you want to take a picture of. Really it does. It's really not that precise and even when you "choose" the focus point yourself there really isn't a whole lot of thought process involved for the vast majority of shots you take. This is really a bad thing. The reason this is really bad is that for the most part AF is going to do about the same thing you would do on 90% of your shots but your thought process will be disengaged most of the time. The 10% of the shots that you really should be more cognizant of focus point and all the related things are relegated to the same degree of carelessness as everything else. Too bad these are the ones that you are working for in the first place and the other 90% of "okay" are just that "okay". They belong in the trash. In fact 100% of your stuff is "okay" Not good. Yea yea you can switch to manual focus but to be blunt - EVERY SINGLE AF focusing system I have EVER seen is completely useless for manual focus compared to virtually every manual focusing screen/system/rangefinder/etc.
  • Auto ISO + Program mode = Slouchy images. Again no thought at choosing. Again for the most part that makes things "okay". Too bad most of everyone's images at all levels of the game are absolute dog shit from the get go. Great technically okay images of complete dog shit. And again - because you are not thinking most of the time when "it doesn't matter" because you are shooting dog shit, you are also not thinking when the one image that coulda been a contender is in front of you - hence it's relegated to the same as the rest of the dog shit.
  • High ISO - it's all the rage. What do people endlessly look for when buying a new camera? OOOOOOooooooh - Ahhhhhhhhhhh - look ma no noise at ISO 9,000,000 now I can shoot images at high shutter speeds in crappy light. Amazing, I blame high iso for a lot of ills and none of those are noise or "image quality" like color saturation or sharpness. They are low quality because no you can do more shooting with even less thinking. Pile on top of that the fact that you are almost NEVER going to shoot with a slow shutter speed when you don't have to. This translates into boring most of the time unless you are consciously doing "slow shutter speed experiments". Great - those experiments almost always fall into the StupidCrap™ category of brick walls and other "test subjects". Want some cool images - try shooting at ISO 100 for everything. Believe me you will figure out that most of the light you were shooting in is crap. Yes plenty of low light is fantastic light but you will find yourself being way more sensitive to what the light really looks like - where it's coming from - how you might expose the shot - what motion there might be - how it will look. There is the key - HOW IT WILL LOOK.
  • Post processing sucks. Face it - 99% of images are crap. This applies to everyone. Everybody knows this. The longer you have been doing it, the more you know it. Now here's the rub with "easy" post processing. Experienced photographers one way or another spend WAY too much time screwing with crap images that should go in the trash - or at least not have any time spent on them at all. I am serious - when the post processing has some "cost" associated with it in terms of $ or time the "okay" images are relegated to nowhere'sville where they belong. As a result the rest of the world get's to see these "okay" images tarted up with color and contrast - great, just freaking great.
  • Too much apparent dynamic range. That's right - too much. I am not talking about the actual DR - just forget about that for a second. Even me that detests HDR does not thing enough about highlight and shadow and where they should be for a particular image. The formula is to just make sure you don't loose the highlights and that's when we all give a hoot at all. Eventually these thoughtless images will be treated to so fake fill light as well complements of our favorite digital tool of the day. Hooray - BORING and most likely awful.

You can see a couple of themes here - why bother with deciding stuff when the camera decides the same thing as you do? Well it does most of the time. Too bad most of the time is when you are "testing", shooting images that suck anyway, etc. That's all time you should be deciding so that you will  decide "right" based on what the heck you want when the one in a hundred images is in front of you. The other theme is too much choice. Hmmm should I shoot at ISO 100 and a slow shutter speed or ISO 1600 and a fast shutter. Guess which one wins? Would the image have been better with a little motion blur? You'll never know. If you only had ISO 100 I guess you would - one way or another. More specifically the garbage would be garbage anyway - just more apparent - and the one that "turns out" will be fantastic. Hmmm the shadows are dark - they need to be boosted. Always wins - maybe it shouldn't and you should have thought about it way way before hand. You get the idea.

I will leave you with this. An image made by a friend Les Picker - a long long time ago. It was made using very simple equipment and to tell you the truth it was a random image picked out of a batch without a light table just when I was over at his office a few days ago. I just wanted an old slide to see if my crappy scanner could do better than his crappy scanner that he used years ago to digitize a few images. Most of those images he doesn't use because the scans are so bad. I think that is a mistake and am trying to convince him to invest some time in going through his old images and see what potential there is. In any case here is a strait scan and resize from a Kodachrome slide. No fuss - no choice - no HDR - no digital fill light - no curves - no messing with the color - no "WB" adjustments. Just a freaking picture.


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