Monday, July 6

Digital photography

I did it. I honestly never anticipated doing so. In 2007 I wrote a blog post about why it would never happen. At the beginning of the summer even I would have said it was impossible. Apparently that was an underestimation of its likelihood.

Two weeks ago I bought a digital camera. A Nikon D60 to be precise. Two zoom lenses, too. An 18-55mm and a 55-200mm. Within the digital SLR world, it's nothing particularly fancy though the manual is well over a 100 pages long, and I still haven't figured out what all the buttons and dials and switches do. Nothing a professional would use but more than enough for an amateur hobbyist like me.

As must be apparent, buying this new camera was not my first choice. It was forced upon me by the circumstances of my upcoming time in Kenya. The reasoning went along these lines: In order to develop my film and print my pictures, I require a darkroom. I do not know whether there is a public darkroom in Nakuru. I totally do not want to pack my luggage full of film rolls for the flight back. A digital camera does not require a darkroom, only a computer. I will have a computer. Wait a minute. I'm philosophically opposed to digital photography. But it's the only choice. ... Bummer.

I am happy to relate, though, that despite my past misgivings, since taking the D60 out a few times, I am plenty content with my decision to go digital. I will miss the physical tangibility of the contact sheets and final pictures, but the benefits more than make up for these. I credit Google's Picasa for most of this. It's an organizing and publishing program that streamlines both processes wonderfully. Now, rather than taking months to find time to get into the darkroom and print off maybe four pictures in a night and then wait another week or two to find a scanner to upload my prints to Facebook, I can have pictures online that night. I don't even have to waste time flipping through my contact sheets to find the right negative since Picasa lets me tag my pictures and search for them in seconds. I already have two small web albums online. You can check them out here. Be sure to check back there often. All of my pictures will be going up on Picasa now.

Both my paradoxical fears of digital photography inspiring laziness and feeding perfectionism still require some assuaging, though. The camera has something like eight different automatic exposure settings depending on the lighting and subject, and the lenses even have an auto-focus setting. Together these features can take care of most of the photographer's work. Photography literally becomes a point-and-shoot affair with these at my side. What I need to come to grips with is that it is entirely possible to manage aperture, shutter speed and focus manually. Just because the features exist, I don't need to use them.

Dealing with the perfectionism is a little more difficult though. Through GIMP, the freeware-alternative to Photoshop, every aspect of my pictures can be manipulated to a ridiculous degree. I don't quite like the levels of red in my fruit still life? I can change them. I want a little more contrast in the foreground but less in the background? Those can be chaged too. Color, lighting, saturation, everything can be adjusted to the most minute level. Fortunately, Picasa has some very easy to use editing options which take care of basic contrast and color adjustments, enough to make a picture fit for the Web. With this, I will only have to delve into the deepest depths of manipulation in picture editing only for those few pictures which I want to print and frame.

Digital photography is a brave new world for me. At least I can face it with some excitement now.

For those interested in my philosophy of photography, it is contained in the final paragraphs of this post after some blather about history.

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