When Digital Photography Was New

Do you recall the first time you saw a digital photograph and what you thought of it?

I do: I remember thinking it looked too sharp, the fall-off between the edges and the elements behind too abrupt, and the colors too vivid. I was absolutely used to the way that film looked, and I wasn’t alone. In fact, the film manufacturers had spent the best part of a fifty years developing films that rendered photographs to look the way we see the world.

Or rather, they developed a range of color films to meet the demands of different customers. Some films suited the general buying public. Others had more muted colors and were designed for portrait and wedding photographers. Another, with its bright, punchy color, was a favorite of landscape and flower photographers.

But within that range they all represented reality in a way we found acceptable. Or rather, they did so in their latest incarnations.

Take a look at some of the color films from the seventies though. Even without the changes that time has wrought on their unstable emulsions, people had yellow or red faces, the sea could be any color but blue, and the sky might be something only science-fiction writers wrote about.

In truth, what is acceptable is not fixed. After all, with most fashions – from clothing to furniture – what might seem odd or outlandish one year can be mainstream the next.

So what has happened to digital photographs in the past ten years? Have we changed or have the photographs changed? Have we simply come to accept a different ‘look’?

Five years ago the photography magazines and forums often compared film and digital capture and concluded that there was no point in swimming against the tide and that we all ‘had to’ accept that film and digital capture looked different – neither was right nor wrong – just different.

Not so today. The sensors and the processing engine in digital cameras have improved so much that we can now pretty much choose how we want our digital images to look. You want it to look like film? – it can do so. You want it to look like it was etched with a precision laser tool? – you can have that too.

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Tagged as: digital photography

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