Digital photography has created a shift in the balance of art and technology. No matter how much you pride yourself on your traditional camera skills, you also need to know a lot more about software.
As a nature photographer who grew up with film, I like many others have been forced to change the way I see my role. In the past I knew that if chose the best light for a subject, and applied my camera skills, I would usually produce the photo I was after on film. Furthermore, the film would produce a high quality print, without any need for enhancement. If you weren't happy with your photos, you didn't try to rescue them with a computer; they were simply thrown away.
There are still many people of my era who see photography the same way. I have been surprised recently to find that there are also many new photographers who still want to produce their perfect image ‘in camera. They believe traditional skills should be sufficient for great photography; reliance on software shows a lack of ability.
Deep down, part of me applauds this philosophy. After all, if your photos are more the product of your skills with a computer than with a camera, can you really call yourself a good photographer?
But here is the problem.
Recently I was teaching a class that explained all the basics of good photography; aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, lighting etc. One member of the class took me aside during a break with a question about some of his photos. “I think there must be something wrong with my camera or my lens, " he told me. “I don't think my photos are overexposed or underexposed. I don't think I used the wrong ISO, and I think my photos are in focus. In fact I think I am doing everything right. But the photos look soft, they look flat. . . they have no life. "
I took a look at the images and I had to agree. The problem was, he wanted me to tell him what he was doing wrong with his camera. But if they weren't poorly lit, out of focus or badly exposed, what could I tell him?
The problem certainly wasn't with his DSLR camera. In a class of fifteen people and at least ten different camera models, his was the most advanced camera in the room.
We transferred one of his photos to my computer. I opened it in my editing software, and auto-adjusted the contrast and saturation levels for one of the images. The result was instant and dramatic. A photo that was flat and lifeless was suddenly rich and three-dimensional. The difference was even more apparent when we took another look at the original image. Now, by comparison, it looked like a poor quality photocopy.
Here was a digital file that contained all the information required to produce a perfect quality image. The information just need to be rearranged, using software, to make it happen.
Software has become one of the essential ingredients in modern photography. While it is understandable that old-school photographers view it with disdain, the truth is that to some extent, editing and enhancement are now simply part of the process.
I am not talking about using software to totally manufacture an image. This is certainly possible these days. You can take a sky from one photo, put it behind the foreground from another photo, move objects around and change the colours, all with the click of a mouse. It will always be a subject of debate as to whether this is real photography or not; I don't think it is, but you may disagree and you are entitled to your point of view. There can be no doubt, however, that this is quite separate from capturing your photos using traditional camera skills alone.
No, what I am talking about here is using software just to ‘tweak’ an image, to bring it up to a standard that is comparable to film photography. You may often find this necessary to get the most out of your camera, and it is no reflection on your skills as a photographer.
For old-fashioned photographers like me, this may be hard to accept. But the sooner you swallow your pride and get to know your software a little better, the sooner you will start to produce the sort of photos you expect from your digital camera.
If you found these tips helpful, Andrew Goodall has released two top-selling ebooks that have already helped thousands of new photographers learn the art and skills of nature photography. See Andrew's images and ebooks at http://www.naturesimage.com.au - While you are there, enjoy even more great photography tips by subscribing to our online newsletter. . . it's free!