BitDepth 579 - June 05

Do digital cameras make better photographers out of novice photographers?
Do digital cameras make you a pro?

Mark Collins was one of the photographers who shot with a D40 in his hometown in North Carolina. On Nikon's website he writes, "It's difficult to take pictures of dolphins, but with this camera, I was able to just – bam-bam-bam – get the shots."

Along with all the buzz that digital cameras have created over the past five years has come a lingering unease in the professional community.
Once photography was a collective arcana of chemicals, light sensitive papers, and dark rooms with mysterious reddish glowing lights. Film would mysteriously fail to go through the family camera, and the whole focusing thing was just too much for some folks.
Digital photography comes with some of its own trappings, but they can be mastered by anyone willing to learn and most happily, the work can be done in any setting that you can place a computer into.
So even if the reddish glow of the safe light has been replaced with the bluish radiance of a computer screen, has photography become easier?
Well that's got a "yes and no" answer.
Amateur photography got the biggest boost from the digital revolution as families on a budget suddenly found that their biggest constraint to happy snapping wasn't the bill at the one-hour photo lab but the size of their hard drives.
For professionals, though, the digital revolution has been a mixed bag. Decades worth of learning have suddenly been junked and a whole new encyclopedia of knowledge has replaced mix ratios and processing times with curve adjustments and resolution dependent sharpening.

Digital surprise
For most pros who had successfully ignored digital photography until the turn of the century, the sudden speed of adoption from 2001 on wasn't just a shifting of the goal posts, it was a redrawing and relocation of the entire field of play.
And it wasn't just photographers who were caught flatfooted by the sudden acceleration of this steadily gathering snowball. Konica Minolta ended up leaving the business entirely, handing over its photo assets to Sony, Kodak abruptly stopped making black and white papers, finding that its market had almost evaporated and camera manufacturers like Olympus and Pentax, who had only flirted with the simplest point and shoots were forced to ramp up production on new semi-professional lines.
So, having said all that, do digital cameras make you indistinguishable from a professional photographer?
Nikon seems to think so, and in flogging its prosumer single lens reflex (SLR) cameras to novice shooters, it has built advertising campaigns around the growing numbers of intriguing, offbeat shooters to be found on photosharing websites like Flickr.

Nikon's photo thesis
The company's newest promotional campaign suggests that "Anyone can take a great picture with a Nikon D40 in their hands."
To back up the claim, Nikon gave 200 D40 cameras to the people of Georgetown, North Carolina, and let them snap away to their heart's content.
You can view the (no doubt tightly edited) results at , a Flash based website that elegantly displays a disparate collection of the results of Nikon's little advertising experiment.
What you'll find (go on, I'm waiting), is a selection of images that suggest natural talent for the camera and an intuitive curiosity about image making and a whole lot of snapshots. In short, pretty much the same mix I find in most of my encounters with would-be photographers, even in self-selecting groups like photography classes and clubs.
What digital photography has enabled is a generation of snappers who can machine-gun their way to better pictures more cost-effectively than before. By holding down that digital shutter button, they can click their way to more happy accidents, deleting hundreds of both near and distant misses, a tide of missed opportunities that leaves behind some real gems.

Been there, shot that before
But anyone who picks up a digital camera gets the same opportunities; the instant review of the LCD on the back of the camera, better auto-focus and smarter automated exposure programming. Don't forget, most pros can afford bigger memory cards and hard drives if that's all it took to improve the work you do with a camera.
I'm just old enough to remember when all this happened before in the 1970's. Back then, camera manufacturers began to make cheaper cameras to feed the explosive growth of one-hour photo labs, photography magazines proliferated and everybody with an interest in making their own prints bought a "home darkroom" kit and converted a spare bedroom into their very own mystic photo space.
There's some beautiful work being done by non-professionals in the photographic space, naturally visual minds liberated by cameras with unending film, but there is a corresponding avalanche of crud, photos that should never have seen the light of Photoshop.
I find the good stuff heartening, a reminder of the liberating capabilities of technology, and as for the rest, well, there have always been photos that belonged in a shoebox and all the pixel wrangling in the world won't save them.
Notes and reactions to last week's column and other ramblings can be found on my
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