Friday, December 01, 2006
an old fashioned kind of gal
I was told recently by an Apple rep that, on average, people shoot five times as many pictures with a digital camera than they do/did with a film camera. I bet some shooters go way above that number. It made me stop and think a bit about this whole digital revolution, which I have begun to join kicking and screaming, by the way.
People sometimes ask how many images I made before I got to a key picture, like the bird that is on the cover of my book. I shot four frames of that bird, total. I spent most of my time watching what was going on around the scene (noticing the baby who suddenly appeared in her father's arms next to me), anticipating what might happen next (the baby pointing to the bird) and thinking hard about how I wanted to frame the moment in my viewfinder. Now I know this sounds kind of archaic in this day and age, but, for me it still seems about right. If I had been quickly firing off shots, paying attention to my camera (making adjustments, looking at the pictures I'd just taken) and not much else, I might have missed that "decisive moment" when the baby's finger lined up so beautifully with the bird's beak. On the other hand, since my Hasselblad actually goes "black" at the moment I squeeze the shutter, did I really have any idea that I had captured that perfect moment? Was I just lucky?
I don't know - maybe luck comes into play with both shooting methods. I do know this, though: being a very patient observer can and usually does lead to a fuller understanding of the world, not to mention a pretty good photograph of the event you are watching. I am afraid that the new generation of digital shooters are going to abandon the need to be patient and methodical and thoughtful when making pictures, because the camera will allow them to frantically capture every slight change in the scene and will basically do that thinking for them. It almost seems to me that these days the key to finding the right image is post production - that it is in the sifting through of hundred of images that the "perfect" one is found.
I like the idea of finding that perfect image just as I am making it. And then hoping I got it! That's the other thing. With digital, shooters look immediately at the screen on the back of the camera to see if they "got it". There is something very poetic and slow and magical about waiting a few days to process your film. It gives you time to think about what you shot, what you hope it might look like photographed, what it might mean to you or to others who view it. There is something to be said for letting the image process in your brain as well as in the developer.
I don't know. If I had shot 20 images of the bird, would I have made a better picture than the one I got? How would the other shots have been different? What if I had been so busy shooting that I missed the one I got? And more important, would I have missed out on the whole "feeling" of the scene - would I have not taken time to look at the father holding the baby, the man who was tending the bird, the baby herself, the other people standing around admiring the bird? What did those connections and discoveries bring to the picture, if anything?
The photograph above was the only one I made of the cow wandering around on the grounds of the orphanage The cow just kind of stuck her head into the frame, it was so neatly symmetrical with the child on the other end of the frame, the moment seemed right, and voila, I made a picture. I didn't "work the scene" by trying lots of other variations. It just felt right at that moment and seemed worthy of my attention. Maybe I could have gotten a better shot if I had made more exposures, but then I might have missed what was happening on the other end of the building, which led to another moment worthy of my attention.
I just hope we digital shooters don't forget that we still have to do the thinking, yes, even though cameras these days claim to do it all themselves. Patience, thoughtfulness, a keen sense of observation, and oh, yes, heart... I don't think even the most mega-pixeled camera on the market today can offer any of these features.