Technology and photography

My first camera was a so-called box camera from 1956. A square metal box with a shutter with fixed shutter speed, a handle for manual film feed,a fix focus lens (lens with fixed focal length and fixed aperture) and a small viewfinder window on the top of the camera. When the sun was shining and the subject was not moving too much – a fine camera that anyone could operate.Due to the limited use of the box camera, I quickly switched to more advanced models, where you could set both shutter speed and aperture. This advancement is largely due to Andreas Feininger’s book,Feininger’s School of Photography (Die hohe schule der fotografie, 1961) which became my basis for understanding the aesthetic potential of photography.

The enduring myth that it is the focal length of the lens that changes the perspective of an image is dispelled in this book.It is the distance between the camera and the subject that determines the perspective, so the photographer will have to move to change it. The foot zoom is both healthy and effective.

When you read various photo sites, reviews of cameras and discussions in photo clubs, you can get the impression that it is the technique  which is crucial for the quality of the image. There are no limits to what is measured and tested, and there are long discussions about which lenses are marginally sharper than others and which have the most aesthetic bokeh, etc.The main difference between an expensive SLR camera and asmall cheap point and shoot camera are the options the expensive camera provides, it can simply take useful pictures duringvirtually all conditions. The cheap can not yet. To put it bluntly.The creativity and thus the quality comes of course from the photographer and not from the camera.

So instead of getting lost in discussions about which cameras are the best, one might want to listen to other photographers’ experiences of making photographs.Unfortunately, not all photographers want to tell how they do when taking their fine photos. But fortunately there are exceptions, and one of them is Willy Ronis, (1910 – 2009), one of the great French photographers and active at the same time as another of the great French namely, Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 – 2004). In his book “Derrière l’objectif – Photos et propos” he honestly tells how a number of his pictures have been created, and in the large picture work “Le regard inédit du photographere sur son oeuvre” Flammarion, 2018 in 600 pages, he continues his stories about the creation of his works. Virtually all photographic tools are illustrated and explained based on his images.

One of the great technological advances seen through Roni’s eyes was when cameras with fast image delivery emerged. First with a single grip, then motor drive and today electronic trigger. For most of his career, the next picture had to be painstakingly rewound, so in reality there was only one shot in the gun , so one had to be patient and first press the shutter button at just the right moment (the decisive moment, le moment décisif)Unlike today where this concept does not play a big role, because you can take a lot of pictures per second and then choose the best in peace, if you have the time and money to find it!

From instamatic to instagram

In 1963, the Kodak Instamatic introduced the camera, a small inexpensive camera in which the film was placed  in a closed cassette. It was just as easy to use as a cash register and with pretty much the same technical capability, but somewhat more handy and easy to put movies in. It became very popular, in seven years, 50 million cameras were sold.

Today, the mobile phone’s camera has taken over the spread of photography on a scale that makes instamatic fade. At the same time, the distribution of images of any kind has become incredibly easy. Uploading photos on instagram has become more important than taking the picture.The technical quality has, thanks to advanced electronics and various algorithms increased considerably.And at the same time, quarrels between supporters of mobile photo andclassic cameras have become more and more shrill.Again, technical qualities have become the focal point of the argument.In the first many years of smartphone life wasthere was no doubt and that mobile photos were not worth going for – the classic camera was still leading despite an incomprehensible aversion to the electronic development possibilities.On the other hand, this development went strong  with the manufacturers of mobile phones.

Today, mobile photos are more of a threat to the classic camera and it has become harder just to reject the flat mobile camera because it can actually do some things that the classic camera has a hard time with.

HDR and Deep fusion functions in the smartphone’s camera, the classic camera can not match at the moment. These features are one of the reasons why mobile photographers get away with taking decent pictures without knowing anything about metering, burnt out highlights or blocked shadows. It works the algorithms.

So the discussions about what is best are not as unambiguous as they have been. There are many factors that come into play. And then of course there is the weight. Should you lug around 2-3 kg, heavy equipment or settle for 200 grams?And the availability, one you always have in your pocket the other requires a decision.But when it comes to bokeh, and zoom lenses, the mobile camera can not yet compare. Of course, it’s also less impressive to pull a mobile out of your pocket and put your neck back than it is to pull your well-balanced SLR with a large bright zoom out of your photo bag and get ready – without hurting your neck.

However, this difference in aesthetic performance has no bearing on image quality.If the discussions about technology are silent, then what is left?There is creativity. I will not come up with square instructions on how creativity becomes what fills the discussions, but simply state that technique is the means not the end.

And one should not think that the algorithms can handle it all. If you leave everything to the algorithms, the images will look like each other and instagram becomes a cemetery filled with perfect clichés.

Next Communication and photography

Comments are closed.