Going Digital

Going Digital


“I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me.” —Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, to an artist doing his portrait

EVER SINCE advances in digital technology have been applied to the field of photography — first sparked by the introduction of the filmless camera system in the 1980s and then by the year 2000, further spurred on by the development of more powerful computer processors that can handle larger graphic files — people learned to literally never look at any photograph in quite the same way.
It has become all too easy to rearrange and recolor pixels, and, through deft cutting and pasting of people’s heads, make it appear as though someone who was not anywhere in a group shot or class picture suddenly be right there in the middle, in full sparkling smile.

Also, thanks to digital technology, amateur photographers and casual photo enthusiasts—even wannabe posers with a modicum of photography talent—now also lead easier lives, knowing that the “not so good” photos that they usually churn out can be made better and improved using even the most basic of computer tools. Advertising photographer John Chua, one of the first pros to convert to digital photography in the Philippines has this to say: “With film, you need the expertise learned through the years; digital gives you instant feedback…a guide for photographers.”
Wedding photographer Patrick Uy seconds this. “New photographers are so lucky with digital,” he says. “The learning curve is not as steep…prohibitive costs of film and processing [are] a thing of the past.” Because they can instantly view what they had shot on the digital camera’s preview screen, they can choose to simply erase a picture that they are not satisfied with and repeat the picture-taking process until they chance upon one that they like. “It’s easier to become a photographer these days,” says Patrick, “But it doesn’t mean that you’ll be good.”
Harvey Tapan, from the shutterbug clan of Tapans, agrees. While you can master all the skills required to create a technically good picture, this still does not guarantee that you will be a good photographer. “You need what we call The Eye, a way of looking and capturing things. Film or digital, without The Eye, your pictures will have no soul,” he says.

Clearly, the revolutionary changes and effects that digital technology has brought to photography have become so grand and encompassing that they cannot be ignored by the artistic community. Among serious photography circles, heated arguments have been brewing for some time whether it is more artistic to continue doing photographs in their original, unaltered states, thereby making the talent of the photographer in setting up the framing, timing and moment of the shot shine through; or allow these photographs to become enhanced and improved with digital effects, thereby highlighting the considerable visualization, graphic talents and computer skills of the photographer—or the graphic artist’s. After all, as Patrick says, “A good art director can make a bad photographer’s work look good.”

Other issues have cropped up between the so-called purists who can’t give up their film, and those who wholeheartedly embrace digital. Quality is always a touchy point—it takes about 25 megapixels to replicate 35mm film resolution. So any cheap point and shoot film cam can always go head to head with a pricier digital, and still have the same results, in terms of blown up resolution at least. Photographers such as renowned travel photographer George Tapan and Harvey Tapan still prefer shooting in film for crucial shots—with digital backup, of course.
Then there’s storage. With the plethora of software available, you can easily organize your photo files on your computer, plus keep countless copies—each as good as the original—in different locations as backup. With film, you will have to manually archive each transparency (or negative), and duplicates will never be as good as the original.

There’s also the matter of convenience (and sometimes low EQ). In this instant-everything world, no one can deny the ease and practicality of viewing photos right after you take them. Lighting, exposure, position and other corrections can be made on the spot with a (filmless and painless) reshoot.

Finally—for the longtime pros, at least—it’s a matter of competition. As John puts it, anybody who owns a camera is a potential competitor. “It’s not the best time to be a commercial photographer.” Photographers do agree that the proliferation of newcomers armed with digital cams and much lower rates has pulled down market rates.

However, John himself says that a lot of the new digital photographers lack not only the discipline, but also the skills. Digital cameras make them feel as if they’re ready to take on projects, even if they’re totally clueless. But in the long run, there’s no need to worry about the new, cheaper photographers. “I’m not afraid of the photographers who are cheap; they will fade away. I’m afraid of photographers who are good. They will be able to sustain the business.”

As the debate rages on though, photographers who seriously want to hone their craft—whether for commercial or personal purposes—need only to keep on practicing. “Deliver consistently,” says John. “You are only as good as your last [shoot].”


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