This year has been a rough one for me. There have been lots of ups and downs with my life and the photo industry. I find myself in the 60th year of my life and have been involved with photography in one form or another since I was in my early teens. The changes that have occurred in the last 14-15 years have been some of the most incredible but yet the most disturbing. Let me explain. Up until the early 90's photography was pretty simple. You bought a rangefinder or SLR and you made photos on film. The cameras had advanced to include auto focus and auto exposure but for the most part the photographer still had to know what was going on. ASA was what let you know how sensitive the film was and the photographer had to know what that meant and what film to use in certain situations. Developing the film was part of the fun. You had no idea what the image was going to look like until you developed the negative and made a print either by yourself or from a lab.
Fast forward to today and it's completely different. One does not need to be knowledgeable about the photographic process at all. The process is all done by a computer embedded in the camera. This is why I have gone back to shooting with my Leica M9 rangefinder because it has slowed the process down and made me think about the image more. I have to think about what aperture and shutter speed I want to shoot at. I also have to focus the camera and figure out my aperture to determine what I want in focus. The new cameras make it so easy to make quality images it's amazing. What really shocks me is the amount of money people spend on pro quality gear not knowing how to use it at all. Back in the old days shooting with a high end Canon or Nikon meant you were a pro or an advanced amateur that was invested in the craft. Nowadays it seems just about anyone can plop down a bunch of cash for pro gear and think they are instantly a professional, I guess that's what the P setting on the dial means. Just the other day I handed the M9 to friend who has purchased some of that pro gear and asked them to see if they could use it. I showed them where the ISO setup was and how to focus and said OK go to it. I got the camera back in about five minutes with the comment "how do you use that piece of crap?" I explained that some of the best professional photographers in the world use it or the newest Leica M because it makes you think. The comment I got back was "I don't need to think my camera does it for me".
There's the rub for me. These new cameras are breeding a world of photographic dummies. These folks now have thousands of images all shot in jpg sitting on memory cards that will never be looked at. If these folks have figured out how to get them off the card then they are on a hard drive someplace never to be seen again. The real pros and advanced amateurs who are invested in their craft are printing their work out for all to see. Which brings me back to the "photographic process", it may have changed but it is still there when considering the end result - a beautiful print to look at and admire.
Leica M9 with 35mm Summicron f2This image was made with the M9 which is mostly manual. I have to figure out what ISO I want to use and what lens (no zoom), and pick the right aperture and shutter speed.
As a professional I still use the high end Canon pro gear for work. I love auto focus and the ability to use auto ISO. Picking my shutter speed and aperture then letting the camera figure out the ISO is fabulous. The only reason I do this is because the cameras can handle the enormously high ISO's and - I KNOW HOW TO USE IT. Since I know how to frame a good photograph, that's all I have to worry about unless the conditions are really tough. As a photojournalist these advances in camera and computer technology have made my life easier. My wish for the new year is for more people who have purchased the high end equipment is to learn the photographic process and make some prints so all can see. The only way they will get better is for people to see their images.