Monday, September 17, 2012

Notes From the Field -- Sky Show!

One of the things I dearly missed when not camping due to the inconvenience of lugging around large format photo gear was the rich experience of being alone in the woods at two o'clock in the morning. That's a perfect time to give yourself a serious case of the heebie jeebies, lemme tell 'ya. But as it turns out, between chasing light with predawn wakeups and the lateness with which I've generally crawled into the tent after a day's worth of fieldwork, when camping this year I've mostly slept right through.

Still, staying up late has had occasional advantages...


The advent and ongoing development of digital image capture revolutionized photography and is well on the way to fundamentally altering our approach to the visual world.

I'm no Luddite and though this gig is pretty much all about the film, as a one time member of the 1st commercial digital imaging department in a major metropolitan industry, I learned long ago that resistance to technological change is ultimately futile. The only way to survive is to get with the program. Many businesses didn't do that and now an industry is forever gone.

Don't get me wrong, there's a lot not to like about digital photography. For one thing, the ease of use has excised nearly all the necessity for craft. Then fundamentally, the way we view the world through our pictures has changed from the tactile, translucent experience of standing awestruck before an image captured via natural light through emulsion and printed in continuous tone, to that same light translated by numerical approximation and via hard-edged pixels then thrown backlit through a screen.

I can't help but think this has made smaller, what once was often inspiring.

And if what I've seen at art galleries & such during my travels around the Basin is an accurate indication of the public appetite, then as a photographer I'm truly one dead duck. That's 'cause mostly what I've seen offered for sale is imagery so heavily processed, so intensely manipulated as to have lost any real connection to both our natural world and the authentic moment in time when the shutter's released.

This stuff isn't really photography at all, but rather graphic art. And with that I can't compete.

If that's what pleases the image buying audience these days, then in a short span of time, the distinction earned by working in large & medium format film will no longer even be recognized. And to the extent a thing goes unrecognized, appreciation of it becomes that much more unlikely.

So it goes. And that's why we're together on this road to begin with, after all.

But contrary to what it may seem, I'm not here today to bury digital, but rather to praise it. Along with all the lousy stuff that most revolutions bring and that none of us are gonna forestall for more than a moment anyway, digital has allowed for some truly amazing things.  

I mean, just trying doing this with traditional film and good luck with that:

Now, I don't imagine you'll capture the like of these with your stinkin' phones, but my Toy Canon's merely a consumer grade, entry level SLR sporting crappy glass, which means that anyone out there with even a decently equipped digital camera can do this too.

So here's digital photo tip number One and Only, straight from an old film dog to the rest of you out there in the modern world:

Secure your camera to a tripod. Manually set the thing to f5.6 (depth of field being unnecessary as the Universe supplies all you'll need), ISO 6400, 25 seconds exposure. You'll have to experiment some with the focus, as auto focus won't cut it and most cheap lenses aren't actually sharp at infinity when ratcheted down to the symbol that designates it.

And, of course, you'll have to put yourself someplace where you can actually see the night sky in all its glory.

Then point that digital magic wand of yours to a favorite place in the heavens and shoot...

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