Two digital questions, and responses

Frank M. wrote from Portugal asking a couple questions, in response to my post asking people to ask questions if you have them:

Retro/vintage iPhone photo apps - why does a wrong color palate make crappy photos look "interesting"?

Let’s see. Factors involved:

• Photography is a gizmo-driven enterprise. And a lot of us like the gizmo layer of the profession. So along comes a new gizmo to spit out pictures, why not use it. The assumption being that different/new is interesting.

• The business is crowded so we all strive to be perceived as unique. Using a new technique helps in that pursuit, unless it’s a bandwagon everyone rides. Style as a pull down menu doesn’t go far, especially if there’s no substance to the resulting pictures.

• There’s a nostalgic feel to those pictures. Most of us are nostalgic, if we have some years behind us, and the younger set may be latching onto the retro feel, without having experienced it the first time around. Either way, these pictures can trigger a favorable emotion because they connect to pictures from the past.

But are the pictures interesting? I’ll speak to that after the next quesiton.

Film grain emulation software - is it really honest to make a digital photo look like it was made on an analog camera loaded with Ilford Delta 400? And why is digital grain so badly considered? Is it really an aesthetic issue or people unconsciously associate it with low sensor performance, hence the negative impression?

On making digital images look like they were made with film, same response as the first question. And, I’d add, yes, it’s honest. Unless it’s dishonest to convert a raw file to black and white or any other manner of change that doesn’t involve changing the physical elements of a scene - if you practice reality based photography.

About digital grain, I think the pursuit for the past 20 years has been to get digital cameras to be as good as film cameras. And now the goal is to produce cameras that see as the eye sees, or better. The early digital cameras were so “grainy” that their image quality was perceived as being inadequate. I’m guessing that there is latent perception from those days.

I find digital grain to be no more, or less, offensive than film grain. There was something lovely about Tri-x processed at 3200 and ISO 128,000 images out of a digital camera can be captivating. Or not.

And that last sentiment is the rub in all of this. Techniques applied alone don’t make pictures interesting, compelling, engaging, or anything beyond an expression of the technique. There has to be intent on the photographer’s part to say something, there has to be depth of seeing and complexity of compositional approach, at least, for a photograph to go beyond technique, regardless of the mechanics of the image making.

It’s also ironic that at a time when we can use gizmos that are more sophisticated than they’ve ever been, the trend is backward, to making images that have an old feel to them, either by using digital imprinting or by reverting to old cameras and techniques.

A French philosopher posited that it is on the verge of great change that we most look backward - change such as the iron age and the renaissance. Stay tuned.

Thank you for 2011

How do you toot your horn, inflate your balloon, expand your horizons?