If I had to give just one reason why these days I shoot 100% digital and not film, it comes down to this.
With digital, you have immediate feedback about how your decisions in setting up the camera to make a photograph worked out.
If the image is a disaster, it doesn’t matter. You can just adjust something – one thing – and try again.
Then, based on the outcome – what’s different, what you like more, what you like less – you can make further adjustments, and try again.
Until you get the shot you want – or what you feel is the best shot possible in the conditions.
When I was shooting film, I made pretty extensive notes about the camera, lens, film and location, plus any additional “treatments” like if I was using redscale film, or cross processing, or deliberately over exposing.
Then when the scans came back from the lab, I would have some way of identifying which combos made which pictures, and how that worked out.
But with film, I was largely in the dark about why some shots sung triumphantly and others failed dramatically.
I could have made more extensive notes, such as the aperture or shutter speed, or focus distance.
And I could have made multiple versions of the same composition, say one each at f/4, f/5.6 and f/8, or 1/125s, 1/60s and 1/30s, and compared afterwards.
But to be frank, this relentlessly scientific approach would have interrupted the flow far too much, and spoilt the fluidity and immersion of the whole photography experience that I so treasure.
If I had have made these kind of notes though, I know I would have learned quicker, understood the basics sooner, and more clearly, and ultimately made a much higher number of keepers.
With digital, my learning was greatly accelerated.
Because I could shoot a picture of a flower up close at f/5.6 and see how shallow the depth of field was, and if needed, take another shot at f/4 or f/8, or f/1.8 or f/11.
I could photograph a flowing stream at a shutter speed of 1/30s and see how it looked, and whether I wanted to use a faster shutter speed to freeze the action more, or a slower one to enhance the flowing water effect.
I could try a shot in a lowly lit church at ISO3200 and f/5.6 to see if it was usable, or whether the resultant noise and grain was too ugly and I would need to choose ISO800 or 400 and a larger aperture to get an image I was pleased with.
These all amount to that same single, magical teaching tool of a digital camera – the feedback from seeing your picture there on the screen afterwards (and with some cameras of course, during composing).
It encourages us to experiment, to practice, to become better at knowing how to more consistently create images we like – and sometimes images we love.
And for me, that is a hugely enabling, valuable, and exciting factor.
What’s your favourite and most useful aspect of shooting digital?
Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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