Reading about a fellow photographer’s approach to digitising his music collection got me thinking again about how complicated digital can make our lives.
The majority of the time my friend spent it seems, was not on the uploading of the CDs, but then fiddling about afterwards with the quirks of particular software so it recognised and grouped his music in a logical order (in this case, iTunes, which in view about 12 years ago was fantastically simple, and has deteriorated in usability and elegance with each iteration since).
It reminded me why I ditched post processing almost entirely a couple of years back, and all the time and energy I was sinking into it with rarely a satisfying outcome, let alone any enjoyment of the process.
With music, I just want to be able to locate and play something I love with very little obstacle.
These days I favour Spotify, but 15 years ago my music existed entirely in a collection of around 500 CD albums, organised alphabetically in a couple of storage units.
Going from an initial thought in my mind of the album (or track) I wanted to play, to actually having it playing for my ears to enjoy was a matter of plucking the CD from the shelf, popping it in my hi-fi and pressing play.
This process probably took all of 30 seconds.
That stage of organising, finding and retrieving the music was very direct.
And with the functionality of Spotify – most importantly being able to search quickly – this is replicated in an equivalent timeframe, perhaps even quicker.
With digital photography (and within this I include film photography where there’s a digital aspect, eg scanning your photos and adjusting them digitally afterwards), there are infinite variations – and therefore infinite temptation to tweak.
A single photograph can, depending on your software choice, have anything from a handful to hundreds, even thousands of different elements that can be adjusted.
Multiply these together and it’s utterly mind blowing – especially as many can be slider type controls with tiny increments of adjustment.
To use a basic example, the contrast adjustment might go from -100 to +100, giving 201 possible settings. Then Saturation might have the same scale.
So multiplying these two variables alone there are 201 x 201 = 40401 different combinations.
With just one photo, and just two settings.
Magnify these possibilities by five or 10 or 50 settings, each with a sliding scale, and you’re hurtling rapidly to infinity and beyond.
Multiply this by the number of photographs you need to process (from a modest 24 exposure roll of film, to perhaps a digital dump of 1000s of photos) and the figures are incomprehensible.
And this is without mentioning the Pandora’s box of widely available presets in apps like Lightroom that expand your options even more.
So to sidestep all this hassle. I use cameras that, through research and experience, I know I can set up to give me photographs I love straight out of camera, with zero post processing.
And digital post processing is one of many ways digital – with all its sophistication and supposed freedom of chance – can actually debilitate us.
Or, put another way, digital, rather than deliver on its frequently touted promise of making our lives easier and more streamlined, actually leads us to wasting vast chunks of our lives we could be using for more important, enriching and interesting pursuits.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not living in a forest in a log cabin without electricity or running water, tempting though that sounds.
I have great swathes of digital elements in my life that I love and enable me to do things I couldn’t have done 20 years ago. Like talking with other photographers like you with similar interests across the globe on a regular basis.
But I try to keep at the forefront of my mind how digital can (and has for me, in the past) bring all kinds of hidden hassles and time wasting activities into our lives, if we’re not vigilant.
Digital should be a tool (or collection of tools) we can use to enhance and enable our lives.
We should never feel slaves to the tools or processes, in my opinion.
How about you? Are there ways in your photography (or music, or wider) life where the modern digital approach is consistently wasting your time and causing you frustrations? How could you change this?
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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