Recently I have gone bonkers with photography. What I mean by recently is the last couple of weeks. I have been bonkers about photography for a very long time. The last two week however, have been extra bonkers. I have a Nikon D80 that I bought about a year ago. This year I gave myself an early birthday present, a Nikon D300 – that happened couple of weeks ago – thus, most likely the reason for my going extra bananas is the new camera. What I have found by using the new camera is that I am forced to “work” it more, allowing me more freedom for artistic expression through photography.
When I was 11 years old my parents gave me my first camera, a Minolta 201 ST. It came with a 45 mm fixed focal length lens, a wide angle/fish eye screw on lens and a flash. I did not know much about cameras back then, neither did my parents. It was not the best camera for the money, or even the best set up for a beginner, but one way or another I made it work. I experimented and asked a lot of questions of the family photographer, Leo. He suggested I took a class and in my normal “I will figure it out fashion” that remains one of my traits to this day, I never did. I do not regret it. I took some very interesting and good pictures.
Over the years I have been more or less into photography. It was a little inconvenient and the feedback was relatively disconnected. Since my photographic pursuits were 100% experimental, I was not technically aware of what I was doing. So when I got the pictured developed and back for review, it was hard to me for figure out the technical part of what I was looking at. I consulted a few books and Leo, but there was still no connection between what I was looking at and what had happen at the time of taking the picture. I was lacking that connection and it frustrated me. The higher the frustration, the less I was into photography until I would get a picture back of a subject I had snapped and the results where exactly what I had intended. Yes … there was a little “luck” involved in getting good pictures, however, I had developed some personal techniques to make shooting more predictable and less random. To this day my photography remains experimental.
I kept on shooting. Through my university years my photography declined. Along with photography I also liked to fish. Fishing also declined through the same years. I was too busy. At the beginning not exactly with studying, but in the end, I focused and mathematics took a primary role in my life. At the same time I rediscovered photography. There it was my old Minolta sitting there collecting dust. It had traveled to many places. From Miami where my parents bought it. To Argentina where I spent my formative years. To Santa Barbara where I went to school. And in between stopping in Punta Del Este, the East Sierras, Cordoba, Santa Fe, Mexico and many other places. It is 2008 and I still have it.
When I rediscovered photography in college, part of what I wanted to do was to take photos of naked women. OK … hold on for a minute. Yes, there was certain amount of being a young man with an exceedingly large amount of energy and libido, but you also have to admit that a woman’s body has an aesthetic quality that is hard to ignore. While men have square bodies, women have curves all over. I find the curves fascinating and with countless artistic possibilities. Women have been the muses for centuries for all forms of arts and wars. It was hard to find models. The best I ever did was photographing a friend of mine in a REALLY small bikini. She was a little shy and at the time of taking the bikini off, she felt a little self conscious. The photographs did not turn very well either which did not help with convincing her for a second photo-shoot. It was not the quality of the technique but the composition. I could not figure out how to frame people in a photograph, with our without cloths. I decided to experiment and give it time, but economics got in the way. As a starving student it was hard to afford the needed film, development and printing. I figure out ways to save on film by buying in bulk, but that was not enough. Shooting slowed down … considerably.
I kept on shooting but studying, getting married, getting divorced, moving to Los Angeles, getting a job and developing my career and the fact that cash was not so readily available kept on slowing things down. In 1996 I got married again and Elizabeth was very encouraging. The pace started to pick up again. In October 2000 I joined a company called Pictage; an online photo-lab for professional photographers. I was their VP of Technology for about 6 years. It was purely coincidental. As a matter of fact, I am not sure that I made it known during my interview that one of my hobbies was photography and during my tenure, not too many people knew. I architected, designed and managed the build of the technology that, to this day, runs Pictage.
In 2000 Digital photography was getting very popular. Sites like O’fotos and SnapFish made it possible for consumers to manage and print their digital photographs. But for professionals it was not that simple. Digital pro-cameras had become more accessible in price and a few early adopters had taken the plunge. Professional cameras with digital back ends were becoming more common in the market. But the workflow remained the same. Photographers had to cart their negatives – in this case the digital files – to their lab of choice to be printed. The labs themselves were not exactly ready to accommodate digital shooters. It was obvious that a lack of a digital workflow impeded massive adoption of digital photography at the professional level.
In January 2001 Pictage changed its business model to be more of a lab and provide not only hosting and photo-galleries, but also scanning and printing. Thus, the professional digital workflow was born. In 2001 Pictage was getting 95% film that needed to be scanned; the balance was digital. By 2006 when I left, film constituted less than 5%. The balance was digital. The interesting part of these numbers is that the proportion had been such since 2004. In a short 3 years Pictage enabled digital photography for professionals. Larger labs, like Miller’s for example, also figure out how to serve their customers. Nonetheless, Pictage, very quietly, changed professional photography.
When I first joint Pictage I had somewhat of a disdain for digital photography. I had spend many years figuring out the nuances of film and how to best expose it. I felt that digital could never provide the range and versatility film could. After a weekend in Mexico were I took a few pictures I had the film scanned and printed at work. I was blown away. I could see some of the difficulties that digital cameras were going to experience dealing with the range, but comparing a digital print to an optical print, I liked the digital version so much better. The color and matisse were deeper and even though they lacked in range, the image was more accurate with what I had intended. My conviction for film began to waiver.
At the same time this was going on I had been thinking about buying and experimenting with medium format. I had been eyeing the Mamiya 7. Sweet camera. One of the FujiFilm reps – our scanners and printers were Fuji – loaned me a FujiFilm 645 and gave me more film and development credits than I could ever use. I took the camera for a few weeks and shot to my harts content. First time ever where economics were not a factor. Well … what can I say about that??? As I would get the film developed I would have it scanned and printed. The results were just amazing.
My father-in-law had a Nikon CoolPix 990 and wanted to get the 995. He asked me if I wanted his old camera to which I readily accepted. Not only had I been in film bliss, now I could get into digital photography at no cost. One of the things I figure out immediately is “the more you shoot the more you recover your investment in a digital camera” – consider the cost of buying and developing film and the fact that you can readily choose what to keep and better select what to print. After the CoolPix 990 I upgraded to a CoolPix 5800, which I still have. My photography developed along and kept on getting better. But still, shooting good people pictures escaped me.
I became spoiled. I could shoot and print as much as I wanted. That flexibility allowed me to be very selective in what I printed. I went months without printing anything. I became more self-demanding. Shots needed to show exactly what I wanted. After I left Pictage my shooting went back into remission so-to-speak. I could see the pictures on my computer, but not being able to print them was a little demoralizing. Elizabeth encourage me to shoot again and to possibly buy a digital SRL. Or rather Elizabeth encourage me to shoot and I decided that if I was going to shoot, I was getting a new camera … and a printer. After some research I decided to get a Nikon D80 and an HP Photosmart Pro. I had been recommended the Canon Digital Rebel, which is a fine camera, but I had had such good results with Nikon in the past and the reviews were better than the Canon. My photography took a leap up and got dramatically better almost immediately. Better equipment does not make a better photographer, but it does open up possibilities. After experimenting I settled into using the vari-modes more than the manual modes. After a while I felt stagnated and my shooting decreased.
During the summer I had a chance to play with a Nikon D200. What I realized was that I needed to move off vari-mode and start using the manual and priority modes more. But on the D80 it was too easy to fall back into the vari-mode. In October 2007 I decided to buy a D200 and that is when I realized that the D300 was coming out in December and it was such a better camera. So … I waited for December and as mentioned, I got myself an early birthday present.
For somebody like me the cost-benefit equation of digital photography remains the same. The more I shoot the less expensive it becomes and the more I recover my investment. I am still in the mind-set of film photography. In reality, the cost-benefit equation does not exist anymore. The camera costs what it costs, and instead of film and development, now the cost goes into computers, software and hard drives. It is still less expensive overall with the added benefit of immediate feed-back (or gratification rather). But for my kids, there is no equation. My kids every so often go on photo-shoots with me. They use either one of the point-and-shoot cameras I have (or my wife’s) or the 5800. They do not know anything besides digital photography.
This summer the kids went to sleep-away camp for a month. We furnished them with point-and-shoot throw away film cameras. We showed them how to used and how to crank the roll. I explained to them that there was film inside and they needed to “advance” the film frame. I also explained how film works and the difference and similarities between emulsions and CMOS sensors. They got it, but it was funny to see how archaic they felt the mechanism was. They had the same expression when I told them when I was their age TV was black and white and not color. They did not understand that when my parents were their age, there was no TV. The same goes for other technological advances they take for granted; we on the other hand, have gotten so used to them that we have learnt to take them for granted.
A recent TechCrunch (www.techcrunch.com) blog post discussed not only website down times during 2007 but also infrastructure down time as well. My comment to the post reminded us all about our dependencies in technology and that not only revenue is affected during web site outages, but as consumers, we are also affected since many of us use the Web and the Internet to conduct our daily business. As my kids grow older and join the professional world, they will not be more dependent on the Web and Internet, they will be 100% dependent on them. Technology progress will not slow down, it will keep advancing. Sometimes at a gargantuan pace, other slower. Hardware, services and operating platforms are becoming more integrated. An example is digital cameras, as pictures are taken the camera can FTP them to a server and/or service (Flickr.com).
More and more technology and art blur together. In some cases technology renders a service to art, in others, technology is a part of art. There will be always be some die-hard purists that refuse or minimize the involvement of technology in art; thank goodness for them. Somebody needs to keep the old ways alive for us not to forget where all comes from. However, even they need to understand that technology and art have always been and will always be intertwined.