Digital imaging has greatly increased my enjoyment of photography and improved the quality of my pictures. Before I started using a scanner and an inkjet printer, I had been using print film for 10 years and slide film for about 2. I had won a couple of small contests and I think most people would consider my best pictures good.
However my interest in photography, and consequently my skill, had reached a plateau and then started to decline. My problem was one of frustration, I could either use negative film sent out for processing and loose all control of exposure, color balance, etc., or use slide film which is difficult to share with others. A recent post to a news group reminded me of my frustrations and compelled me to share how digital imaging has greatly enhanced my enjoyment of photography.
You know, its funny. I like to take tricky shots like this all the time,
metering off the face of a backlit person, or my hand stuck out in front of
the camera sometimes.
But, when I get the prints back, the good ol' auto-adjusting print machine
just darkens the whole scene down again as if I overexposed accidentally.
I've thought about writing something in the "special instructions" box like
"don't auto adjust brightness levels" but that would probably cause chaos.
Even the in town expensive places auto machines do the same, however, with
them, you can force a reprint.
I took some pictures of my friends in black suits against a white wall...
and forgot to change from partial to eval metering... well, needless to say,
the black suits are grey and the white walls are WHITE!
There are non digital solutions to these problems but most of these solutions would not work for me. Solutions for viewing slides include using a projector or a light table and loupe. Although these are great ways to view slides, they are not convenient for others, it is difficult to carry around a light table, and I did not feel comfortable imposing on friends and family to watch a slide show.
For prints it is possible to establish a good relationship with a photo lab and have predictable quality prints done. However, you are still not exactly sure what the original looked like and it can be expensive to use a good printer. Additionally, unless you want to spend a lot of money haveing every print sent to a custom lab, you are going to first have them machine printed. Sometimes it can be difficult to even tell if an image is worthwhile from a machine print, because they have so grossly adjusted the color and exposure balance.
Off and on again I would start developing and printing my own black and white prints to regain some control. There were a variety of problems that made this difficult for me. 1) Finding the time to go to a darkroom in the middle of the day. 2) difficulty in finding space in my home for a home darkroom, as well as the smell and expense. 3) The time required to become a good printer. These problem are even greater if you don't want to limit yourself to black and white.
Some people have no problem getting around these difficulties, but for me, time and time again, I would not get back what I expected. Eventually I simply despaired at the lack of control and took fewer and fewer pictures.
Until recently the cost of digital imaging has made it out of reach for the average amateur photographer. Things began to get interesting when Kodak Photo CD became available. Things began to get really interesting when the HP PhotoSmart Printer and Scanner were released. The big breakthrough for me came when a friend of mine bought a Minolta Dimage Dual, and allowed me to use it; near the same time I was given an Epson Photo EX. These two devices combined have greatly increased my enjoyment of photography.
Without getting into too much detail about the equipment, the Minolta Dimage Dual produces scans of about the same quality as a Kodak Photo CD (standard Photo CD not the Pro Photo CD) and the HP Photosmart. The Minolta scans at 2400dpi, enough for an 8x10 at ~300 dpi and an 11x14 at ~210dpi. The Photo EX prints up to 11x44in and produces high quality, accurate color, prints that most people can not distinguish from a conventional print.
This combination of tools has allowed me to enjoy my pictures in a way I was unable to before, and rapidly learn from my mistakes. I am now able to send film out for processing, get it back the next day and immediately enlarge the images for viewing. I can experiment with different exposure, saturation, contrast combinations and can usually improve the image. After selecting the ones I want to keep, I scan them at the highest resolution, archive it, print out a copy for my portfolio, and post it on my web site. The 11x14 prints from the Epson Photo EX and the web site are a great way of sharing my images with friends and family.
I am no longer frustrated with the contrast of the particular photographic paper that the photo lab used or the bizarre exposure compensation that the autoexposure program in the one hour lab machine picked. I am not frustrated thinking, maybe if I just cropped some here, or if it was just a little more saturated. All of these factors are now under my control and easily adjusted.
The consistency and control has also allowed me to improve my photography. Since the imaging process is under my control and consistent, I am able to pick up on subtle differences caused by different photographic techniques. Everything from being able to see the effects of fstop on sharpness to the effects of exposure on the saturation of slide film are now more apparent. Although I can see these by looking at slides on a table, for me they are more apparent when I can look at them zoomed in on a 19" monitor. I had read extensively about the many factors that go into making an image, but until I used digital imaging, I did fully appreciate the effect these factors had.
Digital Imaging has also allowed me to better share my experiments with others. For example elsewhere on my web page, you should be able to find a comparison of sharpness (and other factors) between lenses. The ability to scan at high resolution allows me to easily share my experiments.
If you have not already tried digital imaging, I would recommend it, if you have, I hope you are having as much fun as I am.
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