Capturing a vision, digitally

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The argument of whether photography is art is not something I want to touch with a ten-foot sable-haired No. 3 paintbrush. Let us just say that, in my experience, there are times when a photographer sees something, and it sparks a vision.

That vision might lead, as it so often did in the case of photographers like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, to an idea for a print. The photographer would figure out (or would serendipitously arrive at) the time and place to snap the picture. Said photographer would then take the processed negative into the darkroom and begin the labor-intensive practice of making the print.

Photographers have a huge collection of techniques for manipulating prints – burning, dodging, water baths, hot swabbing, bleaching (to name a few) – to achieve a vision that may lie outside the range of unmanipulated film and paper. Since these were manual, analog techniques, some of which require skill and practice comparable to an artist with brush or pencil, each print was a performance, and it was rare that two prints would be exactly the same.

In the modern photo world, good photographers spend no less time putting their vision into a form that successfully translates to a print (or, increasingly, a screen of some sort). The available tools for manipulating image files are vastly larger (Photoshop alone has hundreds) and the time spent is scarcely less, in my experience, than it was in the old analog days.

The big difference is that everything the digital photographer does is captured in the image file – both the original information and everything the photographer does to nudge the image closer to the vision. Once the photographer has a successful interpretation, that image can be reproduced any number of times, with great precision in every case.

While my goal as an analog photographer was usually a print, my goal as a digital photographer is the ‘digital master file’ that captures both the image and my intent (so-called ‘meta’ information). The photographer’s version of a ‘digital master’…

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About Chris Gulker

Chris Gulker, a self-described Infuential Blogger, lived in Menlo Park, California with spouse Linda. He passed away in late October 2010.
This entry was posted in All, Gulker labs, Photos, Technology. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Capturing a vision, digitally

  1. This is music to my ears. It’s the perfect expression and with the power of your expertise behind it of what I’ve tried to say to people who complain about the use of Photoshop with photography. Now I will tell them it’s to clarify the vision so that everyone can see it the way the photographer sees it. And what could be more important than the vision. You saw it, you dreamed it, you framed it, you produced it.

    Thank you!!

  2. Michael Jahn says:

    this part troubled me just a wee bit;

    “Once the photographer has a successful interpretation, that image can be reproduced any number of times, with great precision in every case.”

    Such was the promise, but it is left unrealized ! Computer monitors, web browsers and desktop printers cannot do anything the same twice, nor do they even resemble each other. Color management is a miserable failure. Simply create a single RGB color – 127 Red, 127 Green 127 Blue – is that grey (it is supposed to be!) now print it in color, does it match you monitor it is supposed to!) – now send that to three of you friends and ask them to do that (they will not match!).

    Oh, how I wish I were wrong, and how we could all reliably share our art with color fidelity. This should not be this hard – if I send you a 72 point letter R, it ask you to hold a ruler to your screen, it is most likely about an inch tall – is it at 100% ?

    We have not come far enough.

    Thank you though, it was wonderful to think that way for a moment !

  3. Patrick says:

    Very interesting post and thank’s for sharing your vision 🙂

  4. cg says:

    Michael-

    Good points. I should have been more specific – for a given medium, e.g. my Canon ink-jet printer, a given master file will produce very similar results – I can make two or however many prints and they are very similar.

    You’re right that all bets are off once you go anywhere else… a different printer, a screen etc.

  5. However… The one thing we can never be sure of is how the vision is seen by the viewer. People’s eyes are different. Lighting is different. Mood is different. Vision is interpreted by each person’s individual knowledge base and culture. So we have another major variable. But the point of digital vs. analog is that at least with digital we have something permanent to start with and to go back to….as long as we remember to back up our hard drives and/or keep a second/third/fourth copy in a separate locale.

  6. However… The one thing we can never be sure of is how the vision is seen by the viewer. People’s eyes are different. Lighting is different. Mood is different. Vision is interpreted by each person’s individual knowledge base and culture. So we have another major variable. But the point of digital vs. analog is that at least with digital we have something permanent to start with and to go back to….as long as we remember to back up our hard drives and/or keep a second/third/fourth copy in a separate locale 🙂

  7. Anonymous says:

    Digital photos still can only be shown in 8 bits. Any shades of grey beyond 256 are just dithering while silver iodide can show thousands of shades. There have been limited attempts to increase the dynamic range of monitors & printers, but the cost is always greater than a darkroom enlarger. HDR imaging just doesn’t get the investment that green tech & treasury notes do.

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