My first experience with a digital camera took place around 1989, when I was an active-duty soldier in the U.S. Army. The Army at the time was evaluating the Sony Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera) digital camera system that basically looked bigger than a Hassleblad with a television camera lens mounted to it. I really don’t remember the model number, but it was a version of the Sony Pro Mavica 5000, a .72, yes, point seventy-two, megapixel digital camera that basically captured one frame of video.
As I tried to do some research about the history of digital cameras, I was shocked to see hardly anyone give Sony credit and how wrong some digital camera timelines and history facts are on major websites, but then again, perhaps it was because we had access to digital cameras in the military before the civilian public—so yes, my experience with digital cameras started in 1989 and it wasn’t pretty.
About a year later, I’d get my first taste of Adobe Photoshop 1.0, and for you Apple vs. Windows debaters, it was made for the Apple Macintosh exclusively. Three years later, in Nov. 1993, the first Windows version, Adobe Photoshop 2.5, was released and shortly thereafter, Adobe acquired Aldus PhotoStyler.
A master move for Adobe as this allowed them to focus on the Windows operating system market, plus it gave them Aldus PageMaker, one of the top page-layout and design programs for publications. Adobe saw the importance of photography in publications and their goal was to make these two programs interactive with each other, and they achieved it, propelling Photoshop even more until it became the standard in photography.
So that’s a little history how it all started, and quite frankly, at the time, many photographers balked at digital cameras, and fairly so, as the resolution was not great and many photographers felt that the “darkroom in a box,” image editing programs were meant for illustrators, not photographers. This lack of early adoption caused many top photographers to fall, while those that jumped on the train steamed ahead, especially those with prior darkroom experience.
During this revolution, professional photographers accustomed to darkrooms, not computer keypads had an advantage; they had skills and techniques that relied on their eyes and hands. These photographers worked in “dark” rooms with low intensity amber “safelights” for black and white, and practically in complete darkness for color photography. This was a skill that separated photographers from their piers and those that learned techniques increased that separation amongst their competitors, especially when it came to burning or dodging.
Adobe recognized this and the first, plus every version since of Photoshop, these two techniques became “core” tools for photographers in their image editing software program. Just like in the darkroom, burning and dodging relied on your hands and eyes. The only difference, in the darkroom, whether you burned or dodged the print, you couldn’t see the effect until you placed your photographic paper in the development tray, usually filled with Kodak Dektol, and even then, your eyes and judgment were affected by the amber, or pale yellow lighting.
It was a skill to understand how a print under a low-intensity yellow light looked correct. That skill relied on interpretation of your techniques as the print moved from developer to Stop Bath, then Fixer, before you’d be able to turn on the lights to further evaluate your printing skills. It’s ten times easier in Photoshop today—you get to view things as they develop in real time and under normal lighting conditions.
It’s a piece of cake, well not really, it too is a bona fide set of skills and techniques and with the lasso, clone stamp, healing brush, levels, histogram, etc., all in Photoshop, it takes even more skills and various techniques to master than we ever used in a darkroom. Just like the darkroom days, again, learned skills and techniques separate the men from the boys.
Now I haven’t been in the darkroom in quite sometime, but the many years I spent in them gave me experience that helped me hone my skills and techniques in what is now called post-production, and unfortunately, this is where many photographers fail. They either had no darkroom experience and/or the ganas to learn new software. It’s these photographers who don’t adapt that are looked down upon by not only their subjects they photograph, but by their peers that take the time to study and execute post-production techniques.
In today’s tack sharp digital cameras, it’s not just burning and dodging that is required even of a perfectly exposed and composed image, or getting it right in the (digital) camera. It’s more; it’s a photographer’s ability to perfect the final image to their client’s satisfaction, not to mention their post-production techniques will either elevate or deflate their level of professionalism in photography.
When it came to photographing people, especially women, film was naturally forgiving with its cellulose gelatin structure plus natural film curvature. Digital cameras are super sharp with no forgiveness when printed, thus not as flattering to your subject’s skin; so photographers of women, get on the bus and learn—practice, practice, then practice again, your ability to post-produce photos in Adobe Photoshop before you give your subject any photo.
The new Golden Rule is simple, the human eye is more forgiving than digital cameras. Digital cameras capture skin pore texture whereas humans connect the dots, and as my muse Heather Carden has said to me, “When I see digital photos of myself with bad post production, it sometimes makes me want to quit modeling. We all have imperfections, but digital photography can magnify them.”
Knowing how beautiful she is, the last thing I want to do is remove that beauty she displays so I focus my post-production to deliver the reality of the human eye and mind, not the reality of digital cameras.
Photographers must be cognizant of their subject’s beauty and how it battles the “too sharp(ness)” of digital cameras. Bad post-production in any photo of any female subject is not only going to kill your subject’s self-esteem, but indicate to your peers your photography is subpar. You must as a minimum understand the difference between editing photos and photo editing.
If you’re going to call yourself a professional photographer and use a digital camera averaging 10-25 megapixels or more in resolution, then master post-production skills and techniques. Gone are the Sony Mavica days, and almost gone are the darkrooms, but you’ll be gone from photography if you can’t post produce, or as a minimum, hire someone that can. With that I close and as always, God bless the men and women that defend our country everyday along with their friends and family, Rolando.