Why I Hate Digital Photography

I recently watched a documentary on Netflix about the end of Polaroid film called, Time Zero | The Last Year of Polaroid Film. It was an insightful and emotional documentary. The end of Polaroid film was the end of an era in photography, and everyone over the age of 20 has had some experience with it.

The documentary got me thinking about how digital cameras have changed photography. Today, just about everyone has a camera in their pocket. This allows people to take snapshots all day without thinking about composition, lighting, or whether they will become a cherished relic.

Photographs Without Intent

With easy access to the camera in their pocket people take too many pictures that are quickly forgotten. Film cameras required you to think about every shot because every shot had a cost of, let's say, 50 cents.

With digital that's not the case. Because every digital picture is free people take less care when composing, when thinking about the settings, the lighting, or any of it. Today, you take a shot, look at it, make adjustments, take another, wash, rinse, repeat. 

Then there is the guy who motor drives every picture. I cringe when I hear machine gun fire coming from someone's camera when there's no action. You can't possibly frame the shot with proper focus when rattling off 10 frames every time you press the shutter.

Film forced you to slow down and think about what you were doing. You couldn't afford to miss the shot because you only had 36 frames per roll, plus the monetary cost.

You can miss shot after shot with digital and it doesn't matter. Just take another one. The only problem is that you leave with too many pictures and only a few keepers. Whereas, if you just slow down and shoot with intent you walk away with fewer bad images, which leads to the next reason why I hate digital photography.

Sorting Through the Junk

After you snap a thousand photos from the day's shoot it's time to sift through everything looking for the keepers. All these pictures require a computer, hard drives, multiple storage points, multiple copies of your library, photo editing software, time to organize, tag, and name your photos, time to edit your pictures, and so on.

After a few years you will have terabytes with tens of thousands of images that you need to make searchable otherwise you may never find them again. As your library grows your computer's hard drive rapidly fills. When it does, you need to move your photo library to an external hard drive. Then over time that one will fill, and when it does you need to buy a larger hard drive, a NAS, or whatever it takes to store what are mostly mediocre snapshots. 

To battle this problem you need a detailed workflow to quickly clear the clutter so you can find the good shots, edit your images, and share to social media.

After every thing is imported and sorted through you are faced with the decision of how you should organize it all. Do you rename every photo? If so, do you rename them so you know which camera you used? What naming scheme should you use so you can easily search for the images? Should you organize by event, chronologically, or just leave the image name that the camera assigns? Does it even matter?

All of this presents yet another problem - sitting in front of your computer for hours. You sit in front of one at work, you sit writing emails, you sit when you video call with the grandparents, when trolling Facebook, reading this article, and everything else you do on your computer. With thousands of photos it's just more seat time.

Sharing Your Images

How often have you seen someone's Flickr, Instagram, or Facebook page filled with hundreds of pictures taken of the same event. People don't discriminate the good from the bad. They believe that every picture of their kid is a masterpiece, so they share everything they take. 

If I can impart one thing it is this, select only the best image(s) and share those. If you think that 50 of the 1000 you took are amazing then choose the best 5 of those 50 to share. Most often, one or two good images a day are enough. When you flood people with everything the good one's get lost in the clutter.

Backing Up

Backing up all of your data is another inherent problem of digital. You don't want to lose those irreplaceable pictures of grandma blowing out 100 candles to a dead hard drive or accidental deletion. To avoid these problems you need multiple backups of everything with at least one off site. All of these hard drives and backups come at both a monetary and time cost.

Then over the years you purchase new cameras with larger file sizes. This requires more computing power, more RAM, and more hard drive space. Again, all of this comes at both a financial and time cost.

Digital is Not Tangible

Digital images, whether on your phone, tablet, computer, or TV are sterile with little thought put toward presentation. When you show people images that are mounted in a photo album you write little blurbs, you make them into a collage, group like images with like images, place them in a timeline to represent one's life, scrapbook, and so much more.

Much of this can be done with a computer, but it takes time and skill, and the end product is less than personal. There is nothing to hold, nothing to embrace, nothing to cherish. 30 years later there is nothing to discover hidden away in the back of a closet to stir old memories, to have and to hold. The life of a photo on the Internet is only a few seconds, if that.

Yes, old prints fade and slides become oxidized, but that adds to the treasure. When photos are taken with intent the memory is seared into your brain. You remember the smells, the time of day, the feeling of your new sweater against your skin. Those images take you back to the moment they were taken. In your mind you are a kid again playing with your favorite doll, or train set.

Those grainy, and slightly out of focus images are endearing. It's all you have of those moments gone by. They are something to be cherished. Compare that with digital. You take thousands of snapshots because the cost is nothing. Then they hide on your hard drive where only you know they exist.

Too Complicated

The Camera itself presents another problem. Your digital camera is a small computer, and overtime it will become obsolete like any other computer. In a few short years you will need to buy a new one. 

Then there are all the different formats. Should you shoot RAW, JPEG, TIFF, or something else? Which color space should you use? What about white balance? You need to have a working knowledge of computers, digital imaging, proprietary software, and it all needs to be up to date.

A film camera, on the other hand, is just a light box that exposes film. Yes, there have been updates to film cameras, but you can still take great photographs with an old one. Whereas, an old digital camera will leave your images as less desired.

Are you a good photographer or a good image editor?

This brings me to the final point. Are the digital images you see actually what was captured by the photographer? Or are good photographers merely good image editors?

A photographer may take a mediocre picture that is poorly framed under exposed with a distracting background, but after hours of manipulation he creates a nice picture. The problem however, is that the photo you see is not what was captured.

And don't get me started on High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. On the surface they look cool, but there are no shadows, no emotion, no grit. All those things that create a compelling photo are missing. Yes, HDR can make for some amazing pieces of art, but they are completely manipulated.

Conclusion

I shoot digital like everyone else, but there are so many headaches attached to it that it makes me a conservative photographer. With digital I still think about my shots, the framing, and the settings. If I can't get the image properly framed, or it doesn't appear how I imagine it to be I won't push the shutter button. Why waste the shot?

Who wants to sift through hundreds of shitty photos just to find one gem that you captured by accident? I don't, and you shouldn't either. Take pride in the images you create. Cover the screen on the back of the camera, anticipate the shot, and photograph quality.

Film was certainly a simpler time, especially Polaroid film. And though I hate digital, I also love it. I know that sounds odd, but we all have personal conflicts.