Recently I posted an album of photographs I took in 1990 with the note, “@1990 I got famous East Kingdom people to pose for formal portraits. It was some of the worst photography I ever did. But I’m glad I made the effort.” The comments on the photos were very kind, as many people were happy to see photos of old friends and photos from another era when we were much younger.
It got me to thinking how incredibly different photography is now compared to twenty-five years ago. The first digital camera was developed by Sony in 1981, but that wasn’t really relevant for quite a while. I had a decent analog camera, which had to be loaded with blank film. On the day in question I was shooting black and white high quality analog film. Thirty-two photos per roll of film.
Let me go over that again. I put the film in the camera and took a maximum of thirty-two photos. That was a large roll of film, as most rolls took twenty-four or less photos. I would have no idea which photos turned out well, and which did not for days. Not until I took the film to a developer and picked up the prints they made from them. (Yes, I have developed my own film in the distant past. I did not find it superior to letting professionals do it.)
Let me compare that to today. The camera in my smartphone is NOT better than that analog camera. But it is in my pocket nearly all the time. It has a very high resolution, which is nice. However, it will always be worse for the simplest and most obvious of reasons. It does not have an external shutter over the lens, ergo the lens is always dirtier than it should be.
My camera phone has some ability to adjust, but it is not intuitive, and not really good at it. It has two sets of features that are superior to the old analog camera. The second is that there are different ways to take a photo including, strobe (many shots quickly in a row), panoramic, split screen, 360 degrees, and selfie. The first, and far more important superiority, is that the phone can hold an effectively infinite number of photos before I need to change the micro card. In this case, effectively infinite is 38,250 photos. A typical photo on my phone requires 822 kilobytes of storage. My phone generally has about 30 gigabytes of free space. The micro card contains sixteen gigabytes of that space. Should I need to expand to 50,000 plus photos, I would have to stop for ten seconds to change cards.
When you can take 38,000 photos at a time, you can take a photo every second for over ten hours. And this costs almost nothing, and does not harm the environment, either. A few electrons are inconvenienced. That’s it.
When I took those portraits in 1990 I had to determine how the camera would be best used. The camera I had then was much better indoors as can be seen in the album I posted. The camera in my phone is much better outdoors. Despite this, I chose to take most of those portraits outdoors.
The photos were posed because I was so painfully limited in what I could take. The subjects were kind enough to queue up and wait their turn, and then work with me while we fussed around trying to get a good composition. Good composition for a portrait is a lot different than an art shot or an action shot. In many cases, the other subjects helped arrange the shots, and encouraged each other to embrace the process. I am grateful for that.
I probably took two hours to take sixty-four photos. With my camera phone it takes less than five minutes to take a couple hundred photos. The portraits did not turn out well. I managed to salvage fifteen of sixty-four photos largely due to the ability to scan them into a computer and digitally improve them. The results are far better than the absence of any photos from that day.
In the analog era I had dozens of photos published. In the digital era I have had dozens of photos published. In the analog era, the challenge was capturing the moment. In the digital era, the challenge is finding the moment that has been captured. Have you ever looked through 38,000 photos?
The process is very different today. There are some aspects of analog photography I miss, but for the most part I much prefer the digital age. I just need an external shutter for my camera phone. And ten hours to look through all the photos to find the fifteen good ones.