Making Peace With Digital by Deborah Zeitman

[photopress:Billy_Martin_fight.jpg,full,centered] Billy Martin breaking up a fight © Debbie Zeitman

I’m no technophobe. In fact, I’m quite the opposite. I know my way around a computer quite well. I’ve edited many a movie on digital systems, gracefully and gleefully transitioning from film, trim bins, and splicing tape to computer monitors and files and all the terms of the electronic era.

But when it came to relegating my Canon F-1’s to second-class status and stashing them away in the closet, I was slow to concede. In fact, it’s only been a yearsince I acquired a digital SLR. Before that, I had played with a hand-me-down 3.2 megapixel Canon Powershot, but that was just so I could see what downloading and digital files were all about and in order to not feel like a dinosaur. Even with the ease of digital in hand, my heart still belonged to film, especially black and white.

Part of my reluctance to move into the digital photo age was certainly rooted in snobbery. Back in my photojournalist days, photographers were a unique breed. No auto-focus. Mostly manual cameras. When we traveled the streets our long lenses stood out labeling us as pros. My camera became a prop to hide behind, an identity I could put on whenever I felt a little uncertain.

But once digital was born, everyone was a photographer, or so it seemed. My label of special was gone. My being the go-to girl for the good shot was muted. The days of photographic mystery, of racing to an upper level stadium darkroom during the fifth inning of a professional baseball game to make the midnight East Coast deadline and praying that the shot you think you got was in focus, of emerging proudly from the darkroom and zooming into the hallway outside the press box, print in hand, to compare (a.k.a. compete) with the photographer from the other wire service, (the now defunct UPI) or with the ace from the Los Angeles Times was ancient history.

Going digital forced me to part with the film grain that I love and to let go of tactile negatives and transition to the fear that there are never enough ways to back up an intangible file. All the planning in the world can somehow feel inadequate against mysterious computer behavior and evolving technologies. Though my house could burn down taking with it all my negatives, I would see them leave. They couldn’t do it on the sly only to be discovered missing years later. And while I don’t claim that sentiment is rational, it’s how I’ve felt even after establishing a solid backup system that is far more secure than the stack of negatives in the cupboard.

In film days, the decision of black and white or color came at the time of loading your camera, and black and white was almost always my choice, but digital technology has nudged me to try to learn to see in color. My biggest challenge in my first photoshop class was not the tools or the how to, but developing my own color aesthetic. On the Internet, photo sites populated by the masses of enthused clickers often display bright colors of deep saturation, colors brighter than my eyes understand. Reality isn’t a guide or even desired. It’s all about what you can do with the tool, the manipulation, the spirit of change and play. In looking at such photos and in manipulating my own digital files, I’ve struggled to understand what I like, and there is no way to turn to someone else to do that for me. I have to play and look and experiment.

I’m only a few real months into this process, having finally transitioned to shooting in RAW. I process each digital negative into several versions because the options are so vast and my digital eye so young. But I’m learning. I’m finding my balance between bright and muted. I pour over photo sites to learn to see with fresh eyes, to absorb and digest and to pick up useful tips.

There are sites I visit regularly hoping to encounter my ah ha moment. As an Aperture user, I regularly turn to Inside Aperture as well as Aperture Users Network for tips and tricks. As naïve as it sounds, I’ve just discovered the enormous range of photoblogs, and I can get lost there in inspiration. Cool Photoblogs is one place to start as well as Photoblogs.org.
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As I’ve begun to amass digital images, one site encouraged me to use color like no other when I went forward with my first order of MiniCards at Moo.com. With an option of up to 100 images for the price of $19.99, the exploration was fun as well as informative (not all images succeeded on such a tiny scale). I now have assorted business cards that catch the receiver’s attention and distinguish me from the standard 2×3.5” offset world.

I’m certain you all have found your own sources of information and inspiration, and I encourage everyone to leave links and suggestions in comments to share with other readers. I’ve found this to be a most delightful use of the Internet, the heads ups provided by others. This is one of the reasons I regularly come to Photoinduced, for all its resources, and the way it points me to so many things that enhance my photographic experience.

I have a lot to learn in the digital and color world. As I make my way I still look up to the framed silver prints on my wall, the ones that remind me of where it all started.
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To contact Ms. Zeitman, email her at :wavewatcher@verizon.net

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