I have done photography since I was a student. I really like it. I like to make pictures and I like to look at them. But now, I think that digital photography has crossed an important threshold.
I think where the threshold is depends on how comfortable one is with ever-advancing technology levels.
And I find that I have not merely reached my threshold, I have stepped way past it.
First, last year I upgraded my DSLR camera body. As you probably know, these things aren't really cameras. They're more like computers that just happen to wear lenses. And this new computer/camera is very powerful. I won't say that I've mastered it, because I haven't. But at least I'm more comfortable with the thing than I was at first, and I now understand many, if not all, its functions. OK, so far, so good.
But once you make a photograph, what do you do with it? Do you download it to your computer's hard drive and then enjoy it and send it to friends as-is? I doubt many people do that and that's where, for me, the trouble starts.
I do use the Internet to send a few photos to friends and family. But when I find a shot I really like, I print it on 81/2 x 11-inch photo paper with a pro-level printer. I install the prints in plastic display sleeves and then clip those sleeves into one of my photo books, large three-ring binders, where I can look at them.
Again, so far, so good. But before I hit "print" on a shot, like almost everyone else, I use one of Adobe's Photoshop programs to enhance that shot – boost contrast and sharpness, make the sky a little more dramatic, bring out detail in dark areas, stuff like that.
Now, mostly these are all things we used to do in the darkroom. Back in J-school, I started out shooting a Speed-Graphic, which used 4 x 5-inch sheet film. You controlled focus, shutter speed and aperture. In the developing process, you controlled time and temperature and if you did that correctly, you got a decent negative. And in the printing process, you dodged and burned to bring out detail, and selected the paper grade to give you the contrast you needed. It was complex, but at the same time, simple.
We still have these elemental controls, but now our computers are our darkrooms. And in those computerized darkrooms, so much more is possible.
And the possibilities continue to grow. The problem for me is that every few months, the various Photoshop programs become more powerful and complex.
Because I have been unwilling to pay full-pop for the regular, full-featured Photoshop program, I have, for years, used something called Photoshop Elements. It's kind of Photoshop-lite. It's worked well. I started with Elements 3, upgraded to Elements 7 – which I used for a long time – and last year upgraded to Elements 13. And now there's an Elements 14, which promises many "wonderful advances."
Ah, but recently Adobe moved standard Photoshop to the Cloud and initiated a subscription program.
So, OK, the cost of a year's subscription was reasonable, I thought, so I bought the sub. What I got was not only Photoshop but also something called Lightroom. Both are incredibly powerful and also incredibly complex. I do not know what to do with it all.
And as if to make my point, aftermarket suppliers now are offering what are called plug-ins that automate the functions of these programs. With them, you hit a couple of keys on your computer keyboard and Hey Presto, the image becomes more dramatic. Or at least some programmer's version of what is more dramatic. This is supposed to simplify the process. I don't think it does.
I'm finding that the complexity of these two programs, and their attendant learning curves, get in the way of the enjoyment of, you know, actually making photographs. I mean, I don't even know what some of the stuff in Photoshop does. I don't want to be a computer geek and don't have the qualifications to be one. I just want to be able to produce photos that are halfway decent. Yes, I'm mostly satisfied with halfway decent photos, though I aspire to better than that - maybe three-quarters decent, relying on an excellent starting point, a really high-quality image from the camera. That would be pretty good.
So here's where I am: I've been fooling with Photoshop CC, as the Cloud version is called, for a couple of months now. I think that the advance of software functions has gotten out of control, providing functions that most of us hobbyists probably don't need. As a result, I find Photoshop CC very unwieldy and I find the few plug-ins that I've tried to be unsatisfying. Yes, I could haul myself over to Samy's Camera, the big camera shop here in town, and take one of the Photoshop classes the shop offers. That would be two days or evenings and a good chunk of money out of my limited supply of money and time. Or I could just backfill and continue using Elements 13, plug-in free. In a sense, that's like sticking with black-and-white film, I suspect.
I have no wish to revert to my little Kodak Brownie Hawkeye, an example of which I still have, or, for that matter, to the last great film camera I bought, a Canon EOS1 that is gathering dust in a closet. But I'm thinking that if I just stop and think, use my DSLR's abilities to their fullest, and then do what I've always done with Elements, I'll probably get results that are more than satisfactory and save myself much frustration.
So that's where I am, at least this morning. I mean, is photography, in its totality, an art? Or is it a technological exercise? It's a little of both, I suppose, and always has been, but on a sliding scale. But more and more, I feel the urge to back away, at least a little, from the technological side. That's because I think that this explosion of photographic technology has meant, at least for me, not more control, but less. At least, that's how it seems to be working for me. So I plan to step back across to the comfortable side of the threshold. We'll see, I guess, how long that satisfies.