With stark clarity I remember my first encounter with a digital camera. I was shooting (film) on a quail hunt in West Texas in 1999 when one of the guests showed me his new shiny new Konica Minolta with its ergonomically funky design and “state of the art” four megapixel image processor. He said, “The photo quality isn’t great, but being able to upload the images straight to my computer is pretty cool.” I fondled the machine and looked at a few images on the viewer and then handed it back to him. I withheld a vocal judgement at that point, but to this day I remember thinking, That’ll never catch on.
The cheesy staged puppy/decoy shot (circa 2001)
Ride with me now to 2004 when pro photographers were jumping like lemmings from the Nikon cliff in pursuit of Canon’s newest bell and whistle digital machine. I came close to pulling the trigger at that point but decided to wait on Nikon’s promise of a major digital announcement.
In April of 2005 I bought their D2X with 12 megapixels and a menu bank that was above my pay grade. A week later I took off to Florida for a magazine assignment. I told the editor that I had just bought a new digital camera and he replied, “Cool, give it a go, but shoot all the potential covers with film, we don’t want to see any of that grainy pixel crap on the cover.” Two months later, that issue was released with a grainy cover scanned from a slide, and eight pages of tack-sharp digital captures inside.
I never shot another roll of slide film after that assignment, and in the spring of 2006 I dumped all of my old analog gear on Ebay. Now, though, I’m wishing I’d kept one of the F5 bodies and a brick of film. Nostalgia, and all that.
While I fell face first into the digital realm, I could have never predicted how profoundly that technology would change the photography business. “This is bad for us, really bad,” said one of my old film mentors in 2006. “The flood gates are open now and we’re about to see the bottom fall out of our markets.” He was right, of course, and for a while I was one of many photographers who were railing against the massive influx of free and cheap images entering the markets. I’m still bummed that many see no value in a great image, these days, but over time I’ve found a number of positives in the migration from film to digital.
This pose is now illegal in Florida (circa 2003)
Notably, it’s the increased level of competition that I’m now happily embracing. Back in the film days, we shot a lot of grip-n-grins and other cheesy and cliched compositions. Why? Because they sold. No, actually, they sold like crazy.
Nowadays you can’t give away a grip-n-grin, and if you’re not getting wet, muddy, and sore in the back on your outdoor photo shoots, then you’re not producing images that anyone will care much about.
So what am I doing in this advancing era to prepare for a shoot? I’m browsing websites, and Google searching, and taking notes, and planning my shooting around angles and concepts that few others are getting. Now, obviously, that only works to a point. I know that because some of my recent digital oddities have been tagged by clients as “a bit far out”.
The timeless dead-goose hero shot (circa 1997)
While there are only so many ways to hold a fish, or frame a bird dog on point, or capture a tight casting loop against a cool background, I’m embracing the challenge of creating fresh material that stands on it’s own without too much pixel trickery. Without this influx of new talent, I’d be stuck in a time warp of repetitive compositions.
Old dogs can be taught new tricks (especially if you give them treats) so thanks to ALL OF YOU outdoor shooters who are thinking on your feet, chasing the good light, and nudging our creative thresholds to new heights. Without competition and inspiration, photography would be a really boring profession.
Note: To my horror, the cheesy staged puppy/decoy shot was still in my stock archive when I started this post. It has now been ceremoniously retired, and tomorrow begins another round of housekeeping.