The Bigger Picture

Does digital imaging make photography too easy?

It’s certainly something to think about.

There are lots of photographers who have found making the switch from film to digital very difficult. And some of them just don’t like it.

And of course digital is still not the obvious choice for some types of photography.

There’s nothing new about this.

The influential Victorian photographer, Charles Dodgson, better know to many as Lewis Carrol, author of the famous Alice books, gave up photography in about 1880.

It’s not quite clear why but one reason seems to be that he had mastered the painstaking wet collodion process.

When the new dry developing process was developed he didn’t want to use it. Perhaps photography had become too easy. Anybody could do it.

We’re in a similar situation today. There is an explosion in photography and all sorts of people are taking photographs today using digital cameras who couldn’t, wouldn’t or just didn’t before.

From my point of view, I welcome this. I personally have had no trouble switching.

I think it’s worth thinking, What makes it different? What are the new opportunities created for us as photographers by the current technologies?

And, this take me back to the Sphinx

I’d like to concentrated on three points which are related

  • Composition
  • Size
  • Cropping

Clearly, every time you crop an image to improve or change the composition you take away information from that image. Perhaps in the days when I used a medium format film camera this didn’t matter so much.

But once I made the switch to digital capture it was clear that I didn’t want to do much cropping because the image would get smaller and smaller and small images become pixalated and noisy.

And this is a time when you have to start thinking about the bigger picture.  Take as an example, the Sphinx.

There is a sort of riddle. I’ve finished with this picture in more or less the square format which I felt suited the subject matter. And to do this I had to crop.

And so I thought that while I was in Giza I would try some things that I wasn’t well prepared for.

Photographers who are well up in taking panoramas and stitching pictures will know that ideally you should have a firm tripod and a panoramic head to ensure that the nodal points of the lens are properly adjusted.

I wasn’t prepared like this so I thought I’d just have a go.

My shooting position was behind quite a high wall at a long distance from the Sphinx.

I was able to balance my camera on the wall. I was using my Canon 350D SLR – a camera with an 8.5 megapixel cropped sensor. Lens choice was my Canon 70-300 IS zoom – a lens which maintains quality at the telephoto end.

I took my pictures as usual – first of all on Programme, shifting the shutter speed when appropriate and then on Manual, carefully checking the histogram to make sure my highlights weren’t blown.

While I was doing this I decided to something else as I didn’t want to end up with small, cropped images.

I switched the camera into portrait format and zoomed in closer and took two images of the Sphinx side by side with some overlap. These are the pictures at the top of my post.

I was careful to use exactly the same manual settings for both.

Because I was a long way away I took the chance that this would have a very small effect in parallax terms.

When I got home I stitched the images manually and using various programmes – some from my local friends. Programmes such as Realviz Stitcher, Arcsoft Panorama Maker and Photoshop.

I found that just for these two images the Photoshop Merge facility did a great job.

So this was my experiment: I wanted to produce a picture which had:

  • A square composition
  • A high pixel count – ensuring good quality.

I think it worked out pretty well I was able to make the bigger picture I wanted and for me there are some lessons to be learned and this is obviously a technique that can be refined with other static subjects – some more examples later.

The most important lesson is not to become too bogged down by technicalities. It’s the final picture that matters. So,

Have a go – always look for the bigger picture.

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Stock photography by John Rocha at Alamy

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