Fritz Pölking

Taking digital photos?

Throughout the last months of the year 2002 I took pictures two ways. With the EOS-1V on slide film material and with the EOS-D60 on a chip. If this was just about the job of taking a picture, I would immediately work with only a digital camera. The advantages are many and it is very enjoyable to take digital photos.

First of all, you don’t have to take masses of films with you any more and it saves a lot of money in the long run. On flights you have much less weight in your hand luggage and the fear of the x-ray screening machines at airports is gone.

Second, you get much better pictures because you can check them directly after taking them. Not especially well on the small camera screen, but nevertheless. Maybe one should acquire a waist level finder that includes a built-in magnifying glass from a 6X6 camera and take it along in order to better judge the picture on the back-side of a digital KB-SLR.

Then in the evening, in the hotel you can check the picture on the larger screen of a laptop or notebook in order to be sure that you did everything the right way.... or not.

For that purpose I took the JVC Mini-Notebook XP-3210, that weighs only 850 gram and is DIN-A5 size, with me. Of course you can check your e-mails from all over the world (just about) if you have a tri-band Cell phone with you.

A working example: In September I was working in the Carlsbad Cavern National Park situated at 230 Meters in depth under extremely difficult light situations. With the digicam you can check the effects of the existing artificial light along with the added flash directly and correct any setting you need accordingly. Using film material you would have to first find a photo-lab that will develop your slide films quickly (what exactly is quickly in a little village in the boondocks of New Mexico??) so that you can test-check them. (See the Nature Photo of the Month November 2002, and the portfolio "Carlsbad Caverns").

So from a photographic point of view "yes". It is easy and lots of fun to take digital photos, you always have a secure feeling and you don’t have to wait for weeks to see the results and then determine if and which impossible to re-take shots you messed up.


But you have to view taking digital pictures two ways. First the actual digital photography and second the additional work. That is where the fun just leaves.

You have to view all takes on the laptop, erase them or save them on the hard drive and – just to make sure – burn a CD for back up. Each one should be titled very carefully. So after you have opened 250 files, used PhotoShop to work on them, titled them and closed the file, you really have to love working with a computer in order to consider it fun.

Later, after you are back home, you have to build a digital picture archive, constantly update and save it on a back-up CD, because there are photographers known to have entire data bases lost in the digital Nirvana, never again to be found.

Until all of that works and runs smoothly, you need a lot of money, time, an extremely strong nervous system and professional help.

I see the whole thing basically rather simple: If you take pictures for your own private pleasure in nature, just for your own use and are an absolute computer freak, then you should be using a digital camera in any case. If you just do whatever is necessary with the computer because you have to and not more, you should continue to use film material. The time needed to work digital nature photography on the computer is enormous.

The market itself will, in the final analysis, decide what professional or semi-professional nature photographers need to use in the future. At present I am surprised to see that there is almost nothing I can use the digital files I have from the past months for on a professional level and that I actually really need slides.

Sometime in the future I see that nature photographers who wish to be published will need to use both: data files and slides. It certainly will not be the same as with photographers of sports events who will one day be notified by their editors that "starting on the 15. of next month we will not accept slides any longer, only digital files". So the sports photographer has the choice of either switching to digital photography or change his profession.

Currently there is an overwhelming majority of publishers and agencies who are asking for slides. I am not exactly certain if (many) agencies won’t continue to prefer working with slides in the near or distant future. I have a hard time imagining that an agency would be so much happier receiving 300 digital files, each in a different format, with different fonts and quality when they can take slides all of a common standard and have them scanned by a single professional with a first rate drum scanner.

The picture agencies will sooner or later be confronted with the decision of placing their priorities either on an excellent quality or reducing personnel and workload, thus producing mediocre quality, reasonable and cost-efficient.

On an occupational level it is safe to say that on a mid-term basis it is best to offer both ways. Which brings up the question of what is better: to take digital photos and if needed have slides made or to take slide films and if needed have the pictures scanned into a digital file.

I personally have chosen the second variation for myself for the time being, for the following reasons:

First of all, I would rather not spend more time then is already necessary in front of the computer.

Second, at this time I need about 95% of my work as slides and 5% as digital files.

Third – I can very well, cost efficient, easily and with minimal time (thanks to my batch feeder) produce high grade digital files with my Nikon 4000 slide scanner; whereas first rate slides done from digital files are difficult to get and seem to be very expensive.

At the moment (2002/2003) I get the impression that the best solution for me is to continue working with slide film material and to convert these to a digital format with my Nikon 4000 slide scanner, burn them on a CD and send this to the customer on request. So I will just wait quietly and see what happens, how and which way the market will go and just how quickly.

The industry will not be overjoyed about us just waiting, but we will certainly not be under so much "digital pressure" as for instance the press or sport photographers.

So with this "wait and see" position (secure by using slides and a scanner) quite a bit of money will more then likely be saved since all the things needed for digital photography will get less expensive, better and easier to use each year. So why spent so much money for so many things you really don’t need at the moment and which will be less expensive and much better at a later date? Just in case you have to or want to switch methods later on, even though I do not see the future of digital nature photography as exhilarating as I did a few years ago.

In any case, I do have to say that digital photography is a blessing for our guild. It gives the market flourish, motivates the industry to invest and at the height of our time shows us to be one of the most modern forms of media in general. If for instance I take a look at the last Photokina in Cologne, October 2002, and imagine for a moment that it would have been only a Film-Photokina without the many diversified digital innovations, the show would have been a total loss and photography would have ended up as being placed as yesterdays form of media like, for example, the black and white photography and in the end it would fade away.

So currently I do still think that it is fantastic to take my wildlife photos with Sensia-100 and my landscapes with Velvia-50, in order to preferably offer these as slides to publishers who print calendars among others and for the rest I just take my Nikon Coolscan 4000ED with the batch feeder and (fully automatically without my presence) turn 50 slides into a digital file at 54 MB each.

In a few years it can be redefined if this concept is still the best choice or if, after having been to see the Photokina 2006, it would be best to completely switch to digital photography.

It will all be ok.......

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