Mastering the Digital Age of Photography (By Dustin Olsen)

digital photography
Doesn't this guy look like David Hobby (strobist)? It's just a random stock photo, but it totally looks like him.

This is a guest post by Dustin Olsen, who now works with me (Jim) on Improve Photography.  Here's Dustin…

The photography industry has taken a turn for the worse! It has gone digital and the younger generations of our time have embraced it gladly and the older generations have about thrown it away.

Before the dawn of this new age, photography was an art that required a trained eye and an artistic mind when it came to literally making a photograph. You knew who the Masters were of this analog age because they learned to master the tools they were using and you could see it. Their work was beautifully stunning and original, like a true artist. However, with the transition to digital, we lost sight of the artistic value of photography and welcomed in anyone who could afford a digital SLR camera. We have undercut our own industry (in more ways than one), with such a welcome, when the professionals decided to ignore those with a digital camera because, at the time, digital was simply not good enough compared to our proven and trusted film cameras.

There is no turning back. We are a part of this, and if any one of us is going to survive… we need to master the digital age of photography. If you have not already learned to shoot in Manual mode, might we all suggest you learn! Shooting in Manual mode will not only challenge your knowledge as a photographer but also set you apart from those still shooting on auto with their “really nice cameras.” Come to understand the beauty of flash photography and experiment beyond the comfort of natural light.

Today, semi-amateurs are taking the jobs of professionals. They are untrained; they rely on the screen on the back of their camera, and spend extensive hours in Photoshop if they have the “know how.” We have criticized these new photographers and their inability to make a quality photograph straight out of the camera. And yet, we refuse to teach them in fear we will lose our upper hand in this cutthroat industry of ours. With nowhere to turn, the uprising generations of photographers have come to rely on Photoshop power to correct their photos in any and every way possible. And we criticize them for that too because we have not learned how that works either.

For those of us who have been in a darkroom before, you know what it’s like to dodge and burn our photos or find that perfect exposure to achieve even a little bit better what we saw with our own eyes.

Take time to learn some basic photo enhancement techniques in Photoshop or software of your choice. Learning such methods is no different than what we would do in it the darkroom. It’s just digital now.

It is extremely important that you learn and know how to post process a photo digitally – and that is if you are new or experienced. Your camera does not know what it is that your eye can see when you went to take that shot. Sometimes you are lucky but most of the times you need to make some adjustments to get that photo looking like it did in real life. There is nothing “real” about a photo straight out of the camera unless you have that exposable income to buy expensive equipment and take it with you everywhere you go. Digital processing is just as important as knowing your way around the darkroom.

To those of you who spend countless hours in Photoshop to correct a photo shoot you did… cut it out. Take some time to learn how to use your camera and set up your shot. Your family will love you for it because you are not in front of the computer all night after having been gone all day on a shoot. Knowing Photoshop is great, but you will make more money when you are making photos, not when you are editing them.

Mastering the digital age does not just involve what you can do on the computer, but in your camera as well. Whether it comes “Straight Out Of Photoshop” or “Straight Out Of the Camera” – we all continue to make and shape a history of memories at every sound of the shutter. What will you be remembered for?

Dustin Olsen is a professional photography instructor at ImprovePhotography.com.

17 thoughts on “Mastering the Digital Age of Photography (By Dustin Olsen)”

  1. The silly blathering of an old man displaced by technology and progress. I felt the same way when Windows displaced DOS.

    Back in the good ol’ days I would burn and dodge with the best of them and my B&W prints were still total crap. They were better than most other people’s pictures, but crap none the less. Today I can take any newer DSLR, snap a few JPG shots on totally Auto Green Box, send the unedited files to Costco and get technically better prints than 90% of the pictures taken in the 60’s and 70’s. The bar has been raised.

    Really good pictures always were, are now, and always will be the result good composition, interesting subjects and proper lighting. Modern digital cameras have come a long way towards overcoming simple exposure difficulties, and if a guy is still whining about analog dodging and burning it tells me he should be working harder to find interesting subjects and proper composition.

  2. Good rant. Sounds a lot like my father. Who is an old school togger with the talent but not the new fangled know how. I am spending a lot of time skill trading photoshop for photography wisdom. Hopefully we’ll both get there in the end.

  3. Sounds like a classic old-man-can’t-let-go rant…BORING (coming from a kid who learned on film and went to digital as soon as I could).

    Hopefully Jim continues to write most of the articles – great writer with great tips and ideas. We don’t need people like Dustin ranting about going digital and all that garbage.

  4. Pretty harsh, Jeff. Everything Dustin said was true and he earns our respect for putting his perspective before us for consideration. And Dustin is right to point out the time that can be wasted trying to save poor shots out of the camera. Good technical skills require deliberate study and practice. And it doesn’t matter if your camera is film or digital — you still have to put in the time and effort to achieve truly professional results.

  5. Extremely interesting article and well-written, Dustin. Give us some more thoughtful “rants” about where we have been and where we are going. I love the discussion about balancing purist photography, image editing and creative photoart. I love it all, and it all has a place… for sure.

  6. It is no longer photography, it should be called “Technically Altered Images”. Dark rooms can’t even come close to altering images like a computer can and does. Make the shot the best you can FIRST, LAST and FORMOST!Computer only makes up for your inability to take the good shot right the first time. I admit I also am guilty of this – from time to time. It only makes me try harder to make it right the first time. Thank you.

  7. @Tom

    I get that was harsh, but there are some things that drive me crazy like pointing out that the innovation of DSLR cameras is bad for the industry.

    I just think that giving more people the ability to do photography will create better collaboration of ideas and will open up new ideas for photographic creativity.

    Might suck for some pros, but as a teacher and semi-professional, I love digital because of instant feedback. Although nothing will replace good techniques and fundamentals. I can agree with that, no need for PS if you can get good pictures without it.

  8. …silly blathering…rant…classic old-man-can’t-let-go rant…BORING…????

    Clearly several folks are unable to comprehend or appreciate a piece that conveys a man’s thoughts and opinions while using a good dose of satire. Obviously you prefer the more simplistic straight forward how-to tips. Recommendation: skip the articles you can’t understand rather than disparaging an author who takes the time to share his thoughts and feelings in a well written piece. There are plenty of posts here and elsewhere to keep you busy/happy. Thanks for your post Dustin.

  9. I’m really not understanding why everyone has such a problem with this article…I am only 20 years old, and can honestly say that I have never been in a darkroom before. With that said, Dustin is completely right. People over process and try to save shots that aren’t worth saving. Even going back at my early shots, I did the same thing. I have never shot in anything other than manual, and it has helped me learn HOW and WHY a shot turns out right, not just that a shot turns out okay. I have quite a few friends who are “photographers” – that being “Lets put this in Lightroom and make it look over-processed”…and it’s people like that that I feel give all digital users this negative connotation. People just need to learn basic techniques, how to use the manual settings on their camera…and then, yes, it can open up collaboration much easier. But by calling out Dustin for stating the facts…common.

  10. interesting article. (and great site by the way)

    my father was a pro photographer, he did it for a living, and i think my mum would’ve of been rather annoyed if he had spent EVEN more hours working, in front of a computer.

    myself, i don’t make a living from my shots, but what i do, i enjoy photoshopping images. I mean, REALLY enjoy.

    I love trying different techniques, filters, blurs, colours etc etc…. SOC for me would take away half of the process that I can’t wait to do. (not that i don’t understand 100% what my camera can do!)

    Some people out there consider doing this would make a person ‘not a true/pure photographer’…. and i couldn’t agree more.

    Much like many of the musicians out there today aren’t pure musicians… BUT they are having a fantastic time.

    ‘oh dear…. your shot looks over-processed’…. in your opinion.
    why would i want to make a shot EXACTLY how i see it. Exactly how the next photographer would capture.? sometimes maybe, other times maybe not.

    Will.i.Am’s music is over-processed – compared to The Stones. but it IS possible to like both.

    (and look at that, mick jagger is in will.i.am’s new track!)

  11. Good article. I am surprised it got such a negative response from some.

    I am a retired guy taking a Photo 1 course at a community college and am being “exposed” to both film & digital. For the Pros, It strikes me that the barriers to entry are much lower in the new digital world than it was in film. It is just easier to take and process images in digital. It is going to be tough to make a living at it because their will be more competition.

    For hobbyists, digital is great because it is relative easy to master the technical aspects of photography. We can spend more time on the art of photography.

  12. Balanced and sensible article encouraging both new and old photographers to embrace new skills. I don’t understand the first few comments who called it a rant by an old man.. they obviously didn’t read it

  13. I began using a camera at age 9. By the following year I had built my own darkroom. 20 years in the Professional Photo Lab business taught me many things. Being in that business at the very beginning of the transition from film to pixels was incredible. My belief is that photography is 2/3’s composition & capture with the final 1/3 being post production. You better know them all if you wish to succeed as a photographer. Capture it correctly and spend a minimal amount of time in Photoshop to optimize the photograph, not try to create it there.

  14. I’m in the middle of the beginning photography course right now and when my Dad saw me practicing with my digital, he immediately dug his SLR from ’79 out and gave it to me. It’s been an incredible experience to learn both forms at the same time. I kept checking the back of the 35mm to see my shot. A lot of instant gratification habits are being broken and I feel like I have a better understanding of who does what and why. I just wish I had some place besides big-box drug stores to develop the film.

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