The “Old Time” Photographers and

The Digital Age

by William Lulow

How important is it to study the “old masters” in photography? Extremely! With all the advances in photographic technology in the last ten years, it’s easy to forget from whence it all came. When Adobe had Photoshop in its beta stage, it spent a lot of time consulting with photographers who were still practicing with film and chemicals. Almost all of the pieces of the program were suggested by working photographers. Much of the nomenclature we use today is derived from the likes of Adams, Weston, Feininger, Penn, Avedon, Friedlander,  and Cartier-Bresson, to name just a few. It’s nice to be able to produce a “digital negative,” or to retouch a background that was overexposed in the camera, but to my mind, there is no substitute for getting it right in the camera. The problem is that one of the “downsides” of digital technology is the notion that it doesn’t really matter what happens in the camera. It can all be fixed in Photoshop.

Recently, I was introduced to a program called “Photomatix.” This program will take a series of bracketed exposures and stitch them together so that the exposure is correct. So, let’s say you have a situation in which the subject is exposed properly but the background is overexposed. If you bracket exposures in one-third f/stops, say, the program will figure out the correct exposure for subject and background and stitch the three together to make one properly exposed image. The photographer doesn’t have to do anything except click the shutter (and, of course, bracket exposures). The mindset that this breeds is one where the lighting doesn’t have to be exact because it can all be fixed later.

Another example: say you want to shoot an interior but you don’t have the time or are not getting paid enough to warrant the use of lights, or you don’t know how to balance exposure for both indoor and outdoor light. No problem. Just bracket your exposures and have Photomatix take care of it. So, an interior shot which, in the past, would have been shot with a view camera and artificial light for the inside balanced with natural light for the outside, can now be photographed with a digital camera, processed with Photomatix and made to look like the photographer knew what she was doing.

Here is an example of such an image: ExposureBracketTest_1

Three separate exposures were made of this living room and were stitched together using Photomatix.  The exterior did not come out perfect, but it certainly wasn’t overexposed either. This was shot with available light.

Here are two images of the same scene. However, in the second one, the exterior was retouched to show more detail and balanced with the interior.

LR(BuiltIns)     LR(BuiltIns)RET

I leave it to you. The masters, especially an architectural/interior photographer like Ezra Stoller (who did quite a bit of work for Architectural Digest magazine), would have lit the interior and balanced the light with the outdoor ambient light.

This is just another example that the digital age has produced a “good enough” mentality whereby images for the web and even some print uses really don’t have to be superior. The “old masters” would roll over in their graves!