A Generational Loss

Story and Photography by Jerry Ginsberg

 

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile.  There is absolutely no substitute for being in the right place at the right time. Capturing the very forst, best rays of dawn mean that we must be all set up and ready to go well in advance. © Jerry Ginsberg

 

Back in the Dark Ages of wet darkrooms, that phrase [generational loss] was used to describe the loss of quality commonly encountered when making a copy of a copy, as opposed to making additional prints from the original negative. Today, however, it seems reasonable to apply that term to a certain loss, or gap in the continuity of institutional memory from an earlier generation of photographers who grew up shooting film to many of our current brethren whose devotion to photography was born in the digital age.

In my experience, many digital photographers can easily fall into the attractive trap of machine-gun shooting while overlooking the fundamentals. It’s easy to get caught up in this. The seductive mood fostered by not having to pay for all of that film and expensive processing never fails to encourage us to shoot more and more.

Just as our civilization migrated from radio to television years ago, we have universally (well, almost) likewise transitioned from analog to digital photography.  But just as both radio and TV require many of the same broadcasting skills, such as the abilities to verbalize and emote effectively, so are film and digital photography comparably similar. It’s axiomatic that both are photography; i.e., – literally “painting with light,” just in a different medium.

El Capitan Reflection, Yosemite National Park. This is the full, un-cropped frame. The shot was composed slowly and carefully while taking advantage of the complementary curves of the rock and the riverbank. © Jerry Ginsberg

It’s clear to all that both are still photography and so rely on the consistent and thoughtful use of the very same basic skills and techniques. For the most part, these are composition and the use of light.

Too often, I see and hear photographers, many with highly sophisticated photo gear and seeming to be really concentrating on making good images, exhibiting a troubling mindset when, employing markedly less than the best technique, they say, “I’ll fix it in Photoshop.”  If only they would mentally take a step back and think about this for an extra minute, many would perhaps realize that, if starting out with a really good image file, it would be much easier and more likely that the final product can be an outstanding photograph.

Photoshop, as well as the many other software tools of the digital darkroom, even though offering an incredibly great degree of control, are there for us to optimize our images and get the best out of them in exactly the same way as we did with chemicals and enlargers in days of yore. These remarkable software programs are not intended to turn bad pictures into good pictures.
Remember that old chestnut, “Garbage in, garbage out?”  It’s just as true now as it ever was.

Let’s begin with the light. By now, we all know, or should know, about the Golden Hour when the sun is near the horizon. Whether morning or evening, the odds are with us at this time of day to be able to take advantage of many wonderful qualities of the light such as relatively low contrast, soft tones, warmth, long shadows and potentially dramatic skies. Even with the great controls in today’s software, we cannot replicate this kind of wonderful light during the harshness of mid-day.

One relevant episode occurred in my mother’s home a few years ago. Soon after my covering her living room walls with about two dozen large prints, my daughter, who fancies herself a photographer, arrived for a visit. She was really excited to see these new images and quickly grabbed a pen and paper to learn and note where I had made each of them.  After managing to suppress a chuckle, I replied, “Listen, it doesn’t matter where I stood to get these shots. By the time you get yourself up and out of the house at the crack of noon, the light that you see here has been gone for several hours.”  The fact is, the sun rises only once each day. There are no do-overs or instant replays. If you miss it, you simply have to wait for another day.

Now let’s turn our attention to composition. The old axiom, “If it’s not helping, it’s hurting!” referring to compositional elements still holds true in the digital age. While we can certainly crop, clone, eliminate fire hydrants, replace skies, etc., in software, there is still no substitute for getting it right the first time. Optimal camera position and framing on site will ultimately result in a more pleasing final image. Much of this reminds me of how many people think of knee replacement surgery. No matter how sophisticated the technology or how good the repair may seem, it’s never as good as the original creation.

If we compose the frame to the very best of our ability, we’ll be way ahead of the game. Cropping reduces our overall file size, often significantly, and the various pixel replacement tools can be very time-consuming.

Clingman’s Dome.  Sunset over the Great Smoky Mountains. This image was made from a very narrow and difficult to reach spot.  There was room for only a couple of people. Photographers are expected to get their shots quickly and then make room for others. © Jerry Ginsberg

Now we come to what is perhaps the least productive aspect of digital photography, aptly named “chomping.”  One of the primary benefits of digital photography is undeniably the ability to see and review our images immediately. This gives us the opportunity to alter our exposure and framing, correct for apparent errors, tweak the results, and re-shoot on the spot if necessary.
So far, so good. But this is where the process can break down. While the large majority of photographers are really considerate, there are sometimes exceptions.  One of my pet peeves and perhaps yours, is the occasional individual who, once finished making images at a particular spot, remains right there staring and often gawking at his/her screen while standing in the very spot either desired by others or smack in the middle of someone else’s composition.

I know, seems like another great application of the object removal/replacement feature of some software even if the inconsiderate photographer in question doesn’t exactly resemble a fire hydrant.
Not being the most patient person in the Western Hemisphere, these situations can make me wish that I have a cattle prod handy. While I grant that this is an extreme remedy and just wishful thinking, perhaps you can relate.

Much as some of us might yearn for the halcyon days of Kodachrome 25, that iconic film is now ensconced in a museum right next to my favorite buggy whip.

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras.
His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards in competition.  Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America.
More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at www.JerryGinsberg.com  Or e-mail him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com