Trends in photography

Trends in photography

Albert Sadler

Trends In Photography

There was a time that most of us remember (circa 1940), when the Germans dominated the so-called miniature camera market with the Leica, the Contax, the Exacta and the Rollei. Their only competition was the Kodak Retina. Today, the market is dominated by the Japanese with the Nikon, the Canon, the Minolta, the Pentax, the Olympus, et al. Their lenses are superb. There are other lenses, too, such as Tamron, Sigma, Tokina and Cosina, to name a few, which are excellent. The small camera has come a long way since Eastman Kodak introduced the first pocket roll-film camera which used daylight-loading film in 1895. George Eastman was a genius born 50 years too soon.

About 50 years ago, the Kodak Company’s advertisements read: “You push the button and we do the rest.” Today, we have come full circle. Some of our 35mm cameras feature automatic film handling, and dedicated built-in flash. All the photographer has to do is point and shoot. This is tremendous progress in terms of quality.

The manufacturers of cameras and film make their money from the tremendous number of snapshooters who know little about photography. Ninety percent of all color film sold in this country is for prints; just 10 percent is for slides such as PSAers and other advanced amateurs make. Some of the snapshooters make flash shots from the stands at night football games. Some think that the new Kodak Gold film is made just for flash photography. These people are a small minority; when the average tyro uses a fully automatic camera which lists for around $200, and follows the instructions of the manufacturer, excellent results are obtained. These midline precision cameras are good. They have improved amateur photography in general, and their users are very happy with so many good pictures, and so very few bad ones as in the past.

Regarding the makes of the cameras used by PSAers and other serious photographers, it will interest you to know that, at a recent well-attended seminar in San Diego, a show of hands indicated that more than 50 percent of those present used Nikon, 25 percent used Canon, 10 percent used Minolta, and just a few used other makes.

In this precision camera market the shift is to automatic focus and built-in dedicated flash. The automatic focus feature is a big plus, with a definite advantage for many people who have bad eyesight. It also makes possible good pictures in fast moving situations where there is no time to focus, and in most cases where the camera is hand held. We have had automatic exposure, usually aperture preferred, for some time. For average subjects it gives perfect exposures, and compensation may be made by moving the ISO film speed knob in one-third-stop increments when more color saturation is needed, or when subjects are not average, or when reciprocity failure must be taken into account for long exposures.

However, automatic focus and built-in flash are not to everyone’s liking. For myself, in the kind of photography I do, manual control of focus is preferred, and flash is never used as the main illumination near the camera-to-subject axis. The latter produces flat lighting, which is the worst kind for most subjects. there is little or no depth, and little or no separation. For still-life and close-up subjects, I use a bellows with 105mm short mount lens, and always have the camera on a tripod. For other work I prefer, and use, short and long zoom lenses and, whenever possible, a tripod.

Lighting is of the utmost importance; it is the basis of good photography. Photo (light) plus graph (writing) equals writing with light. Creative photography requires total control over lighting, not by the camera, but by the photographer. The same applies to exposure.

Of course, automatic features can be overridden in favor of manual control, but if one does not use them, why pay for them? They have added much to the cost of the camera. My observation is that some camera club members have “too much camera.” The selection of a camera and lenses should be based on the kind of photography one does. Many cameras are so sophisticated that some users do not know how to operate them; they put their trust in the automatic features and not in themselves. For example, some say that a Nikon takes the best pictures. More than once, after presenting a program at a camera club, I have been asked what kind of camera I use (meaning what make). That is a serious question by a naive person. Does one ever ask a writer what make of typewriter he or she uses?

Simplicity is the keynote to photography. Photographers should know their equipment so that thinking can be devoted to the picture, not to the camera. One needs to think before making the exposure. The more complicated the camera, the more things to do wrong and to go wrong. There is more bulk, more weight–an undesirable factor when the camera is hand-held. A tripod should be used. Perhaps some people should change to the $200 models to get better pictures.

There is no question that cameras, lenses and film have reached a new high point of excellence. Camera shutters are much improved, being made of metal instead of cloth. Do you remember pinholes that developed in the old cloth shutters? Today’s focal plane shutters are more accurate, and synchronize with flash at speeds faster than 1/60th second. The slow synchronization was a drawback for fast action and flash-fill outdoors. The color correction of lenses, and critical definition, have improved. Films have a greater variety of speeds, more natural color, and better resolution. On the downside, some of the new 35mm cameras are too bulky, too heavy, and too expensive.

Now, let us examine the bottom line. Has the level of photography improved? It certainly has insofar as snapshooters are concerned. It has improved in the field of commercial advertising, especially that seen in the better magazines, the quality of which is superb. Since retiring from my own field of biomedical photography, I have not kept up with the advancement, but I am sure it has improved with the availability of new accessories such as fiber optics for endoscopic photography. In our own sphere of pictorial photography, which I have observed for the past 30 years as an active participant, there has been an improvement. Originality, technique, and new concepts are better. The enhancement of color slides through such techniques as derivation, color key, and montage selectively improve the original slide some of the time, and do not most of the time when used indiscriminately. Technique is not an end in itself.

There has been an expansion of subject matter, some new ideas have appeared, there has been imitation of successful concepts. We have seen vogues that mushroomed, such as glassware, kittens, white-bearded old men with pipes, the aforementioned derivations, and beautiful young women. On the downside we still see examples from group shoots where people line up to take a subject that has been set up for them. This is another example of photographic incest. The perennial figure in a red jacket that is the “center of interest” in a landscape persists. Freeman Patterson, FPSA, says that a figure in a landscape should be used only for scale. Any other use, he adds, is an insult to the subject.

There have been very few good examples of one of the most difficult subjects in photography, and that is the female nude. Most of those I have seen were inferior.

On the upside, the quality of slides seen in the camera clubs, and those seen in international exhibitions, has improved. Some of this is due to the input from western Europe and southeast Asia. We still see the trite pretty pictures on the one hand, but they are more than offset by the creative pictures on the other hand. The number and quality of the latter are increasing. This is a good sign for the future. It has been said that progress is imperative–if you stand still, you regress.

I do sincerely think that advanced amateur photography is getting better all the time. And the proliferation of snapshooters and the results they obtain leads me to believe that some of them will take up the hobby seriously and join camera clubs. From there, some of them will join PSA. If you know such a person, encourage him or her to attend a camera club meeting. We are a minority in a dichotomous situation, which gives us something about which to think. Where do we go from here?

COPYRIGHT 1989 Photographic Society of America, Inc.

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