Assembly Room, A. K. Smiley Public Library
Making Memories with
has been the recipient of many scientific and creative advances in its brief history. From
wet plates to dry, sheet films to miniature formats, and primitive lenses to
high-resolution optics, these changes have fundamentally altered the photographic process
and its outcome. Now digital technologies are revolutionizing both the art and the science
of photography in far-reaching ways, and one can scarce imagine where these developments
will enable photographers to venture in the future. Light-sensitive film emulsions, long
the picture-takers main tools in cameras of every variety, are already giving way to
electronic sensors. The traditional wet darkroom, with its smelly chemicals and potential
health hazards, is steadily being replaced by the computer as
This revolution in photography is
having impact at every level from casual snapshooter to working professional
but the promise for the future is even more amazing. This paper analyzes todays
trends, not only in digital cameras but the computers and software needed to support them.
It also looks toward the future, with modest predictions about the impact of technologies
Accompanying the presentation of this paper is a
demonstration of several aspects of digital imaging, with an emphasis on image enhancement
and manipulation using Adobe Photoshop software.
of the author
Peele was born in North Carolina in 1940. After high school he entered the U. S. Navy,
where he rose through the enlisted and warrant officer ranks to earn a regular commission
and eventually retired as a Commander. All thirty years of his naval service were in
various aspects of photography.
He earned the Bachelor of Arts in Cinema and the Master of Science in Film
Education from the University of Southern California.
Since retiring from the Navy in 1988 he and his wife Susan have made their home in
Redlands. They have two grown children and six grandchildren. A commercial and fine art
photographer, he is the owner of Pacific Photographic and also teaches photography courses
for the Redlands Adult School.
His local activities have included service on the boards of the Kiwanis Club and
Kiwanis Scholarship Foundation, San Bernardino County Museums Foundation, Redlands Meals
on Wheels, Redlands Camera Club and Friends of Prospect Park.
Professional affiliations have included the Audio Engineering Society, Information
Film Producers of America, Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, and Wedding
and Portrait Photographers International. He is a Life Member and past national president
of the Association of Naval Photography, and is a member of the Professional Photographers
of America and Professional Photographers of California. He currently serves as president
of the Inland Empire Professional Photographers and Videographers.
He was named
Inland Empire Professional Photographer of the Year for 2000, California Scenic
Photographer of the Year for 2001, and next week will be named Inland Empire Professional
Photographer of the Year for 2002.
Making Memories with Megapixels
This being meeting number sixteen hundred seventy-three of
Redlands Fortnightly, its interesting to look back to the year 1673 two years
before the death of the great Dutch painter Jan Vermeer of Delft. Although the very idea
is met by scorn from many traditional art historians, its thought by some analysts
like David Hockney[i] that in his later works,
Vermeer didnt paint just by eyeball. To achieve such accurate
perspective and realistic detail, he may well have used an optical device to cast an image
of the subject upon his canvas. He would then have painted over the projected image to
create his masterpiece. Lady standing at the virginals, completed in
1673, has been exhaustively studied to the convincing likelihood that Vermeer had the aid
of one or more lenses perhaps gotten through his contemporary in Delft, the
legendary microscope pioneer van Leeuwenhoek. In his painstaking research of the subject,
Philip Steadman has gone so far as declaring Vermeers mature works to be more akin
to photographs[ii] than paintings. His
brush strokes over the projected image take the place of photo-sensitive chemicals, which
didnt come along for another century and a half. But this whole controversial notion
of Vermeer and other old masters utilizing cameras to create their art would
make fascinating material for another Fortnightly paper.
The brief history of modern photography recounts, above all, a
series of improvements in the technologies used to record images. Most of these changes
have been evolutionary, while a few have been life-changing for photographers of all skill
levels. From the inception of the Daguerreotype in 1839, various chemical processes have
been developed pardon the pun to make the more-or-less accurate recordings
we know as photographs. Unbelievably cumbersome procedures in their early days, a
photographers routine included mixing noxious (even explosive) chemicals in the dark
confines of a hot, unventilated tent or wagon, then coating the resulting goo on metal, or
later, on glass plates still in the dark and exposing the plates for lengthy
periods in heavy, bulky cameras while subjects did their best to hold still.
Difficult as the process was, many stirring images were thus
created to document the American Civil War. An 1862 account in Scientific American put it this way:
"Decidedly one of the institutions of
our army is the travelling portrait gallery. A camp is hardly pitched before one of the
omnipresent artists in collodion and amber bead varnish drives up in his two-horse wagon,
pitches his canvas gallery, and unpacks his chemicals. Our army here (Fredericksburg) is
now so large that quite a company of these gentlemen have gathered about us. The amount of
business they find is remarkable. Their tents are thronged from morning to night and
"while the day lasteth" their golden harvest runs on. Here for instance near
Gen. Burnside's headquarters, are the combined establishments of two brothers from
Pennsylvania, who rejoiced in the wonderful name Bergstresser. They have followed the army
for more than a year, and taken the Lord only knows, how many thousand portraits. In one
day since they came here they took in one of the galleries, so I am told, 160 odd pictures
at $1 each. Their style of portrait affected by these travelling army portrait makers is
known in the profession as the melainotype, which is made by the collodion process on a
sheet-iron plate and afterward set with amber-bead varnish."[iii]
One photographic revolution came along in the
1870s when pre-coated dry glass plates became available, eliminating the messy and
hazardous chemicals previously needed just before making an exposure. Then, in 1888,
George Eastman invented flexible roll film, and photography became possible for anyone
with a few dollars and the desire to record his or her familys activities for
In the century following Eastmans
invention (which, of course, created the photographic dynasty called Kodak), evolutionary
improvements in film and in processing chemistry were legion. Among these, now taken for
granted, was the ability to reproduce color. Films have come along with ever-increasing
sensitivity to light, allowing images to be recorded in nearly any circumstance by just
about anyone. Paralleling these improvements in photo-sensitive materials were advances in
cameras, lenses and darkroom tools. Over the decades, photographers could create bigger
and better images with increasingly smaller and more sophisticated equipment.
The common ingredients in all of this
evolution have been light-sensitive films and the chemical processes necessary to develop
and print an image. The revolution that is our main subject today, which broke onto the
photographic scene just about a century after Eastmans first flexible film, is
digital imaging. Even though still a technology in its infancy, digital photography has
already shown its promise to replace film and chemistry as we have known them.
Just as traditional art historians decry
notions that some old masters resorted to the trickery of optical aids, some
photographic purists lament the inroads of new-fangled electronic gadgets in their field.
Advances like automatic exposure control, zoom lenses and, especially, automatic focus,
were accompanied by cries of over my dead body by hide-bound old-timers
many of whom, on giving the new cameras a try, adopted the technologies willingly or at
least begrudgingly. But now comes digital to replace our beloved films, and
the rush to get in on the ground floor has been an amazing phenomenon to observe. Hardly a
meeting of professional photographers goes by without some well-established user of film
announcing that he or she has gone digital. And who among us hasnt at
least considered acquiring a digital camera for family snapshooting, perhaps waiting on
the sidelines while capabilities go steadily up and prices plummet?
What, exactly, are the potential advantages
of digital over film photography, and what should one consider in making the transition?
Well go over these, and other, issues as we take an overview of todays
technologies and prognosticate a bit about what may come along tomorrow. But to the
skeptics, should there be any among us, Ill say that the question of digital
replacing film isnt if its when. And the answer
isnt way off in the ether, its just around the corner, relatively speaking.
The advantages this new technology brings are so broad and so deep that few will want to
continue exposing film for most kinds of photography as we know it.
To begin an exploration of this digital
imaging business, one might well ask Whats a megapixel anyway, and why is it
important? Taking a step backward to look inside a film image, we find that the
smallest individual element making up the picture is a tiny grain of light-sensitive
silver. When these grains are microscopically small, they arent detectable as
individual elements unless one enlarges, or magnifies, the image greatly. When the grain
IS visible, we describe the image as grainy a characteristic we would
usually want to avoid.
In a digital image, the equivalent to the
grain of silver is the individual picture element, or pixel. If each one is
small enough, an array of pixels will present a smooth appearance, a faithful recreation
of the original scene. If, however, the pixels are too coarse, an image will appear blocky
or pixilated an effect even more objectionable than graininess in a
film image. A megapixel is simply one million picture
elements. It could be, for example, an array of 1,000 pixels wide by 1,000 pixels high. If
those pixels were packed into a space just one inch on a side, we would say the pixel
resolution is one million pixels per inch. Another way to express that resolution would be
to say one million dots per inch the term wed use if we were referring to a
printed copy of the image. A million pixels or dots per inch would be a very high
picture resolution, neither needed nor possible to create with consumer digital equipment.
Resolution or pixel density of 300 DPI is adequate for most printed images,
and for the computer screen just 72 DPI is appropriate.
Bear in mind, however, that pixel resolution
is needed at the final size of the reproduced image. If, for example, we start with a
digital image that is one inch wide and we enlarge it to eight inches wide, to end up with
300 DPI resolution we have to start with 2400 DPI the factor of eight used in this
example applies to both the magnification and the resolution requirement.
One of the first criteria we would consider
in looking at any digital imaging equipment is its resolution capability. In a digital
camera, for instance, the megapixel count is usually the first specification
given. Its not the only thing that matters, but its a logical starting point.
As with so many decisions when buying technology, its best to start out with the end
in mind. A camera that would be perfectly adequate for capturing images to be sent over
the internet for distant family to enjoy on a computer monitor, for example, could be
woefully unsuited to taking pictures for use as mural-size display prints.
Nowadays even an inexpensive digital camera
should be capable of at least one megapixel resolution, fine for internet use and for
making photo-quality prints up to about 5 x 7 inches. To get consistently excellent 8 x 10
prints, a better choice would have three megapixel resolution, especially if one needs to
crop from the full original image size. Cameras of five or six megapixel capability are at
about the top of the average shoppers price scale, and they can capture images which
do quite well in prints as large as 16 x 20 inches. Actually, there can be magic performed
with software that can give any of these cameras somewhat greater effective than actual
resolution, but the figures cited are a good general guide.
Nearly every week brings new heights in the
race for digital perfection. Just this past September at Photokina, the huge trade show
held every other year in Cologne, Germany, Eastman Kodak introduced a fourteen megapixel
camera that is the current rage on the how soon can I get one list.
Interestingly, Kodaks announcement came on the heels of a similar camera
introduction by Canon, with eleven megapixel resolution. Unfortunately for Canon, their
model was to come to market at eight thousand US dollars, while Kodaks price point
is around four thousand. Needless to say, Canon retreated to the drawing board after Kodak
unveiled their new baby.
Among the other factors to consider, most are
similar to ones important in choosing a film camera: do you want the ease of a
point-and-shoot design, with all of the decision-making about things like exposure done
for you by the camera? Or will you require the flexibility to make decisions yourself when
its appropriate? Will you need the capability of interchangeable lenses? What about
flash will a simple built-in flash suffice, or will you choose the greater power
and versatility of an add-on unit? A cameras means of storing its images is vital:
in place of film, one will need one or more memory cards. Not only do these
vary in their storage capacity, but there are several competing non-interchangeable
formats to consider. And always important is the question of ergonomics: how does the
camera feel in your hands, shooting as you normally would use it? For most of us,
price will also be a factor in making a purchase judgment.
These decisions can be aided nicely by
reviews in trade magazines and in unbiased publications like Consumer
Reports. Web sites, as well, abound
with comparisons and recommendations a Google search on the keywords digital
camera review will return over a million responses. A good camera club might provide
a valuable forum, as well, to get the benefit of first-hand experience with some of the
equipment available. Once youve done some research, however, its time to get
to a retailer and try out the equipment with your own hands.
There are many variables in this process, and
plenty of room for confusion and even anguish. In fact, theres only one hard and
fast rule: As soon as you finally decide what to buy, someone will introduce a better,
cheaper and faster one before the ink is dry on your check. Just know that at the outset,
and be prepared to make your decisions and move on. He who waits for the absolute
best-cheapest-fastest will never have one!
Cameras, of course, arent the only hot
area in digital imaging equipment. What about all those negatives and/or slides
youve amassed over the years? Would it be advantageous to be able to digitize those
Indeed, there are several compelling reasons
to store images digitally. Available computer software makes it easy to enhance photos,
correcting for such things as poor color balance, incorrect exposure, even retouching skin
blemishes, removing unwanted telephone wires, and the like. (More about these things
later.) The logical organization of files on a hard drive lends itself to keeping your
library of images readily at hand, just a click away from transmission by internet or
printing with your own inkjet printer.
A word about printing your own: while most
modern inkjet printers offer the amazing ability to output photo-quality work, the
archival keeping qualities of their prints are typically much poorer than old-fashioned
wet-processed photographic prints. For this reason, many digital shooters are taking their
images as electronic files to photo labs like Swanson Photographics in Yucaipa, where they
are well-equipped to make real photographic prints which are processed by machine in the
same chemistry as traditional labs employ for making prints from color negatives. The cost
is pretty well in line with the cost of ink and paper to make your own, and the results
can be both better and longer-lived.
Getting back to your boxes full of old
negatives and/or slides, the device you want to consider for digitizing them is called a scanner.
There are two fundamental types: scanners for opaque copy, usually called flatbed
scanners, and units designed specifically for film scanning. Some of the latest flatbed
models can handle both tasks, although typically not with the same level of precision as a
good dedicated film scanner.
Just as with cameras, the search for a
scanner should begin with the end in mind: most particularly, how big will you need final
enlargements from your scans to be? Once again, published reviews and the advice of others
can help you narrow down the bewildering array of choices on the market.
As an aside, the availability of inexpensive
scanners has created quite a problem for professional photographers. Believe it or not,
there are people out there who would knowingly take, say,
the paper proofs from a family portrait session in a photographers
studio. Placing them on the handy scanner on the desktop at home or office, in minutes
they could be making their own 8 x 10 prints or
sending the images in emails around the world. Why pay the photographers exorbitant
prices, when you can do it yourself? The answer to that, of course, is that its both
an illegal infringement of copyright and most unethical to boot. How big is the problem?
Mass market scanner sales are expected to top one billion US dollars this year[iv]. At an average price of
around a hundred dollars, thats a lot of scanners. In my own practice, I no longer
use paper proofs for this very reason. I dont knowingly deal with people who would
set out willfully to cheat others, but today theres a growing feeling that, because
technology is so readily available that any child can use to duplicate the images or the
recorded songs of another, that it must somehow be all right.
Whether one starts the process of digital
imaging by digitizing existing negatives or slides with a scanner, or with a digital
camera and its inherent electronic files, the next essential tool is a computer. Chances
are, youre already using one, and it may well be adequate for image processing. The
guidelines are simple enough: for storing and working with very many or very large image
files, theres no such thing as too fast or too much! Things go better if you have a
lot of memory, a large hard drive, and a fast processor in your machine. (If these terms
are as Greek to you, then a computer course might be a good preliminary before venturing
into your own desktop darkroom. Attempting to learn the ABCs of
computing and of digital imaging at the same time could be a frustrating experience.)
One axiom from other computer-related
disciplines that rings true here is this: the computer you use is important, but the
software is even more so. For image processing, the industry standard is Adobe Photoshop.
There are other packages in use, and all are good in one way or another. But Photoshop is
the real deal, and its capabilities are simply mind-boggling. Before we take a
few moments to demonstrate some of them, its interesting to look just a few years
back in time and notice the excitement generated by early image-enhancement software. This
example is hauntingly prophetic. In 1983 Discover magazine ran an article with
before-and-after photos illustrating primitive digital manipulation of the New York
skyline. Architectural features have been added here and there, a pier removed, trees and
vehicles duplicated, and an entire building made to vanish. That building was one of the
towers of the World Trade Center[v].
A word here about image enhancement vs. manipulation. The terms can mean the same thing,
but there is some agreement within the industry that enhancement refers to the correction
of color, retouching to remove blemishes, and other effects to optimize an image for
presentation. Manipulation, on the other hand, can mean swapping one persons head
with another, placing people in scenes they never were anywhere near, and other editing
which can mislead the viewer. Images thus manipulated should, in my opinion, be clearly
labeled as such. One convention, used for example by The Los Angeles Times, is a picture credit
which, instead of Photo by Jane Doe, reads Photo illustration by Jane
Let us now look into some of the editing
techniques made possible with a computer and software like Adobe Photoshop. Ill
bring up before-and-after images to illustrate each feature:
Applying special effects
Today we have but skimmed the surface in this overview of image editing and of
digital imaging in general. Digital technology represents arguably the most significant
revolution to come along in the fascinating world of photography, and its advancing
at breakneck speed. Some of what weve reviewed today will be out-of-date tomorrow,
but you can count on this: Photographers of all sorts you and I now have
tools available to us that were only dreamed of a few years ago. They will surely be
better, faster and cheaper next week. But in the meantime, I encourage you to explore them
and use them, with the confident prediction that well never look back.