Photography in the Digital VS Film Era

Elsewhere online a respected Micro stock Photographer who has been in the RF stock business nearly as long as I have was talking about the great Cartier Bresson and in that discussion he mentions what a great eye the man had and the fact that "he never processed one roll of film"

Now no one will argue that Mr. Bresson was not one of the greats of the film era. Nor will anyone argue that he did not have maybe one of the greatest photographic eyes of his time. Nor would many argue that his eye was not a contributing factor to his success. However the fact that he never processed one roll of film speaks volumes about photography in the film era VS the photography in the digital era.

In the film era most top photographers had a technician in a lab / darkroom somewhere who was making them look brilliant. The exposure was standard knowledge to the film photographer in the manual camera age. You either properly exposed the negative or you did not. In most cases once the shutter closed the film photographer was out of the loop and had nothing to do with the production of the developed film or subsequent prints especially in the color film and slide realm.

At this point the process was completed in the darkroom where a master lab technician could make magic happen even with the most mundane negatives. Dodging, burning, enlarger filters and cross processing where but the top layer of the great lab technicians tool box. The truth of film photography was most great photographers were average photographers who worked with spectacular lab staffs. The photographer himself ceased to be responsible for the image beyond the close of the shutter.

In the digital age it is much more likely that the brilliant photographers are fully responsible for the finished product they produce. The really big names may have staff that do their post production for them but most of the working photographers in the world today that you or I would call great are doing their own post work as well.

Today the photographer with an exceptional eye and access to exceptional subject matter still needs to be a master of the post production process as well. If he is not it is unlikely that he will rise above the crowd. In fact it is probable that many digital photographers with only an average level of skill in composition and exposure but with exceptional Photoshop skills will rise above the individual who is maybe more talented in a pure photographic sense but lacks complete skills in Photoshop and the other post production tools of the modern age.

So while the great film names might have had great eyes they most likely did not have the extraordinary skills of today's well rounded photographers. The gear of the film era was simplistic and exposure was exposure. It was a time when f/8 meant f/8 and there was no variance in that concept. In the film era the common denominator among great photographers and the real separating difference for many was the brilliant skill of the lab technician.

Today a photographer has to have a much better, more well rounded tool bag. Not only must he posses the post production skills to elevate his better than average eye above the crowd but he must come to understand the differences in exposure in the digital world.

In the digital age the cliché F/8 is always F/8 exactly true. As a general rule yes but in practice with the great variety of equipment available today from a variety of manufacturers utilizing different com[ponents and mathematical formulas to determine F/8 the true and practicle apature setting of your camera and mine very well may show significant difference in the histogram and final output.

Differences in lens coatings, digital sensors, high pass filters, image processing engines and algorithms now mean that your exposure can vary as much as 2 full stops from one camera body to the next. Even 2 bodies of the same model manufactured a few weeks or months apart can show a dramatic difference in exposure with the same lighting and same settings.

At first I did not believe this variance could be true but after over 100 in studio workshops at Vegas Vision Studios and evaluating the output created by the many different attendees that have come through and shot side by side under controlled conditions I have to admit that these variances in exposure are in fact a fact of digital photography today.

So while we in today's modern digital age are blessed with wonderfully intuitive equipment capable of capturing stunning imagery right out of the box and in situations that the film photographer could only dream about we are also handicapped by the need to be skilled and even talented in many, many more ways than the photographer of even 15 years ago. People will tell us that technology has made it easy to be successful. That technology has ruined the industry of photography and that anyone with a prosumer grade DSLR can now call themselves a pro photographer. Yet the truth remains technology has made it that much more difficult than ever to truly excel in commercial photography. The business it's self has been changed many times over by technology but technology has not arbitrarily made it easier to excel. As always throughout history the one who is most likely to succeed is the one who invests into his own education and learns to be the most well rounded of his competition. There is no teaching the artistic eye that is the first step to setting one photographer apart from the next but that of course is but one more of the many tools in the modern digital photographers tool box.

Photo credits: Thomas Perkins.

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Once with the film, a shot was a shot, not like today 100 images to have a half shot right and half day photoshop after. Digital gives wonderful results for those who know to shoot and I think only the 0.1 % knows that in my opinion. I find that photographing with 6 x 7 or 6 x 6 or 6 x4,5 on fUJI velvia is amazing in colors, but with digital you can deliver the image the same day.

This is only true to a degree. Even with film a good technician was able to enhance a shot that was captured with less then optimum exposure. Maybe not to the degree that digital can be manipulated but the ability to resurrect an otherwise lost shot did exist.

Those who rely on the ability to shoot a 100 frames to hopefully capture 1 correct image are definitely not the class of photographer this article is based on. Having been a photographer in both the film and digital ages myself I know that the depth of my knowledge base today is significantly deeper then it was in the film days. Even though I did my own B&W processing and printing the level of responsibility I took for my image creation then compared to today is significantly different and that is the crux of the discussion. The difference in what was required of the average "Great Photographer" not just the celebrity name photographers who then as today passed on the critical work beyond the shutter to someone else.


Once with the film, a shot was a shot, not like today 100 images to have a half shot right and half day photoshop after. Digital gives wonderful results for those who know to shoot and I think only the 0.1 % knows that in my opinion. I find that photographing with 6 x 7 or 6 x 6 or 6 x4,5 on fUJI velvia is amazing in colors, but with digital you can deliver the image the same day.


Wise words. Thanks for sharing! Digital or not, it's the artist who has to get to know his camera to the smallest details. I was so happy about the remark that my friend did after observing my photosession and postprocessing of photos. The remark was: "I tried to make pictures with my camera, but they didn't turn out good, and I decided that I have to buy a better camera. But after seeing and listening you working, I dropped that idea. I know know, a better camera don't make a huge difference. I would need much more... learn everything..., but I don't have so much time for that."
I'm always happy when someone sees the work and education and skills and maybe a little talent behind the photographer's art and not so much the "top notch" camera. People make art, not cameras.
Very thought provoking blog, Bobby. Thank you!


No it was July 20 and he was on Fox Business by himself. He did go after Obama though

You can view the segment at


Nor did Cartier-Bresson print his negatives. He used the same printer for decades and printed on paper that was the best for reproduction in print...not for hanging on the wall.


Was it the one where he was on with a few other guys and really went after Obama for what he said about Vegas. Played the Fiddle?

I am usually at the Venetian every 3 to 4 months. I would love to see the studio, thank you! If it was possible I would move out there today.



Jvecc1, next time you are in Las Vegas stop in for a tour of the studio. We just had Wayne Newton in the house for a live television broadcast a couple weeks ago


26430 sales!!!!!!!!!!!! And the man lives and works in my most favorite city in the US that I visit 3 4 times a year!!!! I just scratched Wayne Newton as my favorite celeb!

Great Article and Great work!

Jvecc1 Nj NY Fl


Something to think about for sure!!


Nice Article thanks


Thanks for the feedback these are observations I have been mulling over for some time. Thought they might be interesting to others


Very interesting article, thanks for posting :-)


Very interesting observations for which thank you. David.

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