Today I'm wearing my educator's hat, indulge me please for a moment.
Because of, or in spite of reaching the end point of the semester with VU and almost the mid year point with PIC, I recently had somewhat of an epiphany, particularly in regards to the learning of camera craft.
Before the predominance of digital cameras, the only way to learn the craft of photography was using a film camera. Schools often chose the hardy and solid Pentax k1000, and many student's relied on these as the cost was too prohibitive to purchase one. Simple, and simply mechanical it demanded you understand how the controls worked on a camera, i.e. you very quickly learned how to get the needle in the middle, otherwise you were faced with countless rolls of film ruined. The flow on from this was of course that you then understood technical aspects of the process, such as Depth of Field and movement. Eventually these process became intuitive and one could throw all that away and just focus, pun intended, on the image in front of you. Now the plethora of cameras, and their relative cheapness, plus the abundance of each camera's controls available mean that simple controls on a camera are a rarity. This rareness can then impinge on the process of making a good image. The ease too, of flicking your camera to auto, means, why bother with all that information, just press the button let the camera do the rest. But this seemingly simple gain can come at a high cost. Overall understanding of the process, means when things go wrong it can be difficult to understand why and what to do right next time, or worse, simply avoid the situation that brought this disaster upon us, thereby limiting our creative options.
Other ways digital seems to limit options for creative picture making is the 'that will do approach'. Instant feedback on a small screen means students can make quick decisions, for better or worse without exploring other options, particularly those who may have chosen the subject of photography as an elective subject. Despite the powerful tools available to us to sort order categorise our images students 'anecdotally' anyway seem to baulk at the idea of spending too much time assessing and evaluation their results.
The last thing that has me thinking is that students are surprised and delighted when simple things like depth of field are achieved, this used to be a mandatory and rudimentary skill required to produce images that were results of the image makers intentions. Too put an image in a folio simply because it contained an example of shallow depth of field was not even a consideration?
What to do then, expecting students, to use the photography by the kilo approach is one that has been floated past me, in some instances this can work, but again, is it visual overload. Can students exercise enough control to edit down the vast quantities of images they produce to a cohesive body of work, especially in the early stages of their learning of the craft of photography?
Today, a quick cursory glance at a small screen on the back of the camera, you own or was bought for you, gives you a rough idea of how your shoot is going. So why flip the camera controls beyond Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority? Well I have no answer for that, not an easy one any way.
These days I see a all the mistakes from analogue cameras, being trundled out, incorrectly loaded films, majorly underexposed films, poorly developed films, all skills that are quickly learnt within weeks, if not days of starting a course, with borrowed manual film cameras.
Now it is possible to delay the process of working with film and chemistry and manual cameras, sometimes for a whole semester or longer, delaying making these mistakes, means a delay in learning FROM them. Unless the mistakes can be replicated using digital cameras. Putting a camera, ANY camera on Manual mode, means very quickly you have to understand what is going on with light and the sensor. Many students do not, put their cameras to manual. It's a shame a rich and valuable learning experience is being lost.