This article was written by Donovan Gauvreau and has been edited and published with permission of the author.
In the past, producing fine art nature photography was always a touchy combination of talent, patience, and precision.
With the advancement of computer technology (and software programs such as Photoshop) the relentless, tireless photographer who crouched in dawn’s early light to catch that “perfect scene” is a rare find.
Moreover, film negatives of the past had to undergo a lengthy process involving a mixture of various chemicals and a well-equipped darkroom. Today, with the touch of a few buttons, a digital artist can adjust the color saturation, size, and opacity of an image without leaving the computer screen. This is the reality of modern photography.
And so, as slide film, chemicals, filters, and darkroom techniques fall by the wayside, I find myself thinking back nostalgically to a different time. . . anxiously watching as an image immersed in a shallow bath slowly came to life on a blank piece of paper.
Photography in Focus
In the days when slide film was still widely used for fine art nature photography, there were two popular brands: Velvia (made by Fuji) a film which was used for more vividly-colored landscapes, and Provia, which produced colors more true-to-life.
Photographers then chose their film according to what and how they were shooting.
Now with digital cameras, film is no longer needed, having been replaced by miniscule memory cards that can hold multiple gigabytes of information. And after the images have been captured on a card, they can immediately be opened up on the computer in a “digital darkroom.”
Then, once the image is on the computer, issues that were of concern in a traditional “wet” darkroom (like choosing the paper, maintaining proper shadows and highlights, and creating the right balance of color) are still addressed, just by different means.
The Digital Movement
Some believe that digital photography can make any quality of image look great, but that is a misconception. Computers may aid in the enhancement of an image, but it cannot take a poor image and turn it into a masterpiece.
Color saturation, for example, in the digital age is a relatively easy concept as it simply requires clicking a button or moving a slider—however, the hue/saturation command cannot be used at will; too much color and the photo could turn garish or overly colorized, like a neon sign.
Photographers of the past did not have this luxury of instant color saturation, so in trying to achieve the best lighting possible for fine art nature photography, they would often wait for what is called the “golden hour.” Trees, flowers, rocks, and water, all seem to photograph better in the subtle glow of the setting sun.
Because of the digital tools available, images that were once hard to achieve with traditional methods now seem to be much more easily realized.
And yet, despite the differences between traditional photography and digital photography, one thing remains the same—great photography still requires talent, precision, and the vision of a master artist.
Donovan Gauvreau is an art historian and art therapy speaker. You can read more of his articles at www.AaronArtPrints.org.