Why Did You Become a Digital Photographer?

I never really see it as a subject by itself. It's said in passing. We know of some photographers who made the switch from film to digital, but far more of us seemed to only get serious after the advent of digital photography. Something encouraged us to make the leap, so what was it?

My Days with Film Photography

During my high school years, I was the only one with a SLR camera. It was an Olympus OM-10. Still got it, sitting in a camera bag in my office closet. Never had any education at all, and it showed in my photos. Those photos, developed at the local drug store, are long since lost and only appear when I'm moving. Then I'll find a box with the old Kodak envelope full of the stuff high school kids photograph.

Lens selection was easy. It came with a 50mm lens. If I wanted more focal length, I'd add at 2x extender. Still need more focal length? I added another 2x extender. That was my collection (yes, I hear your groans)

I only had three real expenses – film, development and the occasional battery for the meter. Although I never learned how to develop my own film, I had one high school project for a business class where I proposed the idea of an open development lab. Photographers could basically come in to my business, use my darkroom gear to develop their own prints, and they loved the idea. You can't imagine their disappointment when I told them this was just a high school project; I wasn't actually going to start the business.

By the end of high school, I was checking out photography schools. While Brooks was a great school, it turned out that Daytona Beach Community College (now Daytona State College) had a very well-respected program. One magazine editor told me, “You get A's in that program and you can write your own ticket.” Very encouraging stuff for an impressionable kid coming out of high school.

The problem with being impressionable is that other things can also make an impression. The first personal computers came out. We had a TRS-80 in school and I bought an Apple ][+ for home. My career trajectory changed overnight and I put down the camera in 1981.

My First Digital Camera

In 2002, I picked up a Nikon E775 point & shoot camera. My friend Niki was getting married in Barbados, so I figured it would be a good place to take some pictures. I'll warn you right now, these are embarrassing to show.

Niki & Me

The Alaska Cruise

When I looked at my pictures, they were just bland. Didn't look a thing like I remembered, nor did they look like something you'd see in a travel magazine. As I hadn't yet discovered photoshop of post-processing, I was really at a loss to explain the dull colors and contrast. In that case, I did what any sane person would do. I blamed my gear.

The next summer, I went on a cruise to Alaska and decided that I needed to break out my old film gear. The Nikon E775 also came along for those times when I didn't want to carry a bag full of gear. Honestly, I didn't give much thought to my gear, other than to make sure I replaced the battery and stocked up on film. Then, while standing on a glacier going through my bag to break out my camera gear for the first time, it hit me. I'd mixed things up and brought the Minolta lenses for my Olympus camera. No wonder they didn't mount properly.

That left me with the Nikon point & shoot, so that's what I used for this trip.

Pretty much the same thing. Snapshots of a place, but yet devoid of the quality that I really wanted. However, there was one other aspect that finally drove me to buy my first DSLR.

The Defining Moment of Photography

The problem was called “shutter lag.' That describes the time it takes between pressing the shutter release and the camera shutter actually working. In Alaska, that shutter lag was approximately 3.7 years. At least that's what it seemed whenever I tried to get a photo of the dolphins playing in the bow wake, or the pod of killer whales that would rise above the surface and disappear by the time my E775 actually snapped a shutter. You may also notice problems with shutter speed, too.

Even now, I can't really do much of anything with Photoshop to make these images represent what I experienced or how I'd like to share it with other. Toss in another trip to Amsterdam and it was clear that I couldn't expect quality out of a convenience camera. Oh, they're much better today, but that's little consolation. To me, these were some of the greatest trips I'd ever taken, but I just didn't have the tools to capture what I saw an experienced. Getting a DSLR didn't change everything overnight, but it's put me on a path to come much closer to bringing home the images that I want.

There's something that drives us to spend time and money to get the shots we want, rather than settling for a convenient snapshot. That whale is what pushed me over the line. One day, I'll go back to get him.

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