Instant Results Stiffle Creativity?


The debate is ever present:  Film vs. Digital – which is better?  If you were to google the topic right now, you’ll find countless discussions on the topic.  Now, I am not going to discuss the comparison from a technical point of view – that’s a discussion for another day involvolving someone that is perhaps more educated than I.  But one aspect that I find to be stiffling is the instant effect of the digital medium.  Sometimes it’s a benefit, of course.  But other times, I consider it to be a hinderance.

I learned on a film camera.  Film was a valuable resource that cost money and forced you to think about every shot.  Moreso, in the absence of a preview mode and not knowing exactly how the final shot would appear, the photographer spent the time to think about each shot, take notes and hold back on the shutter button before taking a shot.  There is, to some extent, a balance of learning.  With digital, a lot of the tediousness – especially in the note taking – is removed.  And we can certainly speed up our learning process through EXIF data and being able to see – instantly – how a shot turned out.  We can adjust our settings in the field.  But does all this make us hasty?  Moreso – are we able to learn as effectively if we’re overloaded with information?

I sometimes ask myself:  What if I never learned on a film camera?  What if I were just getting into photography now and I learned on a digital camera?  Would I develop the same set of skills?  Would I be as patient as I am with the camera?  Sometimes I think that perhaps I am better for having learned on film, and I feel that everyone should shoot film at some point in their photographic lives.  But I don’t want to be the grumpy old man, ever complaining about having to walk to school…uphill (both ways)…in socks…in the snow…and – well, you get the picture.  It is possible to learn everything you need and/or want to without ever touching film.  But that’s just the skill set.  What about the creative side?

Do you think when you shoot digital?  Or do you just shoot hundreds of shots knowing that at least one of them will turn out okay?  To dig deeper into the thought:  If we are constantly producing great works…is it actually based on skill?  Or are we just benefiting from an endless supply of “film” – leaving everything to chance?  From a strict statistical ponit of view, 1 great shot out of 100 is not as good as 1 shot out of 10.  If we were to slow down and carefully think about each and every shot, and if we were able to get closer to that 1:10 ratio, we would be better and more creative photographers, would we not?

So the question (and namesake of this article) remains:  Does the instant result of Digital Photography stiffle our creative thought process?  I would say that it does for those unaware.  I think that unless a conscious effort is maintained, we can all fall victim to the instant medium – the haste that society has bestowed upon us.  It is my belief that we need to remain fully aware of that fact, and we need to make every effort to manage our creative mind.

But how?

By replacing one limited resource (film) with another:  Time.  Time is a limited resource that we all don’t have enough of.  Sadly, we have to sleep sometime, and there’s just not enough time in the day to do everything we want.  So start thinking about things that way.  While the digital medium allows us to snap photos until the memory card is full (far more shots than could be put on film), keep always in the back of your mind this thought:  I will have to review these later.  The fun parts of photography are taking the shots and sharing your work.  Workflow is not nearly as enjoyable, and we’d like to spend less time going through our photos.  For every hasty photo taken, that’s more time spent considering the shot, editing the shot, comparing and possibly deleting the shot.  So focus on that aspect:  If I shoot too much, I will have to review these later.  Cut down your workflow time by thinking more and shooting less.

As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Do you agree that the Instant Results stiffle creativity?  If so, what are you doing to combat the concept?


About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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