Learning digital photography

I have had a lot of requests from people who have  acquired, or are intending to acquire, their first digital camera. Especially from older people who still have a film camera lying around. Most are shocked when they open the little book that comes with the camera and they have to face a seeming huge range of complexities. Learning digital photography from a base in film photography isn’t so very difficult.


Lets start by looking backwards at the short history of photography. There have been many changes since Daguerre stared working in the 1840’s. Most would argue that Fox-Talbot’s method, started at virtually the same time, using a crude paper negative was the real foundation  of photography. Who ever was right both systems were around for quite a long period and then were quickly replaced by Scott Archers wet plate process that really lasted until the end of the 19th century. George Eastman’s Kodak simple camera radically transformed the the market and established a much wider audience for photography. The Leica arrived on the scene and hand held portable cameras became the norm. Colour slide pictures became practical in the 1940’s. There has been constant and radical change in systems for capturing photographic images.

Common to all these different systems is a lens at the front, and film at the back. Obviously everything has become much more sophisticated but you can see digital as a simple replacement for film, glass plates, and mercury sensitized plates of Daguerre. Even cheap modern digital chips will capture images in adjustable colour, with faster response to light (you can now do hand held photography at night in well lit areas) freeze movement better, and have greater good quality enlargements than was possible with film just a few years ago. Additionally  pictures can transmitted and printed in ways that were impossible. Looking at a friends pictures on your phone is possible now and may become commonplace in the near future.

I remember looking at a film of Edward Weston working in his darkroom when I was a student in the 1960’s. At this time I was incredulous that he didn’t appear to use an enlarger at all. His set up was a singe electric light bulb connected to an on/off switch. The 10x8inch neg was held in a mahogany wooden frame. He used a few simple dodgers to obscure the light from parts of his picture during exposure. Compared with the set up I used in college at the time it was pretty spartan. Even Ansel Adams, always a brilliant technician, was amazed  how simply Weston worked.  Faced with the obscurities of the average camera handbook we would all like to return to simpler times. Some of the problems of caused by the information onslaught are rooted in the competitive marketing of the computer industry. So I will try to return to the classic controls featured on all good cameras whether film or digital and try to plot a way forward that can be simply understood.
When you are learning to control a camera you need to know about apertures,speeds, light metering and Iso(or the speed at which the camera responds to light.)