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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
A lot has changed in the digital photography world over the last 15 years. At this point, we're so used to shooting digitally, we may pay lip service to the days of film and understand that it's there. But it's easy to take for granted just what has changed and how quickly. I've assembled here some images that I think were impossible to shoot Some of them even just ten years ago. Now, there's reason I've done and we'll, we'll get to that, but first I think this is just an interesting little exercise to look at some impossible photos.
Photos that I could not have taken 10 in some cases 15 years ago. First of all, there are changes that have come about because of lenses. Now, it's not that I could not have shot an image this wide 10 or 15 years ago But it's much easier now to shoot a high quality image this wide. Optics have improved so dramatically that extremely wide angle lenses are much higher quality than they used to be. They're cheaper, you can get them in more form factors, meaning they can fit on more different types of cameras.
Here's a great example of something else in addition to being sharp from edge to edge to not having vignetting. I don't get really bad flare out of a wide angle lens the way that I used to so this has been a big improvement in lens technology. Going even further, fish eye lenses, high quality fish eye lenses are now much less expensive than they used to be and much more versatile. They have less, same thing less distortion, less flare. Of course, the same thing is true on the telephoto end as well. Telephoto lenses are of much higher quality than they used to be. Again, it's not to say that there weren't great lenses in the past, but they've been democratized.
It's much easier to get your hands on a fantastic lens for much less money than it used to be in. I think a lot of that has to do with computer aided design and manufacture of lenses. This really changed things over the last few years and changed them for the better. Metering has really improved since the first auto meters started appearing in cameras a long time ago, decades ago. But really dramatic improvement. Meter's able to figure out very difficult situations like this extreme dynamic range or this scene with a lot of complex lighting in it.
Metering that works very, very quickly, very effectively so that I can shoot fleeting moments without worrying about my exposure. This is a huge improvement and this is one that's really difficult to appreciate if you've always had an auto mode. If you didn't have to calculate meters your meterings yourself or worry about it. it's difficult to appreciate just how great it is having these cameras that work well in dark situations, high dynamic range situations. And there's low light. Your meters work great in low light nowadays, but more than that. And digital image sensor is able to capture images in low light that no film could ever have captured.
This has opened up a vast world of subject matter. In some cases, more than half the day is now open to you when it wasn't before because light levels got too low. This has been and to my mind one of the most dramatic improvements of photography in the last 10 to 15 years. Brought about because of replacing film with digital sensors. Dynamic range has not improved at the same rate of acceleration as other technologies, but it has improved. Sometimes, I'm talking about improvements to actual sensors, but in other cases it's a possibility of post-production techniques, such as HDR imaging.
High dynamic range imaging, that allows us to capture texture, detail, and light in a way that we simply could before the advent of digital cameras. And even before, just 10 years ago. So this has been another tremendous change. This is not a technical change, but I would say ubiquity is a big change. There are cameras everywhere now. We all have cameras with us all the time. Here is a case where I'm on a plane flight. I spot my airplane shadow in the ocean, and sure enough, I've got a camera right there on my phone. I can grab the shot.
We can now take images anywhere we are, anytime we stumble across something interesting. even in locations where it would of been very difficult to work with a camera before. That's made a big change. If you've ever taken a series of imagines and stitched them together into a panorama. You have done something that was not possible before the turn of the 21st century. David Hockney made great use of collaging techniques, layering photos on top of each other. But we can actually stitch them together so that you have a single, unified point of perspective.
And that is a fantastic, again, digital-only change that has come about. Black and white photography has been a cornerstone of photographic craft since the invention of photography. And with digital, we now get post processing techniques that allow us a creative freedom and flexibility that we simply didn't have before. Yes, dark room technicians could do amazing work. Now more people can do amazing black and white work. And actually even push it farther than even the best dark room printers could have years in years past. So this has been a very important change.
Now who cares, so what, great, so we've come a lot farther than we w, than where we were before. I think this matters because the change that has been brought about has not just been a change in technology. The drastically under rated American Philosopher, Marshall McLuhan said, we become what we behold. More importantly he said, we shape our tools and then our tools shape us. I think this is particularly relevant to photographers. When I look at some of these images that I say were impossible 10 or 15 years ago, I'm particularly taken by the wide angle ones.
I see the world differently since I started shooting with an extremely wide angle lens. I have a 16 to 35 millimeter lens that I adore. And it's probably the one I use the most. And it's really changed how I recognize the world. It's how I change the world as I move through, it's how I perceive the world as I move through it. In other words, that lens has changed my nervous system. My sense of vision works differently because of that tool that I've been using. I think this is a very important thing to understand as photographers, because this is part of learning how to embrace a new lens or a different type of shooting.
If you've just gotten say a fish eye lens, or a super telephoto lens, or a macro lens, and you're feeling a little frustrated with it. It's possibly because your eye hasn't yet learned to see through it properly, or in the way that it needs you. You have to let the lens change your eye. You need to learn to recognize how it is that the lens works. You need to, as McLewin said, let the tool reshape you. And I would offer you this exercise. Take even, you don't even need a new lens, take a lens that you already have, a zoom lens that you already have And think about whether you shoot at one end more than the other.
Do you typically always shoot wide angle? Do you typically shoot telephoto? Do you only stand in the middle? Do you never go to the middle? Pick that area that is your weak spot and start shooting with it exclusively for a while. It's going to be difficult, it's going to be frustrating. Personally, I never shoot with a normal lens. I never shoot with a 15 millimeter equivalent on a full-frame camera. I need to do that Because I can't see the world that way. If I do that for a month exclusively, I will begin to see the differently because of that lens. Not only will that change my vision in the world.
It will make me a better photographer and a more flexible photographer because I will more lenses in my arsenal. So, give this a try. It's going to be a frustrating exercise, but its really worth it. Let a lens reshape you.
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