The Digital Way to Experiment
by Rick Doble June, 1999
I love to experiment.
I like to dive into uncharted waters and see what develops.
Even after shooting photographs for 30 years, my blood still runs faster when I try something new, when I am not sure how the photograph will turn out. Experimentation keeps me from getting stale as a photographer, from creating the same old competent photographs that are well crafted but that lack excitement. Experimentation keeps my photographic vision fresh; it keeps me from getting into a rut and allows me to add new tools to my bag of tricks once I have mastered a new area of exploration.
Just what do I mean by experimentation? I mean attempting to create an effect that has never been put on film before. Digital photography, in particular, is a very fertile area. Few of my assumptions about light sensitive material seem to apply. Electronic "film" behaves very differently.
Generally speaking the most interesting effects will occur at extremes, because it is at these "edges" that the normal relationship between light and film breaks down and something unusual happens. Here are some areas that I have explored with film and am exploring again with a digital camera:
- #1. Extremes in exposure, i.e. under and over exposure. For example, I have exposed the digital camera in such dark light that I could barely tell there was a picture present. However, when I downloaded and color corrected the image, I got a very atmospheric charcoal effect. In another example, I overexposed the light from a neon sign onto my face. This created some unusual colors and contours (see photo at right, top).
- #2. Very slow and very fast shutter speeds. Slow motion usually produces blur but sometimes can produce a different effect as with my carnival pictures. A very fast shutter speed will make a subject in motion, especially a person, look unreal; they will be frozen in time in a way that does not seem natural.
- #3. Camera or subject movement combined with a slow shutter speed. Moving the camera with the subject motion or against that motion can create fluid images full of energy. Combine this with a slow shutter speed and you are not talking about an ordinary photograph (photo at right, second from top).
- #4. Unusual light sources. There are now dozens of different lamps that put out wavelengths that are quite different from daylight or even household lights or fluorescents. A yellowish street lamp can produce a brilliant and startling bright red glow that seems other-worldly (photo at right, third from top).
- #5. Flare. I love flare. All lenses flare to some extent, and it can produce unusual effects. Each lens and aperture design seems to produce its own unique signature.
- #6. Extreme angles and distance can create dramatic results. "In your face" photographs have become one of the styles of the late 20th Century.
- #7. All film and all light sensitive materials tend to favor some colors and subdue others. Kodachrome, for example, has a red bias. The classic photo of the red barn with Kodachrome makes the barn scream with its red color. The same holds true for digital photography, but each person will have to test out the color bias for him or herself. I suspect that it is going to be different for each manufacturer.
- #8. A swivel lens on a digital camera allows some very unusual self-portraits and other angles that would have been impossible before.
- #9. The LCD screen on the back of digital cameras has a number of advantages over a traditional viewfinder much of which remains to be explored. The immediate feedback means that a photographer can experiment and learn at an unprecedented pace. For example, my carnival photographs produced totally unexpected effects. I took all the pictures that are on my website on experimentation in one hour and was able to learn new effects in a matter of minutes. The LCD screen also allows a photographer to hold the camera at a distance and still see the image. He or she could hold the camera over a crowd or over a wall and frame the image.
- #10. The biggest surprise was the effect of the software built into the camera. Sometimes the compression software which is usually based on a JPEG algorithm does not "see" the dots correctly and mistakes lines in the images (photo at right, bottom). I have been using a very simple Casio QV-100 camera, and I cannot say whether this happens with all other cameras. But in my case, the software often cannot store an image of a screen properly because the grid of the screen and the matrix algorithm of the software seem to conflict (that is just my best guess). Here are two examples. One picture was taken right after the other. In the first case it did not store the picture properly; in the second case it did.
So there you have my mini-course in photographic experimentation. And we have just begun to scratch the surface, because what happens if you start to combine effects? Let's say, for example, that you take low light pictures under an unusual artificial light of moving objects. And lets say that you animate them. Now where would you find such a subject? In my case ,I found it at a go-cart track.
BRIEF BIO: Rick Doble has a Master's Degree in Communications (1975) from the Department of Radio, TV, Motion Pictures at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has been a professional photographer for 30 years and has worked with most camera formats, and films, including color and black and white, slide and negative, and instant film. He has spent more hours in the darkroom than he would like to remember.
© Copyright Rick Doble, and where applicable, DigiGallery 1999