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Photography: Digital Death or Liberation?

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Grave of a Professor of Anatomy, Barcelona. Jeremy Rose
Digital Cameras: The Easy Way by Brian Miller
Lifelogs, $15. Reviewed by :JR

There’s an ongoing debate among journalists about whether blogging is a legitimate form of the craft and whether bloggers should be considered journalists. There’s a fair bit of professional jealousy and muddled thinking involved but it’s an important debate nevertheless. It occurs to me as I browse this short guide to digital photography that I’m not aware of professional photographers ever displaying a similar level of angst about the increasing number of amateurs showing their wares on the Net.

Not sure why that should be; maybe it’s just that they’re more confident of the quality difference between their work and what a growing army of digitally-empowered amateurs are producing.

I’ve had the privilege of working with some first rate photographers over the years – David Gurr, Bruce Connew, Gil Hanly, Bryn Evans and Glenn Jowitt among others – and have been struck by the varied approaches they take. The one constant is that they all take one hell of a lot of frames to get that one special shot.

In the pre-digital age that – and the quality of their cameras – was what superficially set them apart from the rest of us. On a more profound level it was (and is) their ability to “see” and compose images.

I was always too stingy to take more than a frame or two of any particular image on my old film cameras, so buying my first digital camera (an Olympus C5050) was liberating. I’ve been snapping away – on and off – ever since and now have close to 8000 photos stored on my laptop.

Eight thousand photos covering a four year period. I’ve got a dozen photos of a cauliflower – It’s ridiculous.

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Romanesco Cauliflower: Jeremy Rose.

Taking a dozen photos of a Romanesco cauliflower did mean I ended up with one I liked. But for some reason I haven’t deleted the other eleven.

Brian Miller has a chapter in his sixty four page guide to digital photography titled, “Cull, File and Backup.” It’s far from the only good advice in this handy little book which covers everything from choosing a camera to composition, and creating your own travel blog.

There’s plenty in the book to justify its modest cover price to anyone starting out in digital photography.

And if you’re putting off buying a digital camera because it all seems too complicated this is the book for you.

Now back to the overly dramatic question in the heading. Does digital photography pose a threat to professional photo journalism? I doubt it. (And truth be told I only asked it because I wanted to publish that photo of the grave.)

The real problem is a structural one. With the print media’s portion of the advertising spend dwindling budgets are being cut. Already most provincial and community papers require their reporters to take their own photos and most freelancers submitting stories are only too happy to provide pics if it results in a little extra cash.

As a result the number of full-time press photographers is falling. I’m all for multi-tasking but you’ve got to wonder whether it’s going to result in a decline in the quality of both the photography and the reporting.

On the other side of the equation the explosion in the number of photos being taken, and the ability to share them on sites like Flickr has resulted ia a hitherto unimaginable ability to view the world through the eyes people in virtually every country on Earth.

As a result of posting a few of these gypsy grave pics on Flickr, I now regularly look at the work of a Turkish documentary photographer, Kemal Vural Tarlan,
Kemal has an interest in the Romani people and got in touch with a question about the graves.

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Gypsy Grave, Barcelona

With our magazines all but ignoring quality documentary photography, the Internet is beginning to fill the void. The problem is one of payment. With magazines cutting their budgets it must be all but impossible to survive as a documentary photographer – but then that’s been the case for a long time.

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Gypsy Grave, Barcelona

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Jeremy Rose is a Wellington journalist and the editor of the Scoop Review of Books

LINKS

Digital Cameras by Brian Miller web page.

Jeremy’s Flickr page

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