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Who Had The Better Brushes Leonardo or Michelangelo?

Ordinary photos of dull subjects do actually sell, but the dramatic shots generally have an unusual element that makes them stand out from the crowd. They are well-composed and they carry no excess baggage.

One of the best photos I've seen was taken many years ago in New York Central Station (1928) It's quite famous and you've probably seen it. Sunlight streams in through the windows dominating the scene, while people mill about the expansive floor in a hustle-bustle atmosphere.

Photographers of yesteryear were past masters of judging the best exposure for a dramatic shot, without the benefit of modern gadgetry. I just wonder about that when I hear the death knell being tolled on the use of film.

We're told that 60% of the income of Kodak UK came from digital cameras last year, as Kodak announced big job cuts. Immediately, the media produced a knee-jerk reaction that claimed film is dead. True the public are totally won over by the short-term gains of the digital camera, but what about the professionals?

Many studio photographers may well switch to fitting a digital back on to their Mamiyas, but what about fieldwork? Big shots with view cameras and 6'9's, not to mention the use of long lenses for wildlife and sport, will still be dominated by film rather than digital.

Digital cameras are great for the mass market, where shots are generally taken with the subject a close range. Some of the photos of flowers that I've seen for example, are quite exceptional. In many cases, using film for these shots would be beyond most average users because judging the best exposure would be too difficult.

The public are happiest when they can they can just point and shoot. The modern digital camera allows them to do this and produce exceptional pictures of family events, so they're happy. However, put these same cameras to a stiffer test and film wins hands down. Even the latest, best and most expensive cameras still fall short of the best that film can produce, especially where the subject is at a fair distance e.g. most landscapes.

Coming back to old-time photographers, I just can't see anyone producing, or rather reproducing the same quality shots of say, Ansell Adams, using a digital camera instead of film. For Ansell Adams, substitute Man Ray, or a host of other cult photographers and you'll soon catch my drift.

Regarding photos that sell, the type of camera used is irrelevant when the client looks at the final result. I'm sure that Michelangelo never crossed swords with Leonardo about who had the better brushes. It's the masterpiece that counts, not the tools used to produce it.

And yet this epic battle between digital and film cameras is important, because a lot of time and effort can be wasted, trying to produce shots that sell with equipment that just isn't up to the job.

Without being prescriptive or dogmatic, it seems to me that any prospective Freelance photographer must weigh up the pros and cons of digital versus film carefully. It is the nature of the photograph being attempted that should decide the matter rather than personal prejudice.

Another key factor is, of course, the preference of the client. Where the customer is happy with small digital images then convenience may suggest using digital. So, for someone who shoots a range of photos it seems sensible to become conversant with both. Digital and film cameras are totally different beasts, especially with regard to exposure ' rules of thumb'.

After excellent composition, shots that sell need perfect lighting - so the modern freelance photographer should use the best tools, digital or film to achieve the perfect shot of his chosen subject. That's the kernel of truth I've yanked out of the splinters of this hoary old chestnut for you.

About The Author

Robert Hartness

One of a series of articles by Robert Hartness, successful freelance and author of an hotlinked, flip-over, e-book, published on the web in October 2004. It offers a step-by-step guide to those on the threshold of freelance photography and is illustrated with 40+ published photographs. Acclaimed as a great reference source for serious freelancers. More information and order link -

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