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Thread: Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

  1. #1
    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
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    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    Stephen Johnson wrote: " I'm recording color in my photographs that escape film. Highlights are holding and shadows are opening up like never before. I am making the first archival color photographs o f my career. Grain has vanished.". Judging by his photographs of the national parks, do you think that this has resulted in any good images which wouldn't have been possible before digital ? One situation where an extended dynamic range would be useful would be sunset landscapes where a grad filter is needed. Interestingly, looking at Johnson's photographs, I notice none of these.

    Generally speaking, do you know examples of digital capture (I am not speaking manipulation) which has produced outstanding imagery which couldn't have been done on film before ?

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    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    Have you also noted the length of the exposure times?

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    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    Yes, I know of one type of image done by digital backs that hasn't been done by conventional. The long scanning times for some of these backs have resulted in images with 'variable' blurring. This results as the scan takes a few minutes to create the exposure. With conventional films the lens is open for long exposures and we know blurring occurs, depending on what is moving in the breeze, water flow or whatever, on the whole image the whole time the film is being exposed to light. With digital scannnig backs, the scan is moving line by line and the blurring one sees with conventional film is impossible. You get 'jaggies' with these pixel by pixel as the back scans. If you use a one shot back you can't do a long exposure with the digital stuff.

  4. #4

    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    On the contrary, I only see a *lack* of photographs which would *not* be possible with digital. Can you imagine lugging a 7lb Powerbook in addition to all of your LF gear. Together with the inability of a scanning back to capture long exposures, LF digital has a long way to go. I recall seeing this website sometime last year and being very unimpressed. He does not seem to have added much since then. I wish those companies had sponsored me to bum around the NP system for 5 years!

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    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    What does this guy mean by archival color? There is no such thing for color inks. Pat

  6. #6

    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    I agree with Richard, I doubt there is anything LF digital backs can do, that film can not...yes, you may have to use negative film to match the exposure lattitude if desired. And like Ellis mentioned, the exposure times are outrageous... when I investigated 4x5 digital backs around 6 months ago, exposure times for outdoor scenes in bright sunlight were 5 minutes, and sunrise shots, about 30 minutes. In my opinion, taking 30 minutes for an exposure will produce an image that is very unlike what the viewer actually saw at the site. To me, this is similar to shooting film, scanning it and manipulating it in Photoshop. If you notice, he does shoot a lot of stationairy objects.

    But if he is actually selling those prints for between $2 - $4k like he has quoted on his web site, then maybe someone should investigate why people are paying so much for them? I have not personaly seen any of his work, I would like to the comments of someone who has.

  7. #7

    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    As a process, digital capture, plus post capture manipulation might offer a better solution to mixed lighting situations which might come up in interior photography. Of course there are always "analog" ways of solving the problem, but in this case, digital capture may be superior. No guessing on the film's response to funny light. Probably some advantage in being able to manipulate color channels independent from each other in this case. It might be better to think of digital as a new workflow to an end result. In this way, I don't believe it's fair to divorce the backend process from the capture. The other consideration is that "captures" will get smarter, and move some level of "manipulation" into the capture. The new Fuji pro SLR (S1?) tries to guess at a bunch of stuff (e.g. white balance) based on the capture.

  8. #8
    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
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    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    I saw his prints at a gallery a couple of years ago. They looked somewhat different because of their low contrast and saturation (maybe that's the more accurate colors ?), and the fact they were printed on watercolor paper with the Iris gicle process.

    By the way, my question is about the benefits of digital, not its current limitations, which are well known and might change in the future.

  9. #9

    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    Yes, he's breaking new ground. The color "that escapes film" is so wondrous and new, it's like a color photograph has never been taken before. And, since we all know that sheet film enlargements are so grainy as to be barely readable by the human eye, we must praise digital for bringing us recognizable images. Get my drift? Egads, there's a place for digital, of course, it has many uses. But this? Come on guys. . . what sort of insanity is taking place that the minute gains in color accuracy (which, by the way, I'm not convinced about-what about all the variables in capture chips--->the monitor used to process image----->inks used to output) and shadow detail are thought to outweigh the advantages of sheet film's short exposure times and, AHEM, yep, LONG RECOGNIZED SERIOUS PROFESSIONAL IMAGE QUALITY???? Honestly, this is turning a molehill of digital "progress" into a dubious mountain of results. I guess I'm now supposed to look at my big 20x24 on the wall, from color neg 4x5, and suddenly convince myself that it's A) Not sharp. B) Grainy. C) Has no shadow or highlight detail. D) Pales in the face of the wondrous leaps and bounds that digital scanning backs have accomplished. Hmm. . .it's not working. . .

  10. #10

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    Stephen Johnson and digital photography breaking new ground ?

    Stumbled into this discussion, but I do have some thoughts on Steve Johnson's work. I first saw his images in a magazine a couple of years back, and I thought they were stunning. The images on his website perhaps a bit less so, but it's quite impossible to present a 300 Mbyte image file as a tiny 30 Kb JPG.

    It's not a matter of whether his prints are better than than those made by "analog" capture. It's the mere fact that he's working with a purely digital process, starting with a very high resolution digital capture, and doing so in the great outdoors.

    I for one am impressed and excited by this pioneering work. Film still reigns, for now, for professional work, but it would be foolish for any serious photographer to believe that this will remain the case forever.

    I've actually considered a low-cost version of this same scenario, using a Leaf Lumina. The main thing that kept me from pursuing that was the need to lug around a laptop and power source for the Leaf. (The Lumina is a scanning back for 35 mm format that gives a 27 Mb file and uses Nikon F-mount optics.)

    Andrew Rodney claims that certain high-end area CCDs have better dynamic range than Ektachrome. I'm not quite so convinced of that. Even so, I envy Steve Johnson those digital captures... imagine not having to deal with the vagaries of film processing, wet chemistry, spots, scratches, dust, and film that won't lie flat in an enlarger or scanner. I'm looking forward to it, myself. But not exactly holding my breath.

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