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Digital, a Maturing Technology

image camera color essay

FRANZISKA S. FREY, Ph.D.
Rochester Institute of Technology

When the first digital cameras were brought to the market in the early 1990s, no one could have foreseen how quickly digital would gain market share and displace film as the dominant technology used to take pictures. In many applications, the conversion is well underway, if not completed. The analog photographic industry as we know it is all but gone. Many companies from that era have ceased to exist, while some are still in the business but have completely changed the way they operate as well as the line of products and services they sell. It will still be a few more years until the shakeup of the industry and the players is complete and the marketplace stabilizes.

Many books and thousands of websites are now available for exploring various aspects of digital photography. It is important, however, to keep in mind that while the tools have changed, many of the underlying principles remain the same.

The life of the digital photographer in this age of constant change has forced many to operate in new and untested ways. While the days of the darkroom are more or less over, many new issues arise today when creating photographs. Every aspect of the process involves many choices—starting with the taking of a photograph and culminating in receiving a hard copy from a printer. Some of the new concerns that challenge photographers today include (but are not limited to): color profiles and color spaces, sharpening and other image-processing actions, monitors, file formats, metadata, and digital archiving. Knowledge and skill sets for photographers have changed quite dramatically: The controls that many master craftsman required in the darkroom have been replaced by the knowledge of computer codes, keyboard equivalents, or knowing someone who knows.

This section of the Focal Encyclopedia of Photography highlights some of the important new information that has arisen with the introduction of digital photography.

Lukas Rosenthaler’s essay on digital archiving reminds us that digital has not only changed the way we take and print pictures, but it also mandates a different approach to storing and considering the preservation of the photograph, whether for a few months or for many decades.

One of the main changes brought by digital photography is the capture technology in the camera and the way images are formed in the sensors in a completely different way than with film. Romano Padeste describes the process of digital image formation in his essay entitled “Imaging Systems,” which details the various camera sensors currently being built. Michael Kriss also provides a short overview of materials used in the different sensors.

This industry has experienced explosive change, and Peter Adelstein summarizes the development of standards that are fundamental to the success of digital in the future. With the number of digital cameras on the market, comparing them can overwhelm even the experts. In his essay “Digital Camera Testing,” Dietmar Wüller shares the importance of this process, which was once fully standardized in film. In his essay, Dietmar describes a few of the most important concerns regarding camera testing, providing fundamentals in determining what a digital camera can do.

One of the big changes with digital technology is that the photographer needs a complete understanding of electronic color systems to make the right workflow choices. Sabine Süsstrunk has authored a well-rounded evaluation of the fundamentals: image formation, colorimetry, color spaces, color encodings, and color image encodings, concluding with color management. While many of the digital color issues have been solved, considerable challenges still lie ahead. Jean-Pierre Van de Capelle’s essay looks ahead to the future of color management.

Camera raw files create the possibility for working photographers to create as near to the subject recording as possible by enabling work to be done at the pixel level of the file, without the processing occurring in the camera. Greg Barnett describes advantages and challenges in working with camera raw files.

The long hours of working in the darkroom have given way to the era of endless hours spent in front of a computer screen. Image processing allows almost unlimited possibilities for reworking a photograph after the shooting. A basic understanding of image processing is important for making the right choices. Lukas Rosenthaler’s essay provides an overview of image-processing techniques that can be used and their theoretical background.

The expression “An image is worth a thousand words” has meaning only if one can find the image. Metadata and using it properly opens up many new ways for photographers to organize and locate digital files of photographs. Simon Margulies describes some of these theories required in metadata in his essay.

The electronic darkroom has given artists many new tools to use in the creation of photographic art. Patti Russotti describes her scan-o-grams as photography without a camera. The richness of her imagery as well as her thoughts on other applications of digital photography provide yet another perspective from which to discuss the tools and methods used by photographers in the digital era.

A glossary of digital terminology has been maintained, principally from the 3rd Edition, in this section to provide a language for understanding and communicating about this new technology.

Digital Archiving - Conclusion [next] [back] Diggs, Taye (1972–)

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