Digital photography provides near-instant gratification, but it comes at a cost, and not just in terms of taking pictures.
In the old days of film, I shot a roll or two of 12, 24 or 36 exposures (although I usually managed to squeeze one or two more on there), put it in an envelope and mailed it to a lab near Parkersburg. About a week later, the mailman would deliver the envelope with our photos and negatives inside. If I was impatient to see my pictures, I could drop them off at a lab here in town for same-day or next-day service.
For really quick results I could use a Polaroid camera that had belonged to one of my relatives, but the image quality wasn’t good, plus the film was expensive. Speed didn’t equate to quality.
Fast forward to today’s digital world. I can snap the shutter until I fill the memory card if I want to. Later I put the card in my computer and process the images. I can switch back and forth from color to black and white easily. I can crop the photo, remove unwanted tree branches and tweak the colors and contrast to make the image conform more to what I saw — or, sometimes, what I wanted to see. The journalist in me feels guilty about some of those changes, so if I do extensive editing to alter reality, I let the viewer know.
This process can take only an hour or two, depending on how close to home I was when I was doing the shooting. On a good day trip, such as up to Sistersville, West Virginia, or down to August, Kentucky, to ride the ferries, I come home with several hundred photos that I cull down to a couple of dozen, maybe. Processing that many can take a few days. And don’t ask how much taking all those pictures would have cost in the film days.
Back in January I got on the website of a lab in another state that I sometimes use to make good prints. There were nighttime photos of the Belle of Louisville steamboat, and there were many, many photos of my grandkids. With today’s technology, I could track when the lab printed them, when they were handed over to FedEx and where they were on the trip from the lab to Huntington. At times I was impatient. Then I reminded myself of the days when I put film in the mail and forgot about it until the mailman delivered it a week later.
How this relates to current events: With the internet, talk radio and 24/7 cable channels, it seems that people expect instant analysis and opinion of major events. We seldom take time to analyze what we hear and who we hear it from. Too often we yield to the urge to get our opinions out there without the filters of time and thought. We want Polaroid opinions instead of carefully crafted ones.
To bring the analogy to a conclusion, I myself would like to see news cycles slow down, but that’s not going to happen. It’s an impatient digital world we live in. We’re not going back to film.