Both Sides Now
Bruce Myren Looks At The Pros And Cons Of The Digital World

Photos © 2003, Bruce Myren, All Rights Reserved

Bruce Myren, photographer, digital guru, and dedicated artist, is often cast in the role of the assistant who doesn't carry lights or equipment. He quietly trails into a shoot behind some of the area's top pros who don't happen to shoot much digital and he makes them look great. They hire him to ensure that the digital aspect of a job goes smoothly, that the exposure is right for the chip, the lighting correct for digital, and that the numbers correspond with every area of the photograph so when the file goes downstream to the printer and the magazine they have a good image.

"I know, for instance, what the numbers are that may be appropriate for a skin tone in particular lighting conditions but instead of it being 10 stops of gradation I now have 256 stops of gradation in three channels. Remember the darkroom? Well," Myren explains, "I make the analogy of digital to traditional photographic processes and photographers understand that. My scanner is now the enlarger, a histogram is the exposure, and the curve is the amount of time I process my film and how it affects the image. It's just an extrapolation of the theory of digital." Simple...

Digital Skill, Photo Technique
Myren tells how people will call him in a panic. "Their client has to have a digital shoot and blah, blah, blah. I say, `It's photography and it is still about light hitting a light sensitive material and you know how to do that. That is the photographic skill.' They start to breathe again.

"With digital the tools and terminology are different and a pro can't operate today unless he is shooting digitally. However," he warns, "for the photographer, digital does not always mean saving money and it is not necessarily faster. The photographer is now becoming the lab. The way digital has affected the industry is that the photographer shoots the job and the client is on the site looking at the images on a screen and making edits. Sometimes the photographer can give the job to the client immediately or the next day, but most often the photographer or an assistant is working until midnight on editing, re-sizing, color correcting, and cleaning up. With all this postproduction work, he has suddenly gone from an 8-12 hour day into a 16-18 hour day for the same amount of money. Photographers need to know about this."

Film Shooter, Digital Guru
Surprisingly, most of Myren's own work is film based since he usually shoots in low-light settings. "For that work I prefer my Nikon F5 as it has better capabilities to photograph performances and bands. There is no digital camera that allows me to do this the way I see. They don't have the dynamic range, capabilities, or qualities for the way I shoot. It's a quality issue and I am just not happy with what happens.

"Film holds certain detail in the shadows and has gradation in the highlights that is photographic and beautiful. When you have a bright light on a stage showing right into your lens, there is a transition that happens. It looks natural because we are used to looking at film and how it transits. Even with a high-end digital camera, there is one ISO equivalent speed essentially so there is only a certain level of sensitivity built into the chip. That doesn't change so they add a charge to the CCD basically to add sensitivity. It is artificial and creates more noise."

For his editorial work, specifically portraits, Myren turns to his Nikon D1X. "It's appropriate," he says "when I am able to control the light or use available light. The 6 megapixels give me an 18MB file, which is as big as I need for most editorial jobs and I often need even less for commercial work."

Often Myren will go outside and shoot in bright light. He puts the camera on a tripod and makes exposures for both the bright light and the shadow. In Photoshop he puts one on top of the other and creates a new exposure. "This is how digital photography can surpass film in dynamic range," he says.

Though many photographers think the large megapixel cameras are as good as analog because they are full frame 35mm, under close scrutiny Myren says the difference is noticeable. "I think that people tend to accept less quality over time," he says. "It's a philosophical problem within the industry and in the art form itself. They do this because they want speed and ease of use. That is of concern to me, especially when people say we can always change things in Photoshop. For me that means that I am this fancy person who presses a button and someone works on my image in Photoshop and some of the art of making a beautiful piece of photography is basically taken away. Then, on the other hand, for some photographers who do their own work in Photoshop, that becomes their art."

The Craft Of Photography
One cannot divorce the technique of photography from the photograph and there is a level of craftsmanship that must not be lost, whether it is digital or film. A photographer needs to learn to use his tools appropriately to make good images. Myren's concept is that there is a whole other esthetic that has yet to be explored.

"Some people are still scared of digital because they think it is limiting them, when in reality it is opening so many more doors. One has to look at it that way and be inspired and excited by it. Even low-res cameras have a certain esthetic," he says, "not good or bad, or mine. There are these possibilities that people haven't even started to think about yet because they are so concerned about more and more megapixels. But there is also this whole thing in photography where people are using Dianas and are buying disposable cameras and they are taking pictures and using them because there is an esthetic there as well.

Get Started
"When people tell me they have to spend so much money for a good camera I tell them to go buy a $500 digital camera and start taking pictures with it. They are going to learn a workflow and going to start to learn the terminology and to understand file size just by the fact that the picture they took with that $500 camera can't get bigger without losing quality. Then they understand the craft of it and recognize the fact that they may have to buy something more expensive.

"Many people out there are so adamant about the fact that they are not technical and they are scared and don't want to learn. They need to learn about digital. The control we have now with Photoshop and these high dynamic ranges, high gamut printers, and the type of paper we can choose gives us possibilities that we've never had in the history of photography. This craft has always been a compromise between what you saw, how you wanted to see it, and the way the materials worked to get you there. Ansel Adams created the Zone System so he had more control over his imaging and could get it closer to what he felt and how he wanted to present the image.

"Now the tools are so much more precise and you can do so much more to an image when you learn to manipulate and fine-tune your vision."

Myren feels that with digital there comes a huge responsibility and that for everyone the weight of that responsibility is greater than ever. "Imaging," he says, "has become a commodity and we have to be very careful of how we take jobs and how we charge for the jobs and how work gets done. Things are turned upside down by this digital thing and we have to wait and see how it shakes out. I am excited and concerned simultaneously as to what is going to happen to photography."

Myren agrees that photographers have to find the best way in which their vision can be expressed now that digital is part of our culture. "It's instant gratification, even better than Polaroid, a medium where we got our print immediately and it was a one of a kind. Digital is not only immediate--it's reproducible. Digital capture might just be the best of both worlds."

For more of Myren's work visit his site: