It’s always been the same. Whether the more traditional method is employed or the more recent electronic method. It’s all the goings on throughout the photographic process that result in a good or a poor outcome.
So, if you look at a photograph and think ‘that’s quite something’, you should consider two things. Firstly, it resulted from the photographer’s knowledge and secondly the time he spent using it. What is often overlooked is the fact that a lot of that time is pre shoot preparation and also the time spent after the location or studio work.
Give two photographers two identically exposed but unprocessed films of the same subject and tell them to finish the job. What will result will be two entirely different photographs. This is because they would be most unlikely to employ identical processing and printing chemistry and techniques. Exactly the same thing applies to images created within the digital domain. Exactly the same.
Where the confusion arises is this.
Since the advent of digital photography most people think that cameras make photographs. They don’t … well not good ones. What’s happening when you see an image pop up on the little screen on the back of the camera is a representation of the image file which was made when one pressed the shutter button. It’s just something that Mr. Nikon or Mr. Canon pre programmed the camera to do. Their representation. An opinion, if you like. This file is downloadable and can be used to make a print or all sorts of things come to that … but … it is in no way making proper use of the available data. I’ll explain more.
When using film, one exposes it to light in the camera and at that point one has what is called a ‘latent’ image. This latent image will disappear the moment one takes the film out of the camera and exposes it to the light of day. So we don’t do that. We protect it from the light and process the film (develop it) and then ‘fix’ it. This makes it useable as a device for making a print (or other things) and makes it safe in the daylight (or more importantly, enlarger light). The methods employed to develop the film are many and varied, each one producing a different negative (or positive).
Going back to digital photography, exactly the same thing applies. It’s only the method of application that varies. It would be a bit messy and expensive pouring a jug of Promicrol onto your computer! There is indeed a ‘latent’ image lurking inside the circuits of your electronic camera. What is required is it’s removal from the camera and it’s processing in the way the photographer deems necessary to produce the result he is after. Incidentally, how the sensor is exposed to the light at the other end of the process is equally important … just like film.
The equivalent of the digital camera produced pre-programmed Jpeg in the film world is what is (or was) produced by the preset processing machine at the chemist. They were all different too! You see, thinking that cameras make photographs really started a long time before digital cameras. Digital cameras just make the illusion happen quicker.
No, there’s no photograph, until a photographer has spent the time making one and if he’s any good, that’s why you like it.