Jump to content

fine art digital photography

Recommended Posts

I am interested in using photography for fine art purposes and I am

not sure if I should spend the money to build a darkroom in my cellar

or to set myself up for digital photography. I am a public school art

teacher, I have degrees in studio art and art education, and I tought

B&W photography for a year at a high school. The only gear I have now

is a canon rebel slr with a cheap lens. For the kind of work I do,

mostly aimed at exposing peculiarities of being human through candid

shots, I do not believe resolution is all that important, not

uninportant, but not critical.


My main question is this -- If my intention is to take pics of people

in their environments (and therfore have the "art" be more about ideas

than color or resolution), manipulate the pics in photoshop, and have

prints as big as 16x20 made, will a high end prosumer camera provide

me with enough quality? Digital slr is out of my price range. Having

done a lot of research I am leaning heavily towards a Nikon coolpix

5700. I would hope to be able to market pics at local art shows. Is

prosumer good enough for this, or should I forget about it 'til I can

afford dslr (probably never)?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Digital prosumer camera will give you a faster workflow, but I doubt it will give you better quality than your Rebel. 16x20 is asking a lot from any 35mm camera and a WHOLE LOT from a prosumer digital. You'd probably have some trouble selling 16x20 prints from a prosumer camera in a true art market unless you made a feature out of their limitations (and in "art" anything is possible).


If you want digital your most cost effective route would be to buy a scanner (2700 dpi will give you 11 megapixles) and stick with 35mm film (maybe buy a 50/1.8 prime for $80), but you will have to buy film, develop it and scan it to be at the point you'd be at when you push the shutter on the digicam, albeit with somewhat higher quality if you get everything right. That or go the conventional printing route.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I think you should go digital. You say you want people shots. People are very idionsyncratic subjects who become intimidated with large "Pro" gear and can loosen up after a while. All this means that for people photography you should take a lot of shots. For me shooting away like mad with a film camera can be very expensive. Digital is cool because you can just shoot away and its all for free. A camera like a G5 could seem expensive (around $700) at first but with the labratory costs it will probably pay for itself in about a year or two. Remember that you'll have to buy extra memory (expensive)and have a camera with enough DRAM to handle photos (from 500mb to 1GB). Ron, being a teacher as you are I think the benefits from instant feedback and being on the cutting edge of technology will reap so many benefits for you and your students that I would say in your case it's a no-brainer. GO DIGITAL and enjoy yourself with no more smelly chemicals and be creative with all the possibilities that Photoshop will open up to you. This is just my opinion for whatever it's worth. Cheers, and good shooting, Alex.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

I know you said that your intention <I>is to take pics of people in their environments (and therfore have the "art" be more about ideas than color or resolution)</I>.<P>


But at 16x20 print size it WILL be about resolution if only because the grain or pixels (depending on whether you choose film or digital) will be very apparent.<P>


That's not necessarily a bad thing. I recently did a series of 12x18 prints from some studio test shots I had made with an Olympus 3030 (3 MP) of a dancer in motion. I actually boosted the contrast and used some false color to <B>emphasize</B> the noise, in an attempt to make a virtue of a neccesity and I've received many compliments on these shots, so much so that I'm thinking of entering them in a local juried art show.<P>


But my point is that, at that print size the grain and noise WILL be a design element so you should think about how you can use it.<P>


One factor that you didn't mention that will impact your decision is how you are planning to print these.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Thanks so much for the very helpful feedback. I have considered scanning, but it seems like it would be too tedius for me. I mentioned 16x20 because I have seen where some have claimed a prosumer can do it, but in reality I do not see myself needing that capability. Even if I did, I absolutely agree that the resolution "problems" that would arise could become part of the work.


I plan to print any art pics by taking them to a printshop and having them put on real photo paper. I do not know a whole lot about how this works, but it is my understanding that this is commonly done. I know this could be expensive, but I would only be printing a very select few pics in this manner.


Again, thanks for the help, I am just about ready to take the plunge.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

You may want to post a question over on the Photo.net "Digital Darkroom" forum regarding how to get larger-than-you'd-think-possible prints from digital files. Some digital cameras (like my Oly C4040 (4MP)) do some internal interpolations to "generate" extra pixels in their files to enable larger prints. Similarly, there are plug-ins for PShop that enable the same thing from ANY image files (Genuine Fractals, etc).
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Ron, I own a Canon 10D and have been blown away with the enlargements I've gotten away with. If my printer would print a 16" wide print (it'll only go to 14"), I think the 10D wouldn't break a sweat. Also, while the 10D won't take a b&w picture, the color shots convert to very nice b&w's in Photoshop.


I'm not familiar with the Nikon you're considering, but I'd be surprised if it does as well. Nikon still uses CCD image chips as opposed to Canon's CMOS, the latter is significantly less noisy, which can easily show when enlarging. All megapixels are not created equal, so one can't say that two different 6 megapixel cameras will produce the same quality output or enlarge as well.


I used to own a 5MP Sony F707 and it was a very good camera. But there's no way I'd be happy with a picture from it blown up that big. It used a CCD chip and that model didn't support the raw file format - which is very important in my humble opinion.


Now before you think I'm a digital nut, let me say that I also shoot 35mm, medium format (Hasselblad) and recently bought a 4X5 view camera. The other day, I shot my first film with a view camera. I took it to my local lab thinking "film is film, right?" Wrong! They don't *do* sheet film - at all!! So, I took it to the only other place in town, who will do only *slide* sheet film!! They said that their equipment to develop B&W sheet film died on them and since no one around here shoots large format, they never fixed it! Sooo... that made me start thinking about putting in a darkroom in my basement because I really want to shoot b&w with my new camera. (It'll be a while 'til I can afford to build a darkroom!)


Another thing to think about is that b&w is notoriously difficult to print with an ink jet printer. I've even got an Epson 2200 that uses two black ink cartridges (three if you count an optional matte-black), and it's still very tricky. My color prints with the 2200 are phenomenal (to me!!) and I've compared my lab's color prints with mine, and in my humble opinion, I can smoke 'em for quality color prints. I'm not so consistent with b&w - although I have gotten better.


I see that purchasing a DSLR would be a great financial burden to you, but not as much as buying a camera that's 3/4ths the price but won't do the job. I *think* you can purchase DSLR's from Gateway (the computer company) with zero percent financing. If you decided on a Canon, they make a remarkably sharp and fast 50mm lens for under a hundred bucks. Due to the cropping factor on a DSLR, that would work out to about an 80mm lens on a 10D - which would be great for portraits and low-light work. You could then add lenses as you could afford them and not be locked into one prosumer lens. The same rationale could be applied to Nikon's DSLR's too. And a darkroom's going to not be cheap either - not to mention the chemicals. (I know - inkjets gobble the $$ too!!)


So, my very long-winded answer ends up with my .02 cents worth being this: Go digital, but get a DSLR instead of that prosumer Nikon or a darkroom. You can still shoot film with your old film camera, and have it scanned by your lab (or get yourself a scanner) and print at home. Digital pics are immediate; you can dodge, burn, saturate and desaturate to your heart's content and have a print in 20 minutes. I've come to the conclusion that for me, going digital didn't mean that I stopped using film; however if I'd gone all film, (darkroom and just film cameras) I wouldn't have the flexibility that I do now - sort of best of both worlds. Then again, I could be wrong... ;-) Best wishes . . .

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I appreciate your response Beau, but the cost issue is much more than you think. A prosumer cost 1/3rd what an entry level dslr with a lens costs, not 3/4ths. Also, I took a look at a Nikon D100 and the Canon 10D and was amazed by how large they are. I was expecting something more like my little rebel. Much too cumbersome for me.


As I stated in my original post, I am much more of an art guy than a techie and the majority of opinions I have seen on the top of the line prosumer cameras say that the quality is at least within the general vicinity of a dslr. Technical reviews (steve's, dpreview) point out, for example, how well the Nikon's noise reduction system works and that the 8x optical zoom lens works better than expected. How much would a quality 35mm - 280mm cost for a dslr? That's right, a fortune. Don't misunderstand me, I realize there are definite advantages to the dslr, I just don't think they justify the extra expense for me personally, considering my applications.


By the way, you might check out ebay for deals on darkroom equip. With so many switching to digital there is a ton of really good really inexpensive used darkroom equip out there. When I was teaching B&W I took the opportunity to make a list of everything one would need for a darkroom including a sink and the wood and drywall to make an enclosure in a corner of my cellar. With the ebay prices for equip I think even with the sink you could do it for about $2000. You could even forgo the sink and just put 'em in a bucket of water until you can give them a good rinse in the kitchen sink. I know a guy who does that who has won first place in a competitive local art show 2 of the last 5 years.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For $2 you can have your answer. Go to www.dpreview.com/gallery/nikoncp5700_samples/ and find a sample picture on the top row similar to what you might shoot, and click on it. When the screensize shot comes up, click on the filename (to the right of Original:, below the picture) and get the fullsize image. Right click on it, then select Save Pictue As from the popup menu.


After saving the picture, bring it up in Photoshop (or whatever you have). Upres it to 16x20 at 300 dpi, then sharpen it. Crop out an 8x10 section and save it to disk. Burn that file to a CD-R and take it somewhere to get printed (Costco near me prints an 8x10 for $1.99 on Crystal Archive with a Noritsu printer).


Take the 8x10 home and place it on a 16x20 piece of paper and hang it on the wall. Good enough? Buy the camera. Not good enough? Oh well.


Don't have a local printer to do digital? Go to www.costco.com, select photo center, the Kodak Picture Center, open an account (it's free), and upload your cropped image. They charge $2.59 for an 8x10, plus $1.59 shipping (regardless of order size), so this option will cost you $4.18 to answer your question.


My guess is that you'll be happy enough. I've done a 16x20 wedding portrait from my 3.2 megapixel Canon S30 that everyone loved. A fellow I work with used the same camera for his daughter's bridal portrait (full length + train draped down the stairs) for a stunning 18x24. At those sizes, we had to do everything just right (upresing, sharpening), but the results were very good. Would medium format have been sharper? Of course. But in both cases the image was strong enough that 3.2 megapixels was good enough - and everyone at the weddings was impressed ("That's wonderful! Who was the photographer?"), not having any idea that they weren't medium format.


So try it yourself & see.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
  • Create New...