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on Feb 1, 2012 in Friday Thoughts

Kodak – Lessons for Photographers

Dec 31, 1997 a pelican case arrived at the office. I opened it up to see what at first appeared to be a familiar friend, an F5 body but it wasn’t the same F5 I was use to. It was a Kodak DCS 620, the first “DLSR” that I shot with. Back in the day, we’re only talking 15yrs ago, Kodak was the big player in digital photography from sensors to projectors and everything in between. They’ve now filed Chptr 11 and we have to ask ourselves why and what can we learn from it that which applies to our own photography?

The two product shots of the camera were taken with a Coolpix 900. Nikon had provided me a “black box” to shoot with to be one of the three shooters to introduce Nikon’s entry into the digital age. The Coolpix produced a 1mb Jpeg and the 620, it created this three file thing you had to combine with their software to get a Tiff (can you say painful!). The results though were enough for many of us to realize the potential of digital photography. Kodak had one helluva track record of producing some amazing products. With a little technology and a lot of imagination, photography progressed to what we enjoy today with the D4 being an amazing leap from the 620 of just 15yrs ago. Why didn’t Kodak keep up though to ride the way they help generate?

When I first heard that Kodak was filing, I thought back to a Jr High project where I got an A because I invested my “money” in their stock and it made the best showing during the semester. Then I thought back about the photographers who told me that digital was a fad like the disk camera or APS (remember those from film days?). Some of those shooters are now long gone, no longer shooting and a couple like myself who embraced digital are still out there clicking. What can we learn from this short look at our history? Here’s my lonely $.02 on the matter.

(photo of my light table filled with the latest project at the time, taken with the Kodak DCS 620)

There’s this thought that gear isn’t important, the photographer is. There’s this thought that the photographer isn’t important, the gear is. Personally, I don’t see how you can divorce either from the other in a creative world of visually communicating.The human spirit drives both, the photographer and the gear. At least, that’s how I see it. I know in no uncertain terms that the D3 obtained for me a photograph NO OTHER way possible until it hit my hands. The GEAR made the photo but the PHOTOGRAPHER had to recognize the problem and realize its solution. It was a MARRIAGE between the two that made the one image possible and when it came to the Greater Sage Grouse project, it was pivotal in the solution! The solution required both photographer and gear, neither one could do it alone.

My involvement with Kodak digital ended around 2002 so I’m not sure all that occurred since then to lead up to the filing, but we had the feeling back then that the connection between gear and the photographer was being missed. In the beginning of digital, most everyone missed it but as we know, history has shown that digital ain’t all that bad. I have to admit when I heard the D4 was being announced, I said to myself, “Here we go again.” Much to my great surprise, the upgrade in technology has been for the most part embraced and not criticized! While I now have over 2200 emails with questions about the D4 to answer, they are all boil down to the basic question, “How will this technology improve my photography?”

And to be honest with you, alone I don’t think it will. What I do think it will do is open the doors to your imagination permitting you to go places you might not have realized you could have gone without it. The D4 in itself is not the game changer. You, yourself are not the game changer. It is when the two come together, the spirit and the technology, that’s the game changer will occur. Personally, I know that many of the photographs I’ve taken in the last 15yrs with digital I could have done with film. I also know there is one image, one very important one that change the world for a species, that could only have made with a D3, digital. It’s that one, that one possible click that constantly pushes me to embrace new technology.

You’ve gotta take risks in every form as a photographer to move forward. You often fall down and you have to pick yourself back up and learn from that fall. You don’t and you will fall again. But if you do, you’re up an running. For way too many, these are tough times which saddens me as photography is just to joyous of a life pursuit to have that pressure. For those, thinking about obtaining a D4 just isn’t possible but don’t let that stop you from moving in that direction. I often hear, “Got to learn what my camera can do now before I upgrade.” It’s not what your camera can do, it’s what you can do with your camera! The last thing I want you to do is go Chptr 11 on your photography so push yourself to push your gear! Shutter speeds and apertures are still the exact same as there were 100yrs ago. Light will always be a mystery we chase. Wrap them up in your spirit and you won’t go bankrupt. Our photographic future is awfully damn bright, go out and click and share never forgetting, YOU with your camera can change the world with a photograph!