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Rethinking Digital Photography [Book Review]

Rethinking Digital Photography.jpgTo my mind, author John Neel is right in his belief that “Today’s photographers are looking for fresh ways to reintroduce creativity and expression into their work.

The book explores “unconventional imaging methods” that can put the fizz back into digital technology that has possibly demanded too much in the way of comprehension of the technical aspects and delivered too little in the area of creative expression.

Neel is of the opinion that digital has much to learn from film. As a one time graphic artist he has a direct approach to image making that is refreshing to say the least. He manages to make the most amazing pictures from seemingly mundane objects… the book is full of inspirational photographs.

His methods are startling, unexpected and often challenging, much of his approach dating from the days when you could pull a camera or a lens apart in the pursuit of a different approach.

One example is a hairy contraption that began with a 1950s twin lens box camera (a Kodak Duaflex), to which he attached a digital camera that pointed down to capture the viewfinder image. The results taken with this rig are, to say the least, startling.

Now that mirrorless cameras are enjoying a spectacular popularity Neel notes that it is easy to attach early 16mm movie lenses to them to capture weird and wonderful images. This situation is helped by the easy availability of adaptors for M42 and Pentax screw mount optics.

Not content with this foray, the book then moves on to discuss the use of ‘alternative lenses’, such as lenses ripped from single use cameras, Dianas and Holgas, magnifiers, old binoculars and projectors. He even converted an old enlarger lens to a tilt-shift lens, describing the process in four pages of text and lucid pictures.

A ‘no lens’ approach even gets a look in: one adventure saw Neel create pinhole images by simply making an ‘aperture’ with his thumb and forefinger. The more capable can rest fall back to a clear section on making your own (fingerless!) pinhole lens from thin sheet brass.

The related subject of lensless zone plate photography gets attention. A zone plate is basically a tiny image of concentric rings printed on film that stand in for a lens aperture and impart their own ‘glowy’ effect on a photograph.

There is also a chapter on macro photography, covering the topics of dedicated lenses, extension rings, reversing the lens with a suitable mount.

Other subjects: HDR (High Dynamic Range) in colour and B&W; the use of software to emulate painterly effects; panoramas in all sorts; making mandalas with the use of repetitive images; stereoscopic imagery (red/blue anaglyph viewing specs provided). And, if that were not enough, Neel then goes on to describe some software that creates sound from an image… surely, the ultimate in cool!

This is without doubt the most inspiring book on photographic image making that I have ever come across. Simply spectacular!

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Barrie Smith
Barrie Smith

is an experienced writer/photographer currently published in Australian Macworld, Auscam and other magazines in Australia and overseas.

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