Technology changes affect our photography

By Chuck Kajer

One of the most visible parts of my job is when I'm holding a camera. Whether I'm at an athletic event, a community event, at the schools or just walking downtown, there's something about the camera that brings out the extrovert in most people, and makes others run for cover.

One of the biggest changes in the 18 years I've been in this business is the switch from film to digital images. It happened slowly, as the new digital cameras got better and better. I used to budget between three and five rolls of film a week for a typical newspaper, depending on how many events were going on. We always tried to keep it to three rolls, because that's how many rolls we could develop at one time. If we went to four, it doubled the amount of time we had to spend in the darkroom.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, taking a photo meant spending about 40 minutes in the darkroom to develop the film, waiting an hour or so for the film to dry, then cutting the negatives into strips of five or six frames and putting them in a plastic sleeve. Then, we'd look at the negatives and decide which ones were the best and should be printed.

Printing was another big step. We'd put the negative on an enlarger in the dark room, frame, size and focus the image, use a light meter to decide how long to expose the image, get out the photographic paper and then expose the image. Then, we'd run it through a processor that would develop the print, which we would then paste up on the page.

In the mid-1990s, we started entering the digital age, with the purchase of a negative scanner. We still had to develop film, but now, the negative itself could be scanned and put on the computer, where the exposure and contrast could be adjusted with a few clicks of a computer keyboard. It saved a lot of time and money, since we no longer had to purchase the chemicals that were needed to develop the prints.

In 1999, the newspaper purchased its first digital camera. For most of our photo needs, it was a useful tool, but for sports action photos, the results were less than ideal, so we still had to develop some film. We purchased a new digital camera in 2002, which cut our use of film even more. It eventually got to the point where it was cheaper for us to use color film and have the negatives developed commercially instead of doing our own developing. Finally, two years ago, we got a digital SLR, a camera that looks like a good film camera, but records the image in digital. We haven't developed much film since then. We simply take the photos, download them onto our computer, look on the screen to pick out the one we want to use and then our production department uses PhotoShop to prepare the image so we can use it in the newspaper.

Even with the changes in technology, there are some things that don't change. For instance, taking photos at a football game, when someone makes a great catch and you think you've got a good shot of the play, you almost feel as pumped as the player does. The biggest difference between 10 years ago and now is that with a digital camera, you can see the image on your screen right away, instead of waiting for the film to develop.

The digital camera has been one of the more helpful tools we use here. I wouldn't want to go back to the days of film and mixing darkroom chemicals.

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New Prague, MN 56071

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