Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age

Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age

by Robert Hirsch

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The new edition of this pioneering book allows students to acquire an essential foundation for digital photography.

Fully updated, it clearly and concisely covers the fundamental concepts of imagemaking, how to use digital technology to create compelling images, and how to output and preserve images in the digital world. Exploring history, methods, and theory, this text offers classroom-tested assignments and exercises from leading photographic educators, approaches for analyzing, discussing, and writing about photographs, and tools to critically explore and make images with increased visual literacy.

New to this edition:

  • New larger page format
  • Revised and renewed to reflect technological advances
  • Expanded coverage of smartphone/mobile photography
  • Extended coverage of the careers section
  • More than 100 new images

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781317371700
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 03/05/2018
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 424
Sales rank: 867,679
File size: 77 MB
Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

About the Author

Robert Hirsch is a photographer, writer, and the director of Light Research ( His books include Seizing the Light: A History of Photography, Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age, Photographic Possibilities: The Expressive Use of Ideas, Materials, and Processes, Exploring Color Photography, and Transformational Imagemaking: Handmade Photography from 1960 to Now. Hirsch is a former Associate Editor for Digital Camera (UK) and Photovision Magazine, and a contributor to Afterimage, exposure, Buffalo Spree, Fotophile, FYI, History of Photography, Ilford Photo Instructor Newsletter, and The Photo Review, as well as former Director of CEPA Gallery.

Greg Erf is an accomplished imagemaker who has exhibited and published his photography throughout the United States. As a writer and Professor of Art at Eastern New Mexico University, his focus is the convergence of analog and digital image-making. Erf teaches two- and three-dimensional computer graphics and animation, plus photography. His two- and three-dimensional computer-generated work has been internationally exhibited in 360° full dome planetarium venues. His pieces are in various collections in the state of New Mexico, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe. He is on the Board of the Capitol Art Foundation that manages New Mexico’s extensive historic and contemporary art collection. For further details see

Read an Excerpt

Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age

By Robert Hirsch

Focal Press

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-240-81828-3

Chapter One

Why We Make Pictures: A Concise History of Visual Ideas

The human desire to make pictures is deep rooted. More than 30 thousand years ago, Cro-Magnon people used colored oxide and charcoal to make paintings of large wild animals, tracings of human hands, and abstract patterns on cave and rock walls. Today, people create images with a multitude of mediums, including photography.

What propels this picture-making impulse? Some make pictures for commercial reasons. Others create informational systems or employ scientific imaging tools to visualize the unseen. Artists use images expressionistically, to conceptualize and articulate who they are and how they view the world. However, the fundamental motive for making the vast majority of pictures is a desire to preserve—to document, and therefore commemorate, specific people and events of importance.

Regardless of purpose, the making of images persists because words alone cannot always provide a satisfactory way to describe and express our relationship to the world. Pictures are an essential component of how humans observe, communicate, celebrate, comment, express, and, most of all, remember. What and how we remember shapes our worldview, and pictures can provide a stimulus to jog one's memory. In his poem Forgetfulness, American poet Billy Collins sums up the fragile process of memory, and indirectly the importance of images as keepers of the flame:

The name of the author is the first to go followed obediently by the title, the plot, the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of ...

Making pictures matters because it is an inherent part of our human nature to want to shape the ordinary into the special, in order to better define our relationship to the world. Pictures can provide a concrete, yet individualistic structure of data for building our worldview. Additionally, our personal participation in structuring the world visually—the doing, the activity of imagemaking itself—can ease life's loneliness and uncertainty by helping us to feel capable of expression, validating us as individuals, and assisting us in finding a sense of well-being.

Not Just Pictures But Photographs

More than any other image medium, photography serves a multitude of purposes. Although we are conditioned to see the function of a photograph as providing a commentary or text about a subject, that need not be the case. A photograph's existence may have nothing to do with making a concrete statement, answering a specific question, or even being about something. Rather, it can be something unique in and of itself. A photograph may be enigmatic, or it may allow a viewer access to something remarkable that could not be perceived or understood in any other way. The why of a photograph can be analogous to what Isadora Duncan, the mother of modern dance, said: "If I could explain to you what I meant, there would be no reason to dance."

Think of a photograph as a dialogue involving the photographer, the subject, and the viewer. During an oral conversation, participants not only exchange words but must also formulate meaning based on the context and tone of the spoken words, to whom they are addressed, the body language of the participants, and the environment in which the conversation takes place. In the visual analogy, participants necessarily consider the pictorial elements of a subject or image, making possible a distillation and refinement of meaning. This creative interaction can lead to definition. Definition allows us to acknowledge, take responsibility, and act to solve a problem, respond to the aesthetics, or reach a conclusion about what an imagemaker deemed significant.

In the first decades of the twentieth century, Albert Einstein's concepts of relativity and quantum mechanics—ideas that showed that the classic Newtonian concept of physics with its absolutes could not be considered absolutely true—began to influence how people, especially artists, depicted and interpreted their world. People began to see that a fluid interaction between the observer and the observed offers different frames of reference to generate meaning. This can occur through symbolic manipulation (mathematical, verbal, and visual) and a reliance on analogy, insight, and myths to draw attention to the significant elements in an otherwise chaotic flow of sensory input. Such a process involves the artist, the subject, and the viewer in an ongoing reciprocal dialogue of creation and interpretation. As the artist/photographer Man Ray once said, "Perhaps the final goal desired by the artist is a confusion of merging of all the arts, as things merge in real life."

The Grammar of Photography

The fundamental grammar of photography is based on how a camera utilizes light and form to record an image that is then interpreted through societal visual codes that have evolved over centuries of imagemaking. Learning how to operate a camera, gaining an awareness of how light can reveal or suppress a subject's attributes, and then making a print or other form of visual presentation are the first steps one must master to transform an abstract idea into a physical (photographic) reality. This text introduces basic camera methods and visual construction blocks, gives examples of how and why other photographers have applied them, provides basic working procedures, and encourages readers to experiment and make modifications to the process to achieve their own results. Once a basic understanding of picture-making is obtained, control over the process can begin.

To acquire maximum benefit from this book, each reader should begin thinking about how photography can be used to construct a meaningful expression. When process is put in service of concept to create meaningful content, the heart and the mind can combine to articulate an idea from the imagination and then find the most suitable technical means of bringing it into existence (see Chapter 11).

The Evolution of Photographic Imaging

Since 1839, when Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre made public the first practical photographic process (the daguerreotype), people have been discovering new photographic materials and methods to present the way they see the world. In an evolution of the photographic process, the daguerreotype gave way to the wet plate that in turn was supplanted by dry plates, and then, for more than 100 years, flexible roll film—all of which was processed in a darkroom. Now the chemical processes of the wet darkroom have been replaced by the electronic digital studio, a developmental leap that opens up photography to a more cinematic approach of using moving images and sounds. Additionally, as mainline photographic practice has shifted to digital imaging, images that were never actually photographed in the real world can exhibit perfect photographic credibility, challenging photography's traditional role as the recorder of outer reality. As digitally constructed images become the norm—as in filmmaking that combines live action and digital animation—such images may no longer be clearly distinguishable from the pre-digital concepts of illusions of motion generated by hand-drawn methods. Ironically, this digital yet highly manual construction of images, long out of favor in a photographic mainstream that stressed the purity of the process, is now at the forefront of practice. Regardless of one's personal destination or that of the photography itself, individuals can begin their journey by grasping the importance and value of still images as fundamental building blocks, for the still image allows us to meditate on a subject in our own time. It is this very limitation of not being dynamic but static in time and space that gives still images their power.

Full Circle: Some Things Remain the Same

Although photographic technology has dramatically changed since 1839, the imagemaking process essentially remains the same. Making sharp photographs that capture highlight and shadow detail demands the best light-sensitive materials available. For example, the new High Dynamic Range (HDR) technology (see Chapter 4) involves combining multiple image files of varying exposures to create a single image of extraordinary dynamic range of light and value. This twenty-first century digital process, requiring accurate framing with limited subject movement, recalls the nineteenth-century heliochromy color subtractive process in which three negatives were made behind three separate filters and then assembled to create the final image. Both methods endeavor to overcome their material limitations and extend the image's visual range.

Light and Lens explores concepts and issues that continue to challenge photography. Even with current digital technology, photographers continue struggling to extend the range of our materials, create panoramas, adjust color, and photograph in low-light and bright-light situations. The problems continue except that instead of using analog methods, we now employ electronic means to find the solutions.

Determining Meaning

People are meaning-makers who seek significance in things, and learn from others, past and present, how to accomplish it. Digital instruments, like the omnipresent cellphone camera, let anyone transform and circulate images, constantly reminding us that there are no neutral depictions and that photographic meaning is slippery. All depictions have a particular bias, with photography having three distinct kinds. The first bias comes from the people who create and manufacture the commonly utilized photographic systems, which include the cameras, lenses, consumable supplies, software, and ancillary equipment that the vast majority of photographers relies on to produce a photographic image. These companies set up the physical boundaries and the general framework within which most photographers operate. The second predilection comes from the prejudices of the photographer who uses these systems to create specific images. Every photograph reveals the "photographer's eye"—an intermingling of subject, photographer's intent, and process. The third predisposition is the life references that viewers bring in determining what a photograph means to them. In the end, who we are, what we believe, where we live, when we live, and why we look at certain things as opposed to others define what we can see and how we see and comprehend it.

BPS: Before Photoshop

Long before Photoshop, methods that could alter a photographic image before and after the shutter clicked were practiced to achieve artistic and commercial goals. Early photographic practitioners regularly modified their working methods to accommodate their aesthetic and technical requirements. Miniature painters painted directly on daguerreotypes and calotypes (paper prints) to meet the demand for color reproductions, setting the precedent of hand-applied color. In the 1840s, Henry Fox Talbot sometimes chose to wax his paper calotype negatives (the first negative/positive process) after development to make them more transparent. This increased their visual detail, gave them heightened contrast, and made them easier and faster to print.

In 1848, Gustave Le Gray introduced a waxed-paper process in which the wax was incorporated into the fibers before the paper was sensitized. This process chemically and physically altered the speed and tonal range of the negatives and produced a different result from Talbot's waxed negatives. Other calotype photographers, such as Charles Nègre and the partnership of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson, used a pencil on their negatives to alter tonal relationships, increase separation between figure and background, accent highlights, add details or objects not included in the original exposure, and remove unwanted items. Such post-processing work is known as retouching. During the 1860s, Julia Margaret Cameron ignored—if not flouted—the standard camera rules for focus and exposure time to make portraits that revealed her subject's inner spiritual qualities.


Excerpted from Light and Lens: Photography in the Digital Age by Robert Hirsch Copyright © 2012 by Elsevier Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Focal Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Artist Contributors

Chapter 1—Why We Make Pictures

Chapter 2—Design: Visual Foundations

Chapter 3 – Image Capture: Cameras, Lenses, and Scanners

Chapter 4 – Exposure and Filters

Chapter 5 – Interpreting Light

Chapter 6 – Observation: Eyes Wide Open

Chapter 7 – Time, Space, Imagination, and the Camera

Chapter 8 – Digital Studio: The Virtual and the Material Worlds

Chapter 9 –Presentation and Preservation

Chapter 10 – Seeing with a Camera

Chapter 11 – Solutions: Thinking and Writing about Images

Chapter 12 – Imagemaker on Assignment

Addendum 1 – Safety: Protecting Yourself and Your Digital Imaging Equipment

Addendum 2 – Careers

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