If you are reading this, you have probably decided to buy or you have already bought a digital camera and you are about to embark on a journey into a fascinating world of limitless possibilities – that of photography. It has never been as easy as it is today, at the beginning of the 21st century, the age of digital photography. However, you should keep in mind that nothing is more important than what we jokingly call the ‘camera operating device’ – the man behind the camera. That is because not even the most advanced camera can take a good shot all by itself. Only you can bring heart and soul to an otherwise meaningless combination of colours and light registered by the digital sensor or film in your camera. Our main goal when writing this book was not only to teach you about the specifics of digital cameras, but also to teach you how to create enchanting images whose spell is so powerful that people will find it hard to tear their eyes away from your photographs and will keep asking how you managed to achieve that effect.
As far back as the Middle Ages people had figured out that if they were able to discover a material which is sensitive to light, it could replace the drawing canvas and produce a ready image. There has been some evidence that certain attempts were made in that direction. The resulting images, however, have not been preserved as the method to fix the image once it has been exposed to daylight had not been discovered yet. It was only at the beginning of the 19th century that several scientists managed to create independently of one another methods of achieving a lasting image.
A photographer in the 19th century was very much like a magician. He needed to understand physics in order to design his camera as well as chemistry so that he could prepare his own chemicals. With time emulsions became more and more sensitive and only a couple of decades later it was now possible to take photographs in mere ten to fifteen seconds. The first photographic portraits of people date back to the middle of the 19th century. A photographer would secure the camera in a stable position and would instruct the people to stand still; he would then carefully take the cap off the lens and count to 5 or 10. These are the photos of our ancestors we are familiar with, the ones where they seem unnaturally stiff. Over the next years the sensitivity of the emulsions increased even further, leading to shorter exposure times and a more readily available process which in turn made photography ever more popular.
Here are some key photographic cameras from before the digital era which played an important role in the development of photography:
It was no longer necessary to possess knowledge of physics and chemistry in order to practice the art of photography. Thus, cameras infiltrated into the everyday lives of ordinary people who were interested in capturing life around them. They took photos of their families, neighbours and events on the streets. Kodak used children to advertise their cameras in order to establish them as a convenient product for mass use. The slogan of the brand was ‘You press the button, we do the rest’.
We will not explore the history of digital cameras in much detail here as from the point of view of photography their principle of operation remains the same. The same could be said about the main parameters used for setting the camera – sensitivity (ISO), exposure time (shutter speed) and light power of the lens (aperture). We will discuss the specifics of each one in the following chapters ‘Selecting the right equipment’ and ‘Camera settings’. It is important to mention, however, some important historical and technical facts relating to the technology of creating an image through electricity.