Twenty-five years ago, we never would have thought that anything but a Polaroid camera could give you the instant gratification of seeing your photograph seconds (well, a minute) after clicking the shutter button. But today, viewing your image on the LCD screen of a camera a few seconds after shooting is now de rigueur in our photographic society.

I often reminisce with friends and colleagues about “the good old days.” What now seems to be a dying trend, when we would load a roll of Kodachrome 64 in the back of a Pentax K1000 or Canon EOS 1, and utilize only a light meter and instincts to craft a great image. There was an art to understand the relationship between color, contrast, and light. Mixing it with composition and adding a dash of luck when you experimented. Today it’s a new game, written in ones and zeros.

In our analog days, we’d come home from a shoot with a fanny pack full of exposed rolls of film. The next day, we’d process the images in the lab, or in later years, drive to the local lab, as processing 40 + rolls of film can be daunting in a small studio. From the time we depressed the shutter button, to when the slides were spread across the light table was measured in days, not seconds.

Sorting was done manually, with “bad” images being unceremoniously tossed into the trash can. Those images we deemed “worthy,” were carefully placed in slide sleeves, cataloged and indexed before being hung in a file next to its hundreds of brethren.

Then there was my Mom. She used a Keds shoe box.

Today, my file cabinets have a layer of dust, replaced by hard drives in a server, redundantly backed up to a Drobo data robot, and a third copy in “the cloud.” Images that aren’t up to snuff are deleted, and memory cards reformatted, which means I save thousands of dollars per year with 35mm film and developing out of the equation. I have an efficient workflow and key wording system in place, where I can find any image in a matter of minutes. It’s not quite as easy as locating an image from my slide collection, I know which drawer to pull and which section it’s located in – I can pull it in seconds.

While I miss working in the darkroom (although my lungs and fingers do not miss the fumes and occasional contact with D76 developer and fixer), the digital equivalent is much faster, more precise and you don’t have to work with chemicals!

However, the digital darkroom does have its downfalls. Gone are the days of burning and dodging the light cast from the enlarger in an effort to make the perfect print; the anticipation from an exposed piece of paper as it floats in a tray of developer, the image ghosting to life; and the worry of someone opening the door to the darkroom while you’re exposing the paper! The biggest issue I’ve faced (as well as a myriad of other shooters) today is the death of a drive full of images, especially if it had not been recently backed up. I learned a long time ago that it’s not a matter of if a drive will fail, but when.

Recently, we experienced another form of digital frustration: The self-rebooting computer, AKA the Blue Screen of Death. With help from error logs, we traced the problem not to a hardware issue, or a software problem, but an image size issue. With today’s big megapixel cameras and raw processing, I routinely work with images in the 900 MB to 1.2 GB file size range. This particular machine was older, running Windows XP Professional. It has 8GB of RAM, but XP can only “see” or use 4GB, so it was literally choking on the large files, and shutting itself off as a form of protection. When this machine was built, my file sizes were about 360MB, so it ran like a champ. Not so much today. Hence its probable future role as an Umbuntu-running-kick-ass photo server.

As I’ve found in my journey through the digital realm, shooting with film was less complicated, but carried a fair level of stress, especially when the lab called to tell me there had been a “issue” while developing my slides (read: the processing machine broke down while the film was in the developer).

Do I miss the old days of photography? Sure I do. Would I ever go back to film full time? No way in h-e-double-hockey-sticks. With digital, you deal with then anxiety of drive failure or the computer wigging out. However, with backups and drive images, digital is really the way to go.