Technology makes it easy, but there's still need to learn

It came in the mail the other day. The mystery is gone. The countless books on the subject seem to be unneeded now. All those years of saving National Geographic magazines come down to this.

Like those trailers on the bottom of all-day talk shows, technology changes. Like a conservative, the change usually gets to me several years after it comes out. But there it was, a digital camera.

It's the equivalent of a computer that captures images. No more hurried trips to the drugstore or to Wal-Mart to develop film. Just point and click. And watch the image. Remember Polaroid? Now that was technology.

After you've taken the photo, you can hook it up to the computer and send it. Or you can delete it. Say you didn't get the right light? Don't fret, just play with the light and contrast and “make” the photo better.

It's going to make a photographer out of me, I keep telling myself.

The development of photography and agriculture during the last century has some remarkable parallels.

On my wall is a photo of my grandfather's place in north Alabama. The photo was taken in the early 1900s, somewhere around 1904. It shows a substantial man with a large home, a large family, a number of mules, and, the implication is, a lot of tenants. A traveling photographer took the photo. He no doubt did the same for everyone in the community.

Only a short time later, folks were buying cameras, taking the photos themselves and sending them off to Eastman-Kodak for developing. Tractors started replacing mules on a large scale on the farm.

Then came the war. Developments changed the landscape. To recount the changes brings on the threat of understatement.

The most likely comparison is precision agriculture. The ability to prescribe the inputs that go into the crop. Say the photo I just took is a piece of land. There are some spots on that piece of ground that are unequal.

That spot on the upper right-hand corner, by the person's face, looks different. Don't know the reason for that, but it's there. Maybe it's the light from the fireplace or the light from the reflection off the ceiling.

It's the only spot on the photo that needs tweaking. So, instead of changing the whole photo, I'll darken that spot and make it blend in with the others.

You have those areas in your field.

While I now have my digital camera in hand, I also have access to a “regular” camera — remember those? I still remember how to develop my own film, take reasonable photos from time to time and hit upon a photo bordering greatness every now and then.

But now I've got a tool that gives me precision. On the surface, the mystery is gone. Just below the surface, however, is the need to continue to “know” how things work. It's not enough to press a button and see a result every time.

That's why I'm going to continue to read and study.

From the time of yesteryear's traveling photographer and mules to today's high-tech cameras and precision agriculture, there's still the need to know how things work. There's still the need to study and refresh your knowledge.

The mystery is still there. We're just getting closer to understanding.

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