Elsewhere online a respected Micro stock Photographer who has been in the RF stock business nearly as long as I have was talking about the great Cartier Bresson and in that discussion he mentions what a great eye the man had and the fact that "he never processed one roll of film"
Now no one will argue that Mr. Bresson was not one of the greats of the film era. Nor will anyone argue that he did not have maybe one of the greatest photographic eyes of his time. Nor would many argue that his eye was not a contributing factor to his success. However the fact that he never processed one roll of film speaks volumes about photography in the film era VS the photography in the digital era.
In the film era most top photographers had a technician in a lab / darkroom somewhere who was making them look brilliant. The exposure was standard knowledge to the film photographer in the manual camera age. You either properly exposed the negative or you did not. In most cases once the shutter closed the film photographer was out of the loop and had nothing to do with the production of the developed film or subsequent prints especially in the color film and slide realm.
At this point the process was completed in the darkroom where a master lab technician could make magic happen even with the most mundane negatives. Dodging, burning, enlarger filters and cross processing where but the top layer of the great lab technicians tool box. The truth of film photography was most great photographers were average photographers who worked with spectacular lab staffs. The photographer himself ceased to be responsible for the image beyond the close of the shutter.
In the digital age it is much more likely that the brilliant photographers are fully responsible for the finished product they produce. The really big names may have staff that do their post production for them but most of the working photographers in the world today that you or I would call great are doing their own post work as well.
Today the photographer with an exceptional eye and access to exceptional subject matter still needs to be a master of the post production process as well. If he is not it is unlikely that he will rise above the crowd. In fact it is probable that many digital photographers with only an average level of skill in composition and exposure but with exceptional Photoshop skills will rise above the individual who is maybe more talented in a pure photographic sense but lacks complete skills in Photoshop and the other post production tools of the modern age.
So while the great film names might have had great eyes they most likely did not have the extraordinary skills of today's well rounded photographers. The gear of the film era was simplistic and exposure was exposure. It was a time when f/8 meant f/8 and there was no variance in that concept. In the film era the common denominator among great photographers and the real separating difference for many was the brilliant skill of the lab technician.
Today a photographer has to have a much better, more well rounded tool bag. Not only must he posses the post production skills to elevate his better than average eye above the crowd but he must come to understand the differences in exposure in the digital world.
In the digital age the cliché F/8 is always F/8 exactly true. As a general rule yes but in practice with the great variety of equipment available today from a variety of manufacturers utilizing different com[ponents and mathematical formulas to determine F/8 the true and practicle apature setting of your camera and mine very well may show significant difference in the histogram and final output.
Differences in lens coatings, digital sensors, high pass filters, image processing engines and algorithms now mean that your exposure can vary as much as 2 full stops from one camera body to the next. Even 2 bodies of the same model manufactured a few weeks or months apart can show a dramatic difference in exposure with the same lighting and same settings.
At first I did not believe this variance could be true but after over 100 in studio workshops at Vegas Vision Studios
and evaluating the output created by the many different attendees that have come through and shot side by side under controlled conditions I have to admit that these variances in exposure are in fact a fact of digital photography today.
So while we in today's modern digital age are blessed with wonderfully intuitive equipment capable of capturing stunning imagery right out of the box and in situations that the film photographer could only dream about we are also handicapped by the need to be skilled and even talented in many, many more ways than the photographer of even 15 years ago. People will tell us that technology has made it easy to be successful. That technology has ruined the industry of photography and that anyone with a prosumer grade DSLR can now call themselves a pro photographer. Yet the truth remains technology has made it that much more difficult than ever to truly excel in commercial photography. The business it's self has been changed many times over by technology but technology has not arbitrarily made it easier to excel. As always throughout history the one who is most likely to succeed is the one who invests into his own education and learns to be the most well rounded of his competition. There is no teaching the artistic eye that is the first step to setting one photographer apart from the next but that of course is but one more of the many tools in the modern digital photographers tool box.