May 9, 2023

Deconstructing Digital Precision and Predictability to Achieve Analog Uncertainty and Variability

Early in my post-photojournalist teaching career, Douglas Dubler came to speak at Hallmark Institute of Photography.  Contrary to conventional wisdom, Dubler explained how he liked to sometimes overexpose digital images.  I gasped. 

Lunar Pond

Fast forward some 15 years.  I am at Walden Pond in Concord, MA, photographing with a Nikon Mirrorless Z6 II. When shooting in manual mode, I can see a real time preview of my exposures. I thought of Dubler's explorations and intentionally overexposed this image.

Essence of Woods, Fragility of Water and Sky

Along with intentionally overexposing the images, I deliberately shot images out of focus in order to abstract the forms into their essences.

I found these out of focus sun sparkles captivating:

However, the dark background of the sandy pond bottom detracted from the effect I was hoping for.

Going With the Flow

Striving to highlight the highlights, I shot an in-camera double exposure, combining the sun sparkles with a photo of trees, clouds and sky:

Sunny Skies

Hmm.  I liked this, but wanted to isolate the sparkles and avoid an edge-to-edge overlapping of images.

So, I held my hand in front of the lens to block off half the frame:

Masking by Hand

Another in-camera double exposure that overlaid the above image with one of trees and sky led to a subtle layering of images and the realization of my vision.  (I have written previously about that when shooting multiple exposures with the Z6, the camera combines the images, yet also retains each individual image file.)

From Precision to Uncertainty

For me, the muted and naturalistic colors of the image have the look of a double exposure created with a film camera. The orange glow at the bottom evokes a light leak.

Analog film experimenter and explorer, Beth "I shoot film" Machiorwoski, who sometimes runs a roll of undeveloped film through the dishwasher before processing it, taught me to find beauty and joy in the vicissitudes and vagaries of film photography.

I am always excited to deconstruct digital precision and predictability to achieve analog uncertainty and variability.  Thank you Beth and Douglas for guiding me on this journey!

Professor John Nordell teaches courses in the Visual and Digital Arts Program that he created at American International College in Springfield, Mass. He blogs about the creative process at and teaches online Zentangle drawing workshops.