Photography Legend Don McCullin Tries Digital for the First Time

In what may be one of my favorite 30(ish)-minute commercials ever, Canon 'introduces' one of the greatest living photographers, Don McCullin, to the world of digital photography. McCullin is old-world; he's charming and sweet and sad-eyed and every bit as British. McCullin's shaman into the digital realm is Jeff Ascough - Canon Ambassador and all-around stellar wedding photographer.

It's also worth noting Canon's cleverness in that Don McCullin was/is a Nikon film camera user (one of which famously stopped a bullet and saved his life). Honestly though, it's just a fantastic piece that gives us a glimpse at seeing a living legend work and proves that it's never too late to teach an old dog new tricks.

Log in or register to post comments


So many of the questions that McCullin raises are important and not often talked about. I agree with him on the issue of the photog looking away from his subject to briefly check the image/histogram/exposure. You can definitely lose the connection to your subject, especially when shooting hand held portraits (in the studio, for example). I get around this by making sure I've tested my setup, then shoot away continually, only breaking my contact with the subject after a minute or two to confirm what I have. Digital IS more demanding in many ways, but one of the greatest benefits IS being able to confirm that YOU GOT THE SHOT. There are simply trade offs with all new technologies, but can we really say the photographs being taken in the 1960's were better than those being taken today? If I say yes, it's not because of film; rather, it is because Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Ansel Adams, Dianne Arbus, and so many other greats, are not matched by the top photographers today.

Photography of old is better because there were true and identifiable masters. Moment Thieves who captured a perfect moment, perfectly. The opportunities for a "do over" were not as they were now [spray n pray]. Every opportunity to capture a moment was intentional, deliberate, and had a hint of luck in some cases. As well there were less avenues for those images to be seen.
Photography today is ubiquitous. Everyone is a photographer. Not everyone is a true artist, let alone a master of the craft. Just because someone is successful or popular on social media, does not make them a master.

Another thing which I think is a HUGE issue, is the aspect of Curation. There are no more curators now, as there were before. Now it's just silly people looking for the next big unknown name who's art/statement is shocking, instead of looking for actual quality and that masterful execution of work from start to finish. Curation is also done via social networking, which is a bad thing. Art is not supposed to appeal to the masses, it's supposed to make a statement.

/2 cents.

Sean Shimmel's picture

Interesting how I agree with BOTh of you.

Posited well.

Ankur Jadhav's picture

Really dig the last statement..

This video is much more interesting than that one Jasmine Star posted.

Zach Ashcraft's picture

why insist on being so negative?

Sean Shimmel's picture

What is so insistently negative?

if you like Don McCullin check this out, Don in action during the 70's on the streets of Whitechapel, London. Forward the vid to 19.28 minutes for Don:

Spy Black's picture

Shooting with an Olympus. He knew better than to be crawling about shlepping Nikon or Canon gear.

This is one of the reasons my life has come back to photography. I started
when I was 7 years old and then left it at about 22, came back at 50 and
I am just loving photography again!

Sean Shimmel's picture

Such refreshing grist:

14:37 "I AM dark.... war made me a dark person.... war gave me something, but it took something away from me...."

I enjoyed watching this video. Though I am 20 years younger than Don McCullin, I still shoot film; I will buy a DSLR one of these days. I have definitely realized the ROI from my 30+ year old Canon A-1, which is still in working order. I just purchased a used Canon F-1N with the AE Finder and AE Motor Drive.
As a film photographer, I use something that many digital photographers use: Lightroom. I use it to catalog my photos and also make adjustments.
Still, it was refreshing to hear that Don wouldn't resort to spray and pray, or chimp his shots.

Spy Black's picture

Canon obviously approached McCullin on this. He was an Olympus user, and I bet if you showed him an OM-D, he'd trash the Canon on a heartbeat.

When photographers from the film era speak to me about using digital manipulation and how it isn't the purest form of art photography seeks to offer I often defend it. I say how the idea behind photography is to get others to see the world through your eyes, and that the manipulations needed to accomplish that fall within the photographer's "artistic license."

However, I often feel slightly guilty when I justify using software for image manipulation. Even if I truly believe in my personal threshold for what defines cheap "overly-sharpened" or "overly-saturated" photographs that liken themselves to a instagram photos, I cant help but feel a bit fake when using lightroom.

This might be because I know how invested a photographer can be when working with film in the darkroom. The first three years I explored photography I only had my dad's old canon AE-1 with a 50mm prime, and I am grateful to have been forced to train my eye with a medium that can't be alienated or faked. I acknowledge that digital photography is the way of the future, however I cant help but feel counterfeit with some of my work.

That was beautiful!

Looks like Nikon made a major marketing boo-boo by letting Canon beat them out on this