What are the best/worst changes in the photography industry?
The best part hands down is how good the software has become. Now I don’t even have to go out and shoot. I can download a mountain, river, and flowers from a stock photo site, composite them together, toss an epic sky over the top and have a killer image, ready for 99.9 on 500px. I don’t even have to leave my house or change out of my sweatpants; it’s awesome!! Now I can be the lazy photographer I’ve always wanted to be.
But for broader changes what I’ve seen is both the democratization of photography as more and more people get cameras, as well as the crumbling of the technical barriers involved with taking good photos. And what this has led to is an incredible swell in the artistic potential of photography. On the technical side we’ve essentially reached the point where you don’t have to know anything about camera settings in order to get a technically excellent photo. With focus peaking you no longer need to understand focus, hyperfocal distance, or depth of field. With live preview histograms you no longer need an understanding of stops, metering, or exposure. All you need now is to simply line up your composition, then use these empirical tools to get a technically perfect shot. And removing those kinds of barriers allows the artistic aspects of photography to be more accessible.
And when you take that artistic ease and combine it with the fact that everyone has a camera now, the end result is that more and more breathtaking photos are being created than ever before. We, as a whole society, are discovering more incredible places and virtually exploring our insanely beautiful planet in more depth and detail than has ever been possible.
But of course all of that comes at a price, and personally I see two major downsides to this massive explosion of photography. The first is for us as photographers and the industry in general. With photography becoming an extremely popular, mainstream, social, and interconnected hobby it’s only natural that we’ve begun to see the rise of a celebrity culture within photography. And this is both troubling and ironic because art is supposed to be about individual expression and interpretation. And yet, with a celebrity culture what we are seeing is that more and more photographers are creating images not for personal expression but rather to achieve popularity.
And with popularity comes influence. Once the brands figured this out and money started flowing into the industry it led to a stampede to homogenization. Photographers who wanted brand partnerships, ambassadorships, and paid travel all began producing the exact same kinds of images and before you knew it the goddamn feet-out-the-tent selfie was born. And although that’s a very specific example the same ideas hold true across many outlets for photography. All the popular images on sites like 500px and Instagram began to look so similar you couldn’t tell which photographer they belonged to. This whole process also created the very damaging perception that in order to be commercially successful a photographer has to photograph in a certain way in order to fit the expectations of what’s “good.”
The second downside I see to this photo explosion is for the planet. Although more photographers absolutely means that more people are photographing social, economic, and environmental issues, for every one of those photographers there are nine who enjoy photography simply as a hobby. And while I’m incredibly happy that more people are using photography as a means to get out and explore nature there seems to be a major component missing from the equation, which is our necessary and vital stewardship of the beautiful places we’re all photographing.
As I mentioned earlier, I think photography should arise as an extension of our connection with nature, but with the changes in the industry the emphasis seems to be ever more on the image itself and less on that connection with nature. And as soon as we value the image over the place, that’s when we start to see more and more terrible behavior, like people taking selfies with bison, or walking off the boardwalks at Grand Prismatic Spring just to “get the shot.” So this may be an exaggeration of the truth but I feel like many of the current generation of photographers are rampaging through nature, taking what they need for an epic photo, and not thinking about the legacy they leave behind or what it means to be a good steward of the planet so that the people who come after us can enjoy the same beauty we do.
But thankfully, and to end on a positive note, I am seeing more and more photographers step up to the plate to be good role models towards environmental stewardship, and I’m hoping the tide will continue to turn.