Picture This: Is A Photo Still Worth A Thousand Words?
It is no secret that we live in a massively digitally-dependent age. And in recent years, it has become extremely rare to find anyone without a phone, gaming device or camera on hand at all times. After all, our smartphones function as all three, and they fit neatly in our pockets - making each of us semi-professional digital photographers with the ability to capture impeccable digital images with ease. For the first time since photography was invented, tiny professional-grade lenses are in the palm of our hands, whenever we need them. While a wonderful development for the average user, it begs the question: With the rapid releases of impressive phones and digital cameras, are pictures still “worth a thousand words”? And what does this wave of easy-access equipment mean for the modern-day photographer? Can film photography survive the digital age? Not to mention, with an easier opportunity to capture every moment, comes an endless amount of images to keep track of, so how does one even begin to keep up? Let’s look closer at what photography was, is, and where its place is in this influx of camera phones and point-and-shoot cameras.
Has Smartphone Photography Made Everyone a Photographer?
Everyone and their mother has a camera these days - literally. But just because we have this impressive technology with us at all times, does it mean we are all ‘photographers’? Have ‘likes’, smartphone cameras and selfie sticks ruined the value of that role? Well, no, but it means we all have the possibility to become one, more than ever before. This leaves the once prestigious art form extremely obtainable. Of course, a good camera doesn’t mean a good photo, but it helps. And with so many camera phone options available, all people need is a bit of ambition and inspiration, and they can capture amazing, high-end images anytime, anywhere. Again, that is certainly not to say Aunt June with the latest iPhone is sufficient for your wedding day, but you get the meaning. Just like if you gave a room full of people a paintbrush and some paint, it does not mean everyone will create a masterpiece. Meaning, at least for now, the title still holds some merit. Professional photographers are well versed in aspects the average user likely isn't considering when trying to capture that perfect image. Things like the type of camera used - whether Kodak, Nikon, Sony - shutter speed, ISO settings, lighting, and more can completely change the image quality. Professionals also have access to editing software and can ensure the correct number of megapixels, as well as higher resolution, are used to obtain the best print.
Did Digital Photography Kill Analog Photography?
Ah, the age-old question. Will analog survive the digital age? Well, many argue that analog photography is not going anywhere anytime soon. The idea of film photography being an ‘old’ medium is simply an outdated concept in itself. Have you seen how many teens are snapping away on instant cameras or how many young adults take over their parent’s Canon A1’s? Sure, it may never be what it was when it was the industry norm, but that isn’t to say analog has not found its place again in the photography world in recent years. Arguably, it is no longer coming back, it is here to stay - just in a different way. While we may be far from the Stieglitz and Adams eras, the reintroduction of classic films like Super 8, Polaroid and more, mean more and more people are switching to the “older” medium and choose to shoot film. Let’s look at a few reasons why:
Nostalgia & Authenticity
Just like the difference between holding a classic novel in your hands versus an eReader, there is a sense of realness to shooting on a heavier, metal film camera that many film photographers crave. In today’s tech world, processing your own image from negative to final print in a darkroom or photolab is rare, but every bit as magical. And showcasing images makes them feel complete instead of them being lost in the cloud and seeing a photo from the viewfinder to picture frame is an experience every photographer should have. Hobbyists seem to greatly enjoy the nostalgia of using film cameras and the anticipation of receiving the film images once they're developed.
Today, to get into photography digitally, you will most likely shell out a hefty amount of cash for a decent DSLR (digital single-lens reflex camera). Even a lower-end one may cost you upwards of a couple of hundred dollars. A 35 mm film camera, that can hold its own, is cheaper, even once you factor in film costs. A roll of film? 6 dollars. Sure, developing on your own could cost a pretty penny over the years, but so does the MacBook you’ll edit on or the phone you choose to shoot with. Don’t want to pay to go full darkroom? That’s fine. There are a ton of places that can develop your prints, including CVS, Walmart and Walgreens, even.
Why Has Digital Photography Taken Over?
While for some, nothing can top the coziness of a homemade darkroom or the familiar sound of an old school shutter, digital photography is definitely the first choice for the majority of people. Ask anyone today what camera they use, and most will say their phone or a small portable camera if they’re feeling fancy. If you hire a photographer, 9 times out of 10 they choose a DSLR and a lens or two over fumbling with changing film roll after film roll. Digital photography - to put it simply - just makes a photographer’s life easier. And here is why:
Hand someone with little practice a film camera and a digital one. Most likely, there will be some learning curve when it comes to how to even turn the analog one on, let alone loading film. Odds are, while it may not be the best photo possible, most people can adapt to shooting a decent photo on a digital camera much easier than a film one. One click of a button in “Auto” and you are set - repeatedly. No winding, just snap away.
From amateur to the big leagues, efficient production is key. Like with most modern-day practices, we want instant results and more control over the process in which to obtain them - making digital the way to go. With the invention of photoshop, top photo editing apps and more, people can create, clean up and disperse their images drastically faster than with film. A digital camera is often considerably more lightweight too, making it more comfortable to use. And as with most things in life, this simplicity, convenience and control are often the winning combinations for the user.
A Million Photos With Nowhere To Put Them
Though they say “everything that is on the internet is forever”, try digging up that picture of your trip to the Grand Canyon 6 years ago or your now 18-year-old son’s kindergarten graduation photos...we’ll wait. With the lack of actual printing these days, it seems our photos are destined to remain as digital clutter on our phones or be lost in the online universe forever. Until we finally give up and delete them, lose our memory cards or phones or eventually get around to making them physical, they are floating in a vast ‘in-between’. Sometimes they at least find their way to our Facebook pages or Instagram feeds. But, with one forgotten password or wrong click of the mouse, they could be lost forever - not ideal for those cherished memories. Are the days of sentimental photo albums on the shelf far gone? Photo storage itself is not a dead practice, it is just facing a shift as we face trying to find the best way to keep up with the massive amounts of photos we take, albeit a fairly new ‘problem’. So what are the best storage options for photos, and what do we do with all those iPhone images slowing down our phones?
Online Photo Storage
As previously mentioned, showcasing our memories on social media is easily short-term, but not a safe method for saving those sentimental shots. Online storage platforms like Google Photos and iCloud are the next best thing to physical storage. They both have easy-to-use apps and are very straightforward and give you peace of mind when storing and organizing your digital files. With both, you get 15GB of free high-quality storage of your photos and videos to their system and they are accessible by any device. Need more storage than the free amount? Just grab an Apple Gift Card or Google Play Card and upgrade to a bigger subscription for your digital photos.
The Modern-Day Photo Albums
There are easier ways to compile and save your photos than sifting through boxes of prints or transferring files for hours. Thanks to programs like Artifact Uprising or Shutterfly, you can easily get those memorable photos off your phone and into high-quality personalized photo albums worth holding onto. Create custom photo books as gifts or heirlooms in just minutes, straight from your device.
External Hard Drives
If you want to get photos off your device and stored safely, an external hard drive may be the way to go. Even better, try a wireless external hard drive for even quicker storage. Simply transfer your images to it via Bluetooth, and they are secure for years to come. It is recommended to upgrade every few years, though, like with most technology you should keep up with new programs and models.
Let’s Not Lose Focus - Looking Ahead At Photography
So there you have it. Just like most technologies, photography and all it entails, is settling into its ever-developing (no pun intended) place in today’s digital world. And who knows what the future holds? If you think about it, the first photograph was only taken almost 200 years ago, and look at us now. Anyone can take a snapshot whenever they want - there are even drones flying around capturing stunning photos and sending them straight to our phones! There are entire college courses and sold-out museum exhibitions tailored around smartphone photography. Niépce wouldn’t believe his eyes. And though trends come and go and the title of “photographer” changes, it never ceases to find its creative role and useful archival purpose.
No matter how different the technology looks from decade to decade. People will still fall in love with the art form, regardless of which medium they choose to practice it. Devices will die out, but find second life when their “vintage” era comes around. Photos will be lost and found for generations to come. But despite it all, photography as a practice will remain - for as long as we are willing to not let it fade. Because photos of the people, places and things we find beautiful, will never lose value, no matter what kind of camera takes them.