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Where is photography going? We really won’t know where photography is going until it gets there, it’s a never-ending and substantially useless question. We know here it has been and we sort of know where it is now, in the middle of major changes. Change in the devices used to make pictures and how people share those images. Photography today, it is a good discussion which start and ends with equipment talk, which is both a good and a bad approach, it really depends on the reason the person is interested in said equipment. On the other side of the spectrum, some photographers, websites and publications deliberately avoid equipment talk, as if by avoiding such discussion, the quality of the content automatically increases… it does not. Ignoring a hugely significant change of medium and how it affects the photographer’s approach, their methodology and they way their images are shared is naive.
With the advent of digital photography, the cost per image has fallen to the floor and has greatly affected the way modern photography is approached by both the photographer and the viewers. A significant paradigm shift – not just a format change. A survey of Internet users conducted by the NPD Group claims 27% of the pictures created last year were made with Smartphone, up from 17% the previous year, an increase of 44% in a year. Smartphones are taking the place of point-and-shoot cameras and camcorders in many instances — particularly “spontaneous moments” Thanks to mobile devices with cameras, users have a more convenient way to both make and share their pictures. The result is an absolute wall of noise against a definitely fading signal, your signal, my signal… everybody’s signal. Yet it is a welcome result as more and more people are practicing photography, perhaps even discovering photography for the first time through the use of a mobile device – for important events, single-purpose cameras and camcorders remain the device of choice.
I have been shooting all my life, I was once driven by resulting IQ, the best possible image quality I could get, this road led me all to way to being a pro-photographer and using all kinds of cameras, camera systems and lenses. I exposed a pile of film and filled scores of terabytes with digital images in the past 35 years, an explosion in number of images made happened with digital photography . I started 35 years ago with one camera one lens only to come full circle, get back to the bare basics, one camera, one lens, a fixed focal prime lens about 6 months ago… my new main camera. I still have, at last count, 10 cameras 6 of them film cameras and 4 digital … I still have the first camera I shot in 1977 and I still use it from time to time. The new main camera I currently use, is my iPhone camera and I count my iPhone as a digital camera.
I never thought of my phone as a camera until recently, last year in fact, yet I have owned an iPhone for a little over 4 years. My wife isn’t surprised by my about face and I quote, “Why are you surprised by what you get out of your phone, you have been saying for years it isn’t the camera, it’s the photographer…” and she is right, that’s the way I always viewed photography – as a photographer’s game, not as an equipment driven process – Photography was never about pushing buttons, it always was about pushing boundaries, where is photography going, further than it has ever been thanks to mobile devices, for the first time in history millions of people have a camera with them at all times, yes…. there is an absolute wall of noise but within that wall is my signal and yours – in fact that wall of noise is starting to look more and more like a shower of gems to me, there are so many great photographs being made, it is fantastic.
Thanks to mobile photography – a slew of people who would never have thought about making images, picked up photography and magic happened, they started producing astounding images, absolutely fantastic images – showing an innate sense for great compositions and creativity, some of those photos putting my pro stuff to shame. Good photography has nothing to do with the device one uses to make images, I have been saying for years it isn’t the camera… it is the photographer as such it was a truly natural progression to move to the most convenient device to make images, my phone – in this case an iPhone.
I use is a Leica M3, it revolutionized photography when it was first released in the mid 50′s. I was a more compact, a more efficient camera, very reliable and able to take multiple images using a smaller format, the 35mm film format. The M3 changed the face of photography as it was known back then, back when the pro used large format or speedgraphic cameras. The M3 was portable and one could easily change the lenses on it – I never saw the iPhone as a camera until I started seeing great iPhone photography in all genra being shared on the app Instagram. I posted pro-quality photos until November of last year on Instagram – I started the switch in August in the South of France with an iPhone 4 where I captured a beautiful Provencal Sunset just before dinner time. I finally saw the possibilities when, with one device I made what was called tone mapping in the old days, now it is called HDR. I made two images, nice sunset images I merged with my phone and it floored me… how easy it was and how within minutes I had a final resulting images circumventing uploading my files to a computer where I’d have had to do the post process before I could share it, it was all done in phone, capture, post and sharing online, astounding.
The reason the M3 revolutionized photography, it was so successful it changed the accepted standard from medium format to a smaller, less expensive 35mm format, now known as the full frame format in the digital world or a 24x36mm sensor, the size of a 35mm film negative. When you think about it, it made photography much more accessible, same price for 36 pictures in 35mm film as opposed to only 12 exposures in a medium format… There hasn’t been another standard to chalenge this accepted format until recently – back in the film days there were very few ways to share pictures, the most shared format were seen in magazines and newspapers, 35mm… Now a days the format is online, it comes from mobile devices, smart phones, iPhones… No one needs a “full frame” sensor when you don’t prints your images, when you mainly share your images online through social medias, be it Facebook, Instagram, Flickr – seriously… does anyone need a 36 megapixel camera… when a smart phone will do, you may want it… but need it? C’mon… For day to day photography, a smart phone is more than good enough for pretty much everyone I know.
Some call is Mobile Photography, they think it is a new art form… I think it is photography, I don’t see it as mobile photography or iPhone Photography (okay let the vilifications begin…) I see it as photography – it doesn’t matter what devices anyone uses, an iPhone, a Hasselblad H4 …. A Canon Mark 3000 … we can all agree a good composition is a good composition no matter what the device you use, a good picture will always be a good picture. I see smart phones as the latest largely adopted camera format, more accidental at first – not initially planned, a camera on a phone as recently become a primary selling feature, it wasn’t always so. It is so easy to use and for web, even for prints – the quality is truly astounding for what it is, the sensor is so tiny – yet the images made with smart phone really punch way above their weight class… Imagine a boxing fight between the latest DSLR and the latest Smart Phone… it would be “Rocky” all over, for sure the DSLR would win, it would be a hard fought win, the smart phone would draw in a 15 round fight and lose on points not by T.K.O. … Smart phones have extremely capable cameras.
To understand the place of what some call mobile photography in today’s world you have to know and understand the different shift and format change through the years, photography is young enough to be able to grasp where it came from, how it got there and where it is going – of course 10 years ago, few if any, could have predicted this shift. The Internet played such an important part, not to be dismissed. Instant gratification is a great feature of mobile photography, plus the ease of use, post process – sharing, a true end to end solution in one device… it is a wonderful and welcome change. In the digital age, being stuck to a now dated format does not make sense, requiring a mirror – doesn’t either. There is a lot going on in the photo industry at the moment – mobile devices are truly coming on top, it will take a few years to be a truly accepted format simply because so many people are vested in a format, from manufacturing to selling – the publishing industry plays a big part in this – but then again the publishing and news industry is changing and will have to adapt or die, so will camera manufacturers. It is hard to change a business model, I don’t see Canon or Nikon making smart phones in the near future… But I can see a premium phone selling for more dollars because of it’s optic and image engine… I’d pay more for an iPhone with a Zeiss lens and Nikon XSpeed chip … but that’s just me – Samsung is getting in the game with Wifi enabled cameras with features not unlike those found on mobile devices.
What are you doing in the end with the images, printing them… fashion ads on a billboard or in full page magazine ads… No you share them online at 72 dpi, the medium through which the images are shared makes a huge difference yet… Yet I printed 44″ by 44″ and 58″ by 44″ iPhone pictures… Yes, inches… HUGE images, they looked great coming from an iPhone, far from perfect but close enough to very good to be usable as large prints one could easily sell of pass for images made with what would assume a more capable camera.
Lets not limit ourselves or the discussion by trying to call something, something it isn’t, it isn’t mobile photography… it is just plain photography, why should there be rules and limits to what can and can not be done, why would we want to set the expectations lower by stating the images come from a mobile device, a smart phone? A smart phone is as mobile as a pro-DSLR. A pro-DSLR is portable, I can make pictures with it and post process said pictures in-device… I can send the images directly from the camera to a laptop wirelessly where I can upload it online… Before being mobile it is digital. In regards to mobile photography, it is a “format” question, it is photography as Gaston Miron once said when it came to the quiet revolution in Quebec, “We have arrived were it begins…” I firmly believe a new format has arrived … 58 years after more or less the mass adoption of the 35mm format, a shift occurred with the introduction of the Leica M camera – I believe we have arrived where a new format is taking shape, smaller and extremely versatile, adapted to today’s world, driven by the Internet, a true 21st century format.
A mobile camera phone is the coolest and funnest thing ever, 5 years ago I would have laughed at you if you said the future of photography was going to come from mobile devices… Social medias have a lot to do with this shift, thanks to app which enables you to share your images directly from your phone almost instantly. With one device you can make, process and upload your picture within minutes, to pretty much any web platform, Instagram, Flikr, Facebook, any and all photo hosting sites, even a photo printing place, send it to friends and family immediately through text or e-mail, it is fast, compact, convenient and really good for what it is. Two years ago 17% of all images produced were made with a mobile device, a smartphone … last year, 27%… That’s an explosion – what astounds me is the amount of people discovering photography because of their mobile device, who would never have thought of making pictures, and these people are producing incredibly good images (…I tend to repeat myself with age…) I rediscovered my passion and joy for photography through an iPhone.
Camera companies are going to play catch up for the next 4 to 5 years, and the face of photography in 5 to 6 years, even sooner, will not be what it is today, definitively not what it was 5 years ago, the mobile photography revolution came in like a Tsunami, as much as the M3 changed and standardized film photography for the majority of people and pros alike for about 50 years, this is the 21st century … When first went digital and the 35mm format was the norm, yet the format to watch will be even smaller and more portable, everything self contained within one device. Photography is going mobile, this is the future, whether the future comes from a smart phone camera with a mix of wifi enabled cameras, the composition rules and standards of good photography will still apply… the device used to make the images people make is changing, what makes a good picture good will not change.
Smartphone are pervasive, the shear amount of people using online social medias is astounding … and growing, cameras have evolved and gotten better, pros will always need pro equipement, consumers … something more practical, affordable and user friendly. That tool, in my opinion, is the smart phone, connected to the Internet, enabling anyone to share and connect with thousands of people instantly, 24/7
There is forethought and intent in good photography, Ansel Adams didn’t just stumble into Yosemite and said … “Holy sh!t, where’s my camera!” to paraphrase Edward Weston, few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, to the latest app, to the latest cameras, new post processing software and pluggins, never staying with one piece of equipment or application long enough to learn its full capacities and potential. They become lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use to them to make better images, since they don’t know what to do with it all. The task can be made immeasurably easier by selecting the simplest possible equipment, in this case an iPhone or any Smartphone and post process methodology, namely one to 3 apps and staying with them.
Learning to see in terms of the field of view of one lens, its focal length, the scales of one app or two, will accomplish a great deal more than gathering a smattering of knowledge about several sets of tools by upgrading constantly. It is easier to develop one’s own signature style by first sticking to one thing, one device and doing it well. Edward Weston was one of the most innovative and influential American photographers of the 20th century. He first mentioned this problem back in the 50′s. The trick is to stop chasing for THE better camera to improve your photography, a better camera will not do anything for you, it will not improve your photography. Don’t go chasing for more apps thinking it will make your pictures better, more apps won’t make anything better. Simply make better pictures by sticking to what you have and keeping it simple. It is not the equipment, it is how you use your equipment. The stories you make your images tell with the device you use, do not think a better camera will make you produce better images, it will not.
Your intention when practicing photography will make a huge difference as well, not what you use. Do you intend to improve your photography… to make better pictures? Then my advice is to use an iPhone or a smartphone, combined with 2 to 3 apps maximum, working within those limits and learning how to make better images with a simple device. I have shot professionally for a few years – I have been making pictures for the past 35 years with a multitudes of different camera systems both film and digital. The device with the shortest learning curve with which you can quickly improve the quality of your photography is a mobile device – you want to improve your photography quickly, use an iPhone.
My mobile photography will be undistinguishable from my pro-photography within a few years and when I say mobile, I mean images made with a smart phone. I used to think such a thing would be impossible… Problem is at times even I have trouble believing some of the images I make with an iPhone … are iPhone images, yet I know I made them with an iPhone. Quite a few people have trouble making the difference already, the resulting images are really that good already. This is what makes mobile photography so great, when done just right – you can’t tell it was made with a mobile device… with a cell phone camera… This proves it isn’t the camera, it is the photographer.
The devices we use to make images will keep evolving, improving and changing – good photography will remain good for other reasons than the devices used to make them, hopefully, eventually – good photography will no longer be “device” centric in people’s mind, but result “centric” and cell phone cameras, or mobile photography will play a large role towards this shift in mentality … when we produce great images with a mobile phone it brings to mind the following, do we really need to have the latest and greatest expensive gizmo when most of the pictures we make are never printed, only shared online. I’ll leave it at this, one of the advice I give any people who want to improve their image, in one word… photography is a mental process, what’s your vision? Apply it using the most powerful tool in your photographer’s bag… located about 8 to 12 inches behind your camera and… Think.