Today 6 billion of the world’s 7 billion inhabitants – approximately 86% – carry mobile phones. Most of those phones have cameras. This means that most people in the world have a camera on them at any given moment. This means that almost everybody in the world has the ability to be a photographer. So all they have to do is grab their phone, take a quick shot, and it can be shared with with world in just seconds after capture.
There is good and bad to this immediacy. Some old school folks will lament the lack of craft involved and the lack of skill required and the minimum inve$tment needed to call yourself a photographer. Others will see that there is a benefit in this very fast feedback loop. You can shoot, post, and immediately see what you’ve captured and get immediate feedback and critique from the worldwide photo community. That feedback will be the thing that improves your photography the fastest. There is certainly something to be said for getting your hands active and getting into the darkroom, learning how to process film and develop the perfectly toned image. That darkroom time is about creating a base of fundamental understanding of light and dark in a very simple, basic way. You can take the lessons learned in the darkroom and apply them to “developing” imaging on your computer in Adobe Lightroom.
I learned to photograph in the early 90’s with a fully manual film camera, shooting black and white film that I processed myself and burned and dodged the images onto light-sensitive paper. The process is – still today – pure magic. When you can take the time to learn these skills, you have a stronger foundation for understanding how your camera works and what you are doing as you change your camera settings, as you move around your subject relative to the light source and how the final finished print comes to life. While there is a great value to this film foundation, it is certainly not necessary to become a great photographer today.
Today, with as little as your phone, you can start experimenting with composition, lighting and posing. And as you shoot, you can share. Ask friends and family to tell you what you can do to make it a better shot. Find photo communities that you find interesting – nature, art, fashion, architecture, portraiture, etc. Look through the groups on Flickr or Facebook, and find work you’re drawn to. The more you look, the more you’ll find. Post your images to these groups and ask for help, ask for constructive criticism. And
don’t try not to take any criticism personally. Just take what feedback you can as a growth opportunity (you might not agree with what is said, but do give it a chance. Play with it and maybe you’ll reinforce your belief that you were on the right track or maybe take some of what they’ve said and see if it improves your shot the next time around).
So with all these photographers teeming about, how does the photography profession hold up? Just fine, says I.
This influx of photographers doesn’t bode well with high volume, low quality chains that you can find in strip malls and tucked in the dungeons of large department stores. This influx of photographers means that we as pro photographers all have to work a little harder, with more creativity, better service, sweet products and we can never rest on our laurels, however comfortable they may be. The average person is going to be more aware of what it takes to make a great image and those that appreciate it will really appreciate the next level that their professional photog can take it to for you, their client. This will separate the good from the not good and only the best, most agile-minded, will make it in the long run. The whole level of the lake is rising as new photographers are coming into the mix and your pro is going to either sink or swim, but you won’t find much mediocre that will be able to last for long. You, as a client, will find some pretty cool opportunities to be photographed in new styles, on new mediums, with lovely retouching and – best of all – you can show the world how extra-awesome you look in record time.
I know this hardly scratches the surface of the debate between old and new school photographers, and the huge impact that digital photography is making on the world, but know that there is room for growth and opportunity for excellence every day with every new development that comes at us. The more we push and encourage each other to improve and achieve, the better each new day will be.
Oh, and Happy 2013 to us all! May it be the best yet, full of health, adventure, happiness, prosperity and personal growth.