14 Responses to “The Digital Photography Revolution”

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  1. Marilyn

    Hi Steve,
    Excellent reading for me. I remember a photography instructor in Montreal, early 89′ telling us: “In the future, we will no longer use film.” We were shocked at this. He urged us to get the simplest SLR 35mm camera possible, Pentax K1000, although he owned some fancy cameras with automatic features.

    Thinking of the early 20th cent leaders’ financial status, William Eggleston was born rich and never really had to work a day in his life. He used the very expensive dye transfer method, because he could afford it. He liked its impact too of course.

    I think we are in a good time and space for photography, especially now with free editing software. Regarding equipment, what bothers me is the race to compete and produce new and better cameras every month (it seems). Cameras can be discontinued a few months after we buy them. They are not as solid. i just gave my Pentax K1000 to my son and he was surprised at its weight. He had read that this was one of the cameras built to last a lifetime. That’s what I miss, the days of really solidly built cameras that we could keep for years and years.

    The difference in reviewing photos today is really notable. When I started, sharpmess was so important whereas now people love photos with only a small part in focus. There’s underproduction and overproduction happening too. There are pinhole and toy camera exhibitions. There are so many photographs, reviewers are looking for the very unusual, the original. So in some ways art photography is even more strictly reviewed than it used to be.

    Where we go from here? I think the economy will help push back against the planned obsolescence of cameras and photography software giants like Adobe. People will keep what equipment and software they have for longer periods.

    Thanks for the article.

    • steve

      Hi Marilyn

      Thanks – this one has been rattling around, half formed in my brain, for a while now, figured that it was time to let it out.

      A couple of thoughts:

      I am very skeptical regarding the emphasis that has been put on both sharpness and the related issue of grain/noise. If the idea took hold a decades ago that a slight softness and a little noise were acceptable it would have cost the photographic industry billions in lost lens sales. I have yet to see a non photographer who appreciates art look at a really well composed photograph and comment on the amount of noise or whether the image was shot with a kit lens or a specialist one.

      I think that people are wising up regarding software and are only buying or upgrading if it will perform a specific required task. Also the free and open source stuff is getting good enough to be a factor. Someone with a computer can now set up for about $100 for a camera and zero for the software.Personally I have stopped upgrading Photoshop now and only upgraded Lightroom from 2 to 3 because Adobe had sorted out its noise reduction and the RAW engine is much better.

      Durability of cameras is interesting. It is the biggest difference between the so called professional and consumer models. The Nikon D1 mentioned is a professional model and much more rugged than the d40x that I own. Saying that the d40x is light but I’ve used it solidly for years now and its never missed a beat. My point and shoot feels much flimsier than my last one (both Canon Powershots) but they both seem to be able to take a few knocks.

      The art review process is going in a good direction I think. The increased saturation has led to the criteria moving more towards art based ones with the technical ones being a given. That is my impression at least.

      Completely unconnected – check the blogroll under ‘Visual’. Finally got around to adding your blog! (-:

  2. Nathan

    Plenty to think about here Steve.

    30 years ago being technically proficient was enough and anyone can learn to be technically proficient given enough time and enough money. This is no longer enough, photographers today need a really good eye and a working philosophy.

    Interesting essay.

    • steve

      Thanks Nathan
      Agree totally. Personally I am really pleased with the change. The technical stuff is important but the emphasis on technique at the expense of artistic considerations were holding photography back.

  3. John Sawhill

    After 25 years in the photofinishing business I know first hand how fast the industry changed. We all knew the digital age was coming but like most industries we hung on. We hated to give up our profession without a fight then one day my biggest client called to say they had gone all digital and would not need our services anymore. I left the industry a few months later.
    On the other hand I love digital photography. It’s cheap and it is fun. My wife gave me my first digital camera, a Canon Powershot and I was amazed at the quality of the images and the software that came with it.
    I e-mail photos to family and friends and I upload photos to Walgreens because it’s so darn cheap. JOHN

    • steve

      John

      The digital onslaught must have been tough for those who made a living from photography. I suppose that I was lucky in that film photography was never more than a hobby for me – something that I did at weekends. I did a few shoots but usually with a pro and very rarely as first shooter. Saying that, film looks better than digital, better dynamic range, etc.

      I am now 50 and, same as you, it was a Canon Powershot that really got me back into photography – within about 6 months of buying an A550 I had bought a d40x and I was right back into SLR photography but just with free film and instant gratification. FWIW I think the A550 produced better quality results (certainly less distortion and better contrast than the A3100 IS that I carry around with me now but the low light capabilities do win on the more recent model.

      I am still amazed by the whole technology thing – being able to shoot, edit and post on a blog in about two minutes and have 100s of people know about it within an hour still blows me away. I never want to lose that sense of wonder.

      S.

  4. Matthew L Kees

    I’m “old school” and have no prob with The New Wave, until they get into the business end of photography. It seems to have lost any respect for itself. To keep a business running is different than taking a pretty picture now and then. Those selling their lucky captures can be used to put someone out of business.

    Matthew L Kees
    MLKstudios.com Photo School

    BTW I’ve been to many, many shows of people using cheap cameras. George Eastman “Democratized” photography a long time ago.

  5. Matthew L Kees

    BTW Knowing technique (ex. how to manual focus), can also make you a more creative photographer. It doesn’t necessarily limit you.

    MLK

    • steve

      Thanks for the comments and thoughts.

      Re the specific comment:

      Absolutely no argument there. I advocate learning as much as possible – both theory (especially theory) and technical. I will refine that even further, I am in favor of learning from first principles so the photographer can walk into any situation and know what problems they need to solve and how to go about it. I am not a fan of the superficially easier ‘recipe’ approach.

      Here is a more general response (which I have emailed you a version of)

      Those that work with the changing environment will do very well. Those that don’t won’t. I think that a good studio based photographer has nothing to fear at all and will benefit from the inevitable changes as he or she wil lbe the one with all the tools. The ones who have been going through the motions i.e. mindlessly doing exactly the same as they have been doing for decades without seeing the environment as a dynamic changing one will probably suffer. This will strengthen the industry in my opinion.

      Ultimately the opinions expressed one way or the other in this debate won’t make much difference, the momentum and decision is no longer within our, our gallery owners or publishers court. Google and Apple are the new players. Personally I see both pluses and minuses with this situation but the essential thing is to operate in the world as it is and not as we would like it to be. (Things have moved even further in this duraction since I wrote this piece back in April with Google actively courting photographers to assist with the early days of the Google plus project)

      The other thing that I feel is important is that photography is a huge area of which the business side is a major part but not the only part and any expectations of a unified viewpoint regarding something this complex are unreasonable. As with most things views get expressed, debates happen and things change (or not).

  6. Matthew L Kees

    Here is a real world example of this New Wave mentality:

    http://pdnpulse.com/2011/11/getty-cuts-pay-for-editorial-contributors.html

    Our actions have consequences.

    MLK

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