What is photography now?
No question, the world of photography, whether done for business or personal pleasure, has changed much over just the last five years. In just that small increment of time, more photographers “of note” have risen than possibly since digital became a thing, winning out over film. Over that same amount of time those photographers of note that I embraced, that I came to view as trusted, and were relatively active in the industry, that group has dwindled. Oh, most are still around, but many have not stayed true to the practice of photography and many are silenced more now and not in vogue any longer as the current crop of experts are the fancy of the newer, younger photographers”. Video has also certainly eaten into the industry. To me its not mostly in a good way either.
Less important now are things like lighting and composition or getting it right in camera as it was done in the film era. Getting it right in camera is actually scoffed at by some. They don’t get photography. Getting it right in camera isn’t about not using Photoshop. Getting it right in camera is about preserving the image you saw when the picture was taken. Real details, the way your brain interpreted it. Real, raw details recorded in the now. Like a child’s first step.
Of more importance to many now is using the same camera as everyone else does. Trusting the engineers making a camera so all you have to do is press a button. Phones as cameras are so popular now because anyone can take a picture by looking at a scene through your phone screen and pressing a button. So everyone is a photographer. Composition has taken a back seat to including every person within a mile in a “selfie”. Camera companies are marketing selfies now as a feature of their cameras. Selfie tillable screens have become reviewable items by so-called camera reviewers on blogs and forums. No selfie tilting touchscreen and its not a very good camera. People haven’t thought much about what sort of image it makes. Go onto Instagram and you will see the same picture over and over made by 1000 different people and that image will get 1k likes in a heartbeat, but truly artful images get a tenth of that. I think those photographers of artful images are ok with that.
So then what exactly is photography?
I’m old school and I view it the same as I view any art. Does the image speak? Or does it invoke emotion? Emotions are just that - does it make you laugh? Cry? Sad? Happy? Does it tell a story via memory or of something you experienced? Or want to experience? Even fashion photography invokes emotion or it wouldn’t be very effective. I guess selfies then invoke an emotion. Right? Something in the moment? Documenting some time, place or event? So what then makes an image good? If selfies speak, invoke emotions and do all that, why are they not hung on walls in 16x20 or larger? Is it because they are mostly out of proportion, elongating noses, chins, faces and in some cases whole bodies at the edge of a picture? With people that can barely spell the word gang, making gang signs?
To make this editorial shorter, let me just say that FOR ME, the image needs composition. If its a family portrait then the scene needs to be set just as if it were a movie. Same for individual portraits. Same for product or other commercial images. You need to compose an image. Composition is the lost art that is rarely spoken of. Composition doesn’t mean perfect - perfect exposure, perfect smile, perfect anything. Composition is more than a subject and blurred to hell background. Composition should help as one of the key features to make an image interesting. Lighting is another key feature. Moving a subject within the composition can provide shadows or not, but it can affect how you see the image. A photographer is said to have an “eye”, a way they see something that is a real thing. Its what separates photographers. The same overall composition of a scene is changed often by the way a photographer (or movie director) sees it. Its shot with that “eye” which can be slightly different lighting or a slight re-positioning of a subject. Thats how pictures are made. They are “seen” and recorded. Even in documentary photography, where events unfold without you being able to affect composition hands on. Documentary photographers affect composition using experience, and anticipation to compose. I think landscape photography falls into this bucket as well. Landscape photographers can wait for days, weeks and months for the position of the moon over an area, or for the correct lighting. Natural light moves all the time because the sun moves as does the earth, so light may repeat itself over time but you might have to wait for it. A landscape with wonderful light in the spring can look like crap in October.
Perhaps this post should be named what makes a decent picture? But the direction of photography, which encompasses it’s trends, and it followers are establishing what a decent picture is and what photography is. I see less and less on light or composition being a part of it. I see a lot of copying of a style, I see a lot of post processing manipulation, and I see a lot of instant gratification being what photography is now. I see fewer master photographers like Joe McNally building images using composition and light to tell stories. Joe is probably the finest photography story teller in existence right now. There were others but sadly, I don’t see them as much. I see too many keyboard warriors, too many Instagram royalty know-it-alls and too many Youtube self made experts and a way too willing audience soaking it all up. Find your own way people. Find photography. Take your time and learn to “see” a scene.