The fashion industry certainly has its obscene sides. The cost of a coat can be obscene. So can the cost of a photo shoot if you’re working with a really good photographer. —Carine Roitfeld
I was a bit saddened to read that the world’s oldest photography studio closed last week. Photography was still a new medium when Charles Shepard and Samuel Bourne set up shop in 1863. Wet glass plates were all the rage, with their chemicals and fragile state that required multiple people to use safely. Taking pictures was a time-consuming and delicate process. We don’t shoot like that anymore.
We all know that technology has changed photography in the most dramatic of ways. We constantly lament how difficult it is to keep up with new versions of cameras coming out every few months and software updates being constant. Just this morning, Adobe’s Creative Cloud popped up to let me know I have three updates waiting. There’s always something. When TechRadar published their list of best cameras for 2016 back in January, we saw a preference for mirrorless cameras while the larger and some might say clunkier DSLRs were at the bottom of the list. With each change comes an adjustment in how we shoot.
How we shoot and tools with which we shoot are not the only things to have changed, though. What we shoot has changed as well, and that is something that camera manufacturers aren’t necessarily considering as they develop new models.
Blame cell phones
A significant portion of the shift in what we shoot is due to ubiquitous cell phone cameras. A rather presumptuous article on TNW claims that Apple doesn’t understand photography. The author criticizes the way iPhone forces images into certain folders and forces slideshow creation fails to allow for the temporary way in which people use their cell phone camera. Since I don’t, and won’t, own an iPhone I can’t speak to the particular peculiarities of its operation. However, he does a good job of demonstrating how the average person has a dramatically different view of photography that we did five years ago.
For example, if someone hands you a business card, you can take a picture and there are apps to help manage those business card images. Same goes for receipts, contracts, and other paper-based items one might encounter on a regular basis. Those photos don’t require a high degree of sharpness or fifty-gazillion focus points. The number of megapixels required for those uses is irrelevant.
Instead, what is important is that the images be easily transferred to other devices and/or the Internet. The images don’t need to go into a slide show. They don’t need to be shared with friends. They don’t even need to stay long.
Pros have changed as well
Cell phone users aren’t the only ones who have changed what and how they shoot. Professional photography methodology and purpose has changed along with the technology. We have not only found different ways of shooting, but we’ve developed a new perspective in what is worth snapping the shutter. The very basics that were once considered fundamental often don’t apply, or at the very least seem pretentious or inefficient.
One example would be the use of tripods. Anyone who actually went to school for photography (not me) was likely told that, outside live-action journalism, everything should be shot on a tripod, even at fast speeds. The reasoning is that using a tripod allows one to get the frame and all related settings correct before snapping the photo. Prior to switching to digital, I used a tripod for at least 90% of my shots. So did everyone else. Photography today, however, is more spontaneous and on-the-fly. We plan less and go more on instinct and gut reaction in an attempt to better capture the emotion of the image.
We’ve also changed the lenses we use most often, with long glass being preferred by many, and if we carry multiple cameras they’re likely to be very different, even different brands, rather than duplicates with different glass. Even though DSLRs are remarkably lighter than film cameras, we still find them clunky. Many now carry a point-and-shoot in their pocket for the quick shots their DSLR might miss.
What we need in a camera
The disconnect comes in that cameras have not adjusted the tool set to match the changes in how and what we shoot. Here are a few things I’d like to see on my next camera:
- Easier swapping back and forth between RAW and JPEG. A button on the back of the box with an indicator in the viewfinder as a reminder of which mode I’m in. I shouldn’t need to change cameras or sort through menus, just push a button and shoot.
- Better image stabilization. Body, not lens, is where stabilization needs to happen. Sony has been doing this for a while but others are slow to catch up. The more action and movement-oriented photographs one takes the more important this aspect becomes.
- Support for multiple lighting options. Having to put a remote control flash sync on top of my camera is cumbersome at best and frustrating at its worst. I see little reason why radio control for flash sync cannot be standardized and built into the camera. Maybe put that in place of the on-camera flash.
- Better environmental proofing. Light-weight plastic bodies are practically worthless. Too often, one has dust specs on the sensor after the first use. Cameras need to be able to shoot in the rain, in extreme temperatures, and even in the middle of a sandstorm without being rendered useless. We’re too advanced for this to not be happening.
- Stronger image and camera security options. More needs to be done to make sure that Exif info stays with an image, even if it is acquired through questionable means. The same applies to our physical cameras as well. Stolen gear is a blow to a photographer. Tracking it should be easy.
Adjusting to the change
Many of the differences in how and what we shoot have occurred without us really giving much thought to why we have changed. Adjustments to our methodology are a reflection of how we view photography more as a communications medium. We don’t just take portraits, or landscapes, or pictures of our vacation. We use our cameras to capture information, to illustrate a point, or to express an emotion. We often work in real time and polished processing isn’t always a concern.
Perhaps, as photographers, we need to reconsider exactly what we’re doing with our cameras. Are we missing opportunities and markets? Are we recognizing that what our clients expect now is not the same as it was five years ago? Is our work and our business evolving to match the needs of the world around us?
Changes to photography are not limited to cameras. All those things that once held true have changed. We don’t shoot like that anymore.