Thursday, February 07, 2008

Is Photography Too Popular?

As I glanced at to see what the latest picture of the week was, I saw an image which had it been made in the old film days, I would have really thought Wow. Now, with the ready image editing tools, there are literally millions of correctly exposed decently composed images. There are hundreds of thousands of dramatically coloured images with incredible skies capturing images at just the right moment - this used to be special, now it's the routine.

Undoubtedly digital has made all this happen. Instead of a few enthusiasts known to each other meeting on a Saturday morning at the local Camera store, now you can't find parking and lineups at the counter are normal and you can hardly hear yourself speak.

With thousands of photographers out hiking the mountains at dawn, no wonder there are lots of images with dramatic lighting, god rays and whatever. Of course, the other thing is that many of these people who did shoot in the old film days, had wonderful slides that no one ever saw because there was no internet, printing from slides was never ideal and certainly a hassle and work just wasn't seen.

But lets face it - there are a huge number of people who own and use SLR's now compared to 15 years ago. In the past, having an SLR was a sign of a really serious photographer - not any more.

The net result of all this exposure is that any time you look on the web, it's quite easy to find an image just as good as yours, perhaps better or at least more dramatic and it's easy to be discouraged.

What's a person to do?

Well, several things.

1) who ever said it was a contest, does it really matter that other people have nice images, get over it and enjoy your images and stop comparing.

2) if you must compare - then compare their entire portfolio to yours - many's the great image that was a photo of the week but which either was one of many images looking all the same or was in fact the only strong image in their portfolio.

3) Maybe this is telling you that your work isn't personal enough - that perhaps you have been working towards an ideal that was set for you by other people, through your reading and looking at images. If your work looks the same as every one elses, then something is missing.

4) If you want your work to stand out you could make your images more dramatic, but given the competition, you'd be hard pressed to do so and almost certainly shouldn't go that direction anyway. You could pick a different subject, but they've all been done. You could try being different just for difference sake, but I suspect it will look forced or fake or simply lack feeling. Probably the most practical answer is to simply to continue to look at the world through your unique eyes and hope that you see and can show things differently without actually trying to do so, by coming up with ideas from left field and thinking, wouldn't that be interesting, or important to me, or just cool, and following your instinct. It will be interesting or stand out or be unique, or it won't, but either way it will be the best work you can do, and that's all anyone can ask.


Jakub said...

You have actually touched two subjects.

Photography becoming popular is a good thing. It could transfer to more people able to teach me something. Unfortunatelly it doesn't and I am an amateur and beginner. People use DSLRs not because they really use their features, but because the sellers have sold it to them. If a friend have a big fance DSLR with a big zoom then one feel obligated to buy something even more expensive and with bigger "zooma factor" and more megapixels(a very important aspects of evalueting someone's photography skills). That people don't use it as SLR, they just select theme modes and shot - shot really a lot - "spray and pray". After that they empty their many-GB (another aspect they pay attention to) cards directly to web (using RAWs for them is not popular). Unfortunatelly more people making photos because of camera amrketing doesn't translate to more interesting contacts. They produce a flood of pictures to internet, but they are not interesting. Just increase the noise ratio.
I was thinking that it will stimulate the camera industry at least. Wonderful Contax went out of bussiness, and all the producers pay attention is mainly more zoom factor and more megapixels, because it is what can be advertised good. (New Fuji MF folder is a very good surprise, but an exception). I don't see a company which could replace Contax with small, good quality cameras with good primes. I may be wrong.

The second subject is more good pictures on-line. It is independent of the first one subject. It bases on internet popularity and easier access nowadays. It would happen even without introducing digital cameras. Thare are many skilled people who no matter what equipement started to share their phopos with an advance of internet. They were there all the time, not they aquired a new modium to share.
You are right that it make me feel unsecure and intimidated. I am suprised someone experienced like You has noticed that aspect. On one hand it gives me more photos to learn from, on the other hand (as I am a beginner) it makes me doubt in my skills.

Geoff Wittig said...

I don't see it the way you do. I live within an hour's drive of Kodak's headquarters, and around here the onslaught of digital has resulted in roughly half of the camera shops going out of business. Pocket digicams and cell-phone cams have made cameras commodities rather than instruments of creativity for many folks. Yes, there are far more images floating around these days; but many of them are crap! I still love seeing the rare gems standing out from the mud.

When it comes to the mass of high quality images, I'm mostly struck by how many times I see the same photographs over & over. I mean, how many different versions have you seen of sunrise under Mesa Arch, or sunbeams in Antelope Canyon? Yet there are very few really exceptional landscape images floating around that were taken in my area, so anything decent I can print still stands out.

George Barr said...

Both good points. As to seeing the same photographs over and over - no kidding. There's lots of work out there but little of it showing originality - and I guess that's the one saving grace for those of us serious about our work. The glut of over saturated, dramatically lit or highly atmospheric images or 'cute' images is problematic - great for travel brochures.


My camera World said...

In some ways I do think photography is too popular, not necessarily a bad thing, as it may force those of us who believe that photography is an art form and not fad to move further ahead in our creativity. If we do not have a measuring stick by which we can measure ourselves then how do we know there is more to learn? A bit rhetorical as I believe that learning never stops no matter whom else is doing it.

Photography, except for tourist snapshots that could only be printed a little more than a decade ago, remained within the realm of the extended family. There was no method to present to a larger audience unless you were a serious photographer.

No everyone is posting on the web, which is relatively new. I wouldn’t be surprised that within another decade (newer generation) this novelty will wear off.

There will be web sites to post your images for family and friends and other forums just for those who want to share and learn about their artist expressions.

Therefore it will be easier to sift the wheat from the chaff or craft from art.

I never go to web sites like flickr to view other images. I do belong to some critiquing forums where I try and help others and at the same time to learn form them.

I am still a big fan of the local camera clubs or online groups that get to go out together or have common projects. With these it is easier when focused to see your progression relative to others.

Niels Henriksen

Pat Janisch said...

Maybe I'm the eternal optimist, but in general I think that it is a good thing that there are more cameras in the hands of more people than ever. It tends to make (some) people try harder to perfect the craft; kind of internal competition if you will. I don't personally feel competition from others, but I frequently feel inspiration. I also feel that if more people can experience the joys of photography that is a good thing.

Perhaps Jakob is right when he notes that people are "sold" things they don't really need, as is generally the case with consumer level DSLRs. I know too many people with too much camera for their needs. A digicam would suit many of them better, but that is ok too. If they have an SLR, maybe one day they will be inspired to truly learn how to use it. Again, that would be a positive.

To George's points, I realized long ago that what other people were doing didn't concern me. I don't shoot for other people, I shoot for me. My subjects are almost always personal in nature, as that personal note gives me greater satisfaction than the impersonal landscape ever could. I work hard to learn and grow as a photographer within my own areas of interest- not someone else's.

In the end, the world is a big, big place. George is spot on when he says that we need to look at the world through our own unique eyes. Don't worry about what "everybody" is doing- do what YOU want to do. Do what pleases YOU. Let's face it, for the most part, you are the only one who will ever see the vast majority of your images.


Ted Roth said...

When I look at the history of any art form, I find it has flourished most fully and produced its greatest masters at times when it was most popular. It stands to reason that more people trying and more people paying attention is likely to result in more cross-fertilization more success. That seems to be the case.

On the other hand, it can be discouraging when one discovers there are more people taking pictures than looking at them.

Anonymous said...

All the comments made to date offer valid insights. I think the flood of images also demonstrates how far camera technology has come. For example, a women I work with took her first trip to Yellowstone with a DSLR using fully automated mode and returned with a large quantity if great images. It points to 2 things - one the cameras image quality ability and two, a display of her "inner creative eye" - accidental in most cases in terms of composition, but none the less present. Theese images will never go beyond the office desktop screen saver and sharing with friends at home. Perhaps it will raise the appreciation of photographic art? Or maybe it will dilute the medium, making it more difficult to sell it as "art" - since "my cousin John - takes pictures this good - why would I spend money to buy it when I can get a copy if his picture?"
In any case, it should not not matter. I create photos becuase I must. I'm driven by a creative desire, without which, I feel imcomplete.

Anonymous said...

Photography has always had ups and downs of popularity throughout it's life. I personally don't care, but I do get annoyed when I'm taking pictures and I glance over and another photographer is taking pictures of me, and not the sunset. That is the worst thing about digital, it causes people to do really weird things...impromptu "High ISO tests" which are little more than 100% crops of a picture of their big toe. People couldn't afford to do that kind of crap when shooting Velvia or even worse, Kodachrome.

As well, I don't think it's popularity right now is an indication of quality. "Millions of correctly exposed decently composed images" does not mean millions of good photographs. There have always been millions of photographs, but you couldn't see them easily, as the internet wasn't around. Anyway, an image which is "correctly exposed decently composed" does not imply quality, and this is something that amateurs always struggle with and gifted photographers excel at. Going beyond the obvious and the cliched is difficult, whether it's on film or digital.