With the increasing popularity of YouTube, Instagram Reels, TikTok and various other video-based platforms, one begs the question — are still images overrated? Is photography dead?
With the advent of digital photography, just about everyone has a camera with them at all times, with their cell phone. Even SLR type cameras and mirrorless cameras are so affordable, so many people are taking it up as a hobby. Everyone is posting to their social media platform (whichever one happens to be popular at the time). And pretty much all of these cameras take video.
More and more video is now being uploaded. For some reason, a single photo doesn’t tell enough of the story anymore. We all seem to be enamored by video feeds. Even a badly shot 15-second video will hold our attention longer than a beautiful photo. Or so it seems.
Is photography even still an art form?
There is an argument by some that photography isn’t even really a true art form. Painting, or drawing or sculpting, even music can take years to master, or at least make something reasonably pleasant. Take enough photos on automatic, the chances are you will randomly capture something pleasant.
So if anyone can take an image, and anyone can take video, is it even still considered art? At the same time, mastering the craft of photography is as intricate and time-consuming as learning to paint, draw, sculpt or become an accomplished musician.
For years photographers have been learning the craft, the do’s and don’ts. The rules of composition, color theory, editing and developing, not to mention the nuances of printing. Then there is lighting, posing and more that goes into fashion or portraits. Food photography, lifestyle photography, seem to be overthrown by Instagram reels and TikTok feeds. Even journalism seems to have been taken over by cell phone footage from passersby on the street. Newsfeeds via webcam.
Is professional photography as good as done?
If you get paid to take photos, you are considered a professional photographer, but more and more video seems to be sneaking into the picture. Are professional photographers now all switching to making videos? And if they are, are they still photographers, or are they moviemakers and videographers? Do photographers need to learn how to diversify into video?
So if you snap a dozen photos (or more) of your last day trip or holiday, can you consider that as photography? Are you a photographer? What about those cell phone selfies? What if you just happen to be where something dramatic happens and you capture the action — are you considered a photojournalist?
Photojournalism was a time-honored tradition of capturing the world, in all its glory and horror. Now it seems to be who can capture the most distasteful video of world horrors that fills the news. And not even by professional camera crews.
The fact that photography has largely been reduced to the “art” of cell phone selfies is further challenged by the demise of the actual photojournalist. Where once dedicated and skilled photographers would tell the story of world events, many newspapers around the world have actually laid off their photographers.
Citizen journalists (aka the “man” in the street) have been encouraged to submit their photographs and video footage for free. Years of photojournalistic tradition were reduced to something anyone with a cell phone can do.
Even news reporters have been reduced to capturing their stories on cell phones and reporting via webcam throughout the Covid pandemic. We don’t even see high-resolution video or high fidelity audio in our news reports, and no one really seems to be complaining.
So is photography dead?
NO! Far from it, I believe we are experiencing a rebirth in photography. Sure videography has seen a resurgence as well. Mostly thanks to the video capabilities of today’s digital cameras. Digital images and video is now in the hands of more people than ever before. This means that there are more images and videos being created, millions of them, EVERY DAY.
Sure, many are not overly creative, nor inspiring. But that has always been the case, hasn’t it? The creative geniuses have always sat before the masses who tried to copy and emulate their heroes. The point is now, the sheer volume of people making up the masses are actually driving the creative elite to higher levels of creativity and inspiration … that can benefit us all.
There has never been a better time to learn
Add to that, there has never been a better time to learn photography. Just ask Google, or jump on YouTube, TikTok … anything you want to learn is there for the asking.
Photographic education is an ever-expanding platform. Any barriers people may have previously faced to learning photography have now vanished. There are so many online platforms and in-person workshops, retreats and conferences.
Is it all doom and gloom?
Definitely not. It’s possible the doom and gloom is fueled by people who don’t like change. I mean once upon a time photographs were the tool of the devil, sheer witchcraft. Now they are mainstream. The trick is needing to evolve, to adapt. Looking back on the history of photography, it’s built by creative and inspired individuals who took chances and set the standard for others to follow, ever striving for the next challenge to overcome.
Have we become so blasé, that we no longer wish to explore and set new challenges for ourselves?
Many wish to stay in their comfort zone and moan about a lack of business. For some, it’s never straying far from what is considered art and photography. Refusing to accept the validity of digitally altered photos or even cell phone cameras. As photographers, don’t we owe it to ourselves, to learn, to grow, to expand our horizons and challenge ourselves?
Being stagnant and always staying still breeds boredom and contempt. There are so-called masters who have been shooting for 50-plus years, who always shoot the same tired old thing. Then there are teenagers with cell phones and a sense of creativity who are creating amazing images and videos only for their Instagram accounts, just for fun.
Let’s face it — we love photography for the big (and small) moments in our lives. Photography is still the perfect way to capture and preserve important milestones. It also provides a connection; photography can be a beautiful experience. Not only do we have the opportunity to provide a memorable experience, but we also get to connect with people in a fun way.
That’s the real goal here, I truly believe. As a creative outlet, photography has always been more about the person behind the lens than the equipment they were using. If we are always moving forward, adapting, changing reinventing our art, I believe it will always be relevant. Sure people take videos of the special moments in their life, but what do they hang on their walls?