Photography in General

Are Digital Cameras destroying photography?

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The booming of digital cameras has arrived for some years now. We are seeing better, more compact, feature-rich cameras reach the market every day, but is the knowledge of photography really improving?

This might sound like hypocritical reasoning since I’m a convert to digital photography myself. But…

The first camera I ever had (and still have but now almost as a museum item) was a Pentax P30t. If you don’t know it, this was a fully manual SLR (35mm), but already with an incorporated digital photometer. With this camera, to take any decent photos I had to learn and learn and learn.

Understanding the theory behind every feature the camera had was a must. From apertures, shutter speed even focusing techniques was something that I had to get deep into. This, not to mention the differences it had on the outcome the speed of the film used, the time of day a photo was taken (temperature of light). I had great fun experimenting. Of course, since money was tight and I could not afford to expose roll after roll until getting the best results, the learning curve had to be steep.

Nowadays, from the most basic compact camera to the most expensive dSLR, one big advantage is that you can take 100 shots of the same subject and, on the spot, select your keepers. No doubt that this is a huge advantage, but alas, one that has its price: the learning curves of understanding photography are getting much more gradual. For the most part, even with good equipment (entry level dSLRs), users are just pointing and shooting, transforming photography into a snapshot game of chance. If it comes out good, fine, if not, let’s try again.

And camera manufactures are not helping: every new camera model comes packed with predefined “scene” modes that make knowledge of photography non-essential. I can understand their point of view: if a consumer is willing to pay higher prices for something, then they make it easier, and thus attracting more clients.

Planning of photos has mostly disappeared. Thinking about angles, lighting, and of course how this would translate into what camera settings were needed to nail that shot is something of the past (if ever) for many. Ask around from people with cameras what effect aperture has on the depth of field, just as an example, and you’ll probably get surprised looks or at most an answer taken directly from the camera manual.

Of course that for those minimally inclined to learning, the digital photography age can also be a highway where before existed only paved roads. Changing the settings and trying to understand how it changes the outcome, and applying this knowledge in the future, is now as easy and affordable as ever. Long gone are the times when an exposure was recorded in a little notebook, each setting noted, to study when the prints arrived from the lab. But I believe that the average consumer is much more interested just in the final result than the process.

In the end, “shooting – looking at result – change settings – keep shooting until desired result” is getting a higher profile than “think desired result – change settings – shooting”.

But, for all of those who still think it’s worth learning, “The Old Rules Still Aplly”.

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23 Comments

  1. Christopher Scholl

    May 2, 2007 at 2:34 pm

    Your comments are interesting and as one who began using an old Pentax K1000 I’m inclined to agree — to a point.
    But as a great advocate for digital photography, I think it’s true that the “average” point-and-shooter is far more likely to get a photograph they like than with 35 mm. But I don’t think that translates into artistic, pro-level type images. For me, it’s still easy to spot the difference.
    My own digital SLR (Canon 30D) has a few built-in programs that I never use and they seem pretty out of place on a camera like that. But I suppose, if it gives some non-photographers the ability to come up with photos that aren’t outright ugly like they otherwise might have been, then I don’t see the harm.
    Great blog. Keep it up!

  2. gixaman

    May 2, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    i’m agree with you.

  3. A Marques

    May 2, 2007 at 8:25 pm

    @ Christopher:

    I think that was exactly the point I tried to make. For a better understanding, I wrote this in answer to a disagreeing comment in photographyvoter.com:

    “I’m not, in any way advocating the end of digital cameras or digital photography. Hey, 95% of what I shoot is digital and the benefits of digital are more than obvious.

    When I experimented with film? Sometimes I still do, but just if I have something very specific on my mind.

    The point I tried to make was that freedom of creativity that you so well mention is not being used by so many people and thus degrading the knowledge of photography and the theory behind it. If one wants to understand photography, then yes, now it’s the time and the world of photography is at anyone’s reach. The problem is that the easiness that you can experiment with, for many consumers, is really impairing the understanding of the process and making learning a non-necessity.”

    I think one of the problems is that some people tend not to differentiate between snapshot photography and artistic (or at least planned) photography.

    @ gixaman:

    Thanks for your words.

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  5. Mich

    May 2, 2007 at 11:47 pm

    A digital SLR has allowed me more creative freedom and has increased my experimentation greatly. My film camera Pentax K1000 was a great tool to learn with but as a single mother I had little extra money to spare on film and developing. Now as a grandmother and with more disposable income I love the freedom that comes from knowing I can try a shot various ways and will not be paying to have disappointing shots printed. The bad shots teach me as much or more about what I like and don’t like and can and can’t do, than the good ones so I appreciate them but like never having to develop them. I can experiment with aperture and depth of field, shutter speed in ways I could never afford to when I had a film camera.

    I think the same people who picked up a film SLR will be the ones to use a digital SLR in the way it is meant to be used. It does pain me to see someone using a thousand dollar camera on auto when I know there are people out there who’d love to have the technology and can’t afford it. But it is their money after all!

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  9. Digital Cameras

    May 4, 2007 at 2:14 am

    Yeah, I agree, both ways! I think that it is easier to “point and shoot” and that manufacturers are flogging that aspect. On the other hand, I find digital fantastic for those that are interested in learning. Now I can see the results of my settings immediately without waiting for the film to be developed.

    I would also use an entire film when trying out a new technique, then 95% of the shots would be useless!

    What if the manufacturers educated the consumers? Megapixel count is still what consumers look for when comparing cameras. What if we could change that to lens performance? Would we get major advances in lenses with plummeting prices?

    Now _that_ would be nice!

    Cheers, Dan

  10. Jim Goldstein

    May 4, 2007 at 5:03 am

    At some point or another in the past I’ve argued both sides of this debate. When I got into photography in the late 90′s I had a choice to go digital or film. I chose film. My personal preference was to hone my technical skills before jumping into digital. There was no wrong choice really. Afterall both roads lead to the same destination. Improved skill and proficiency.

    That only goes so far though. Digital is no different than film in the sense that the output is only as good as the creative mind behind it. Compound that with the technical knowhow and you have a very challenging art form.

    From the business perspective digital has definitely made an impact. The barrier to entry has been lowered by the introduction of this new format. It’s changed the behavior and thought process of those seeking to purchase photos for commercial use. In addition it has most certainly changed for ever how photographers do business individually and through agencies.

    If anything I would say that digital photography saved photography in general. Film was played out and expensive. General consumers have been set fre e by it. Conversely on the commercial side it’s killed the old mode of doing business and lowered the value of images sold due to the flood of images hitting the market.

    Jim

  11. A Marques

    May 4, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    @ Epic Edits Weblog (Brian Auer), DVPhoto, Photography and Art, Mostly (Joseph Szymanski), Photography is Nothing (Simon Griffee), Photographer’s Journey (Chris),  many thanks for featuring my article on your sites allowing for this discussion to expand.

  12. Claudia

    May 4, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    Another aspect of this is that parallel to digital photography, we’ve seen the use of the internet become more and more widespread. And people publish their images on the internet. This means, you get to see a whole lot more photographs, snapshots or what have you. And you probably get to see proportionally more inferior images or ‘snapshots’ or just photos published for memory’s sake.

    I also agree, on second thoughts, that the distinction between snapshots and photographs does not work. Most of the photographs which made Henri Quartier-Bresson, for one, famous where snapshots. They were simply extremely good snapshots.

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  14. Paul

    May 6, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    Excellent article on a hotly-debated topic as of late.
    - http://www.photographyvoter.com

  15. A Marques

    May 7, 2007 at 12:54 am

    @ Claudia:

    I think you are probably right… Maybe the ratio of snapshots:photographs just has changed a lot due to the cheap and easiness digital cameras brought. The overwhelming amount of snaps on the web shows this for sure.
    From here we could speculate that the amount of people that are pursuing knowledge in photography has even increased.
    What do you think?

  16. A Marques

    May 7, 2007 at 12:58 am

    @ Paul:

    Thanks for your insights.
    Of course it’s an honor for me to have a visit (and a comment) from the founder of the newest buzz in the digital photography world: PhotographyVoter.com

    Thanks for dropping by.

  17. Claudia

    May 8, 2007 at 11:05 am

    @A Marques, yes, I agree. All those people getting into photography more easily now realize, after a while, that simple point and shoot doesn’t lead to good images. So they search the internet for tips, tutorials, how-tos about equipment and about how to achieve better photographs. This makes sites that supply this information immensely popular.

    In German speaking countries (I don’t know if you have that as well), there are also photography clubs. These and many internet forum discussions are, to my mind, to a large degree focussed on equipment and technical questions. What I’m looking for is discussions about composition, meaning, and interpretation of photographs.

    That’s someting I like about your blog, by the way :-).

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  19. A Marques

    May 8, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    @ Claudia:

    Well, I’m currently in Germany by the way…

    The internet has become one of the major sources of information on photography technique, no doubt. But once in a while a more “philosophical” question arises, that should lead to great debate amongst people who are interested in the subject. These questions I give some voice to in here are not just to gain site popularity, but are questions that I really have and input from others is always welcome. The exchange of ideas will always be a part of this site.
    And thanks for coming back… ;)

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  22. the_wolf_brigade

    June 24, 2008 at 10:30 am

    I still record all my exposures in a notebook :)

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