BitDepth#903 - September 17

Will the pervasive presence of camera phones eventually bring an end to the idea of professional photography? Some thoughts on that.
Whither photography?
Will the colourful iPhone 5c become your camera of choice? Photograph courtesy Apple.

In just the last few months, two major technology company representatives have quietly dismissed the idea of professional photography.
First up was Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer who introduced the new version of photo sharing website Flickr with the words, “There’s no such thing as Flickr Pro today because there’s really no such thing as professional photographers anymore.”

Not to be outdone, Apple Senior VP of Marketing, Phil Schiller weighed in at Apple’s launch of new iPhones last week with the quip, “It used to be the way you take better pictures is you learn to be a better photographer.”
“You get bigger cameras, bigger lenses, you learn about all the techniques of light meters and gels and filters, and you can spend your lifetime learning how to take advantage of this and make it work for you.”

A few weeks ago, I gave a talk about my career as a photographer (
which you can find here) and the questions that followed tended to drift in the same direction.
“Will there be any need for a DSLR when smartphones can do so much?” one member of the audience asked quietly after the talk.
I’m faced with this line of thinking quite often. Usually from students who don’t want to deal with the rigors of a course that I teach at UWI’s Film School which just happens to focus on taking control of cameras that are often much better programmed to take photographs than they are at that point.

The gap that informs this type of thinking, something of a chasm, really, is the unassailable fact that most cameras, acting quite efficiently on their own, turn out great photographs of whatever their handlers point them at.
This represents not just a triumph of science, which has improved the capacity of these boxes to the point where they meter, focus and evaluate scenes quite accurately, but also of computing, which allows these devices to analyse scenes and place focus points and balance exposures with uncanny accuracy.

But does this make for great photography?
Several years ago, someone posted lesser known works by famous photographers on Flickr to solicit opinions from the outspoken viewers there.
The images have since been removed, along with their comments – no doubt as a result of copyright concerns – but I recall the tone of the discussions quite clearly.

They were almost uniformly dismissive, arguing that black and white was a poor choice for some of the images, that shutter speeds could have been faster to freeze blurred motion and bemoaning the general lack of focus in the images relative to today’s ultrasharp captures.

So should today’s photographers be learning their trade using film, as one person asked?
If you’re my friend
TrinidadDreamscape, then the answer to that will be a resounding yes, but I have to confess that I no longer see the point.
For one thing, the world of film photography simply isn’t what it once was. The palette of materials has shrunk considerably, with only a few film types and processing systems remaining available and the selection of photographic paper has become absurd.

There’s enough there to keep film shooters going, albeit with dramatically reduced choices, but for a beginner, what was once just difficult is so daunting that it’s almost impossible.
I see the appalling work that digital photographers dabbling with film produce, and it’s all I can do to stop myself from screaming, even virtually.

So will photography drift inexorably into pocketable image capture devices? It’s clear that for most average use; it already has. I make use of a smartphone with Photoshop Touch and an internet connection in much the same way that most folks do, to share visuals that are timely and contextually interesting.

This is likely to be the future for most image captures, but the sheer volume of such image making will inform the more deliberate, considered work that serious photographers do in incalculable ways.

There’s precedent for this. Once the camera could capture landscapes with absolute fidelity, realist painters had to reconsider their approaches quite radically.
So Ms Mayer and Mr Schiller are right, but they are also quite wrong.
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