It seems that recently, many photographers who consider themselves serious enough, are having a hard time dealing with the fact that anyone can take photos these days, and call himself a photographer. And if that's not enough, they can get much more Likes. For some time I've been pondering about this issue myself. While an amateur, in the sense that photography is not my main source of income, I'd still like to consider myself a serious photographer. And it seems that in order to get Likes, you don't have to invest half as much an effort as I did on some of my images... Recently, my friend Lev, writer of the Double Exposure photography blog, has written an article dealing with a different aspect of that issue, that made me think some more.
Looking back on the 150 years of photography, there was a time when the place of professional and serious photographers was clear. Only professionals had the intuition, or knew how to calculate the correct exposure, not to mention the knowledge required in order to properly develop the photos yourself. Ansel Adams described taking one of his most recognizable images in his book The Making of 40 Photographs:
"I almost ditched the car and rushed to set up my 8×10 camera. I was yelling to my companions to bring me things from the car as I struggled to change components on my Cooke Triple-Convertible lens. I had a clear visualization of the image I wanted, but when the Wratten No. 15 (G) filter and the film holder were in place, I could not find my Weston exposure meter!... ...I was at a loss with the subject luminance values, and I confess I was thinking about bracketing several exposures, when I suddenly realized that I knew the luminance of the moon – 250 c/ft2. Using the Exposure Formula, I placed this luminance on Zone VII; 60 c/ft2 therefore fell on Zone V, and the exposure with the filter factor o 3x was about 1 second at f/32 with ASA 64 film. I had no idea what the value of the foreground was, but I hoped it barely fell within the exposure scale. Not wanting to take chances, I indicated a water-bath development for the negative.".
That's what it took to be a real photographer in those times (this image was taken in 1941). With time, however, the necessity of dealing with chemicals, and self-developing the photos had diminished. Photographers still had to know how to expose correctly, but it was much easier to develop the images later. With the spread of light meters, it also became easier to expose. The invention and improvement of film made cameras smaller and more accessible to the crowds. Putting 100 years of photography in perspective, serious photographers in the early days of photography could not have dreamt to compete with the quality achieved by amateurs with much smaller, lighter and easier to operate film cameras.
What film couldn't do, the digital age did: now everybody has a camera. In their phones, at the very least. The distinction between serious photography and "taking pictures" - a term that did not exist less than a 100 years ago, became blurry. Easy as it is to take, process and publish images, it seems that the only thing that separates "good photography" from "bad photography" is composing the image. And while everybody has the chance of proving their creativity, more and more good photographers emerge, and the lesser the chance for an individual to stand out.
But then again - that's the story of photography. With every advancement - it became much easier and much more accessible. The phone-camera is no more revolutionary than Kodak's first consumer film cameras, or than the first camera with built-in light meter. The main difference is that while it became much easier to take photos over the years, it wasn't easy enough for the majority of the population, and that's what the digital and smartphone revolution have changed.
In my opinion, the real question when trying to understand where we stand in light of this revolution is "Why people photograph?". This is not a new question - it was discussed a long time ago by many, including Robert Adams in his book carrying the same title. While most people photograph for recording their everyday life events, and no less important - for fun, I think that serious photographers have a different motivation. For serious photographers, it's more an issue of the perfection of the image. Of how good timing, composition and exposure all come together to create one, good photograph.
It seems to me that we're in a period of transition. Photography has become very common among the entire population. However, the understanding and appreciation of good photography has yet to spread that much. But with so many good photographers publishing their work everyday on the media and on social networks, it's only a matter of time until appreciation for good photography becomes common as well. And as with any other field of expertise, while many will appreciate good photography, not as many will be able, or will be interested, in practicing it.
The style of photography might change, and there may be more "medium level" photographers out there, but the value of good photography will remain.