Photography is a creative medium and a highly reputable art, but recently it has gone the way of most creative or professional endeavors. Everybody is doing it!
iPad image with Snapseed Center Focus
Kinda like what blogging did to the field of writing. Everybody can write so… everybody becomes a writer. Has blogging devalued professional writing as a whole? Has the sheer volume of posts taken the profession down a notch? Or is it complementary to the field in general? Technology has turned so many professions inside out.
Photo by iPad with Snapseed Tune Image, Details and Center Focus filters.
Even a craft as highly skilled as architecture has weekend warriors using SketchUp designing everything 3-D – even drawing up new homes that would never be structurally sound or weather tight.
Photo by iPad with Snapseed Frame filter – does it help?
The web creates ‘experts’ in every field now a days. Be your own attorney with all the apps to download free legal forms. And you can be your own CPA with a click of the mouse in tax preparation apps. Feeling sick? Diagnose your own ailments and doctor yourself back to health. Interior Design, well everyone does design these days with no experience or education.
Original iPhone image
Snapseed Grunge Filter with Tilt Shift filter – better? Not even close.
It seems that we are at a point where the volume of photos that proliferate the web are trivializing images somewhat. Viewers speed by the majority of them, so the people posting them try to make them stand out and be different with apps like Instagram.
This simple service is being hard hit in the media lately. Most of the criticism is leveled at amateur photographers and how easy it is to post filtered images to the web.
By this I mean the special effects filters used on photographs, filters that were actually based on classical photographic effects that took a lot of time and skill to produce. Most of this criticism is by professional photographers, too.
Is it a concern for professionals today, the ones with the experience and years of educational study? The examples I gave above require advanced degrees and/or licenses to practice. Being a professional photographer does not, yet does take years of hard work. Digital cameras and web access are in the hands of everyone, especially those with smart phones. The result of this is…
People are taking surprisingly good photographs with their phones now a days. The image quality of these devices has improved substantially over the years, but that is not really where the problem is unfolding. The device may be better, but not necessarily the person operating it. So this opens the door to software that will do all that for you with one click.
Original DSLR image
Snapseed Drama Normal Filter – better? Not really.
Facebook now has purchased Instagram, and I now see Google has acquired Nik Software. Nik is the maker of Snapseed, an editing app for the iPhone, iPad and PC used by approximately 9 million consumers.
The consumer applications producing these special effects filters are not necessarily making the images better though.
Snapseed Frame Filter – better? Not really.
Instagram and Snapseed filters are dumbing down creativity. No imagination or skill on the part of the photographer is required, just an instant click and send. They don’t encourage betterment of ability either. In many cases, they are used on cheesy images or on decent images made to look cheesy.
Has it come to showing off talent and puffing up abilities that do not exist with the help of these effects filters?
Photos can be made better by sharpening, better exposure, and more saturated color. They can add depth of field that was not in the photo. What used to take years of experience learning very complex applications and camera know how, is replaced by a flurry of applications doing it for the photographer.
Original iPhone image
Snapseed Vintage Filter, Ella – I especially do not like this look.
So does this make the person a good photographer? If all one does is push a button and out pops a better photo, well that seems like photography is taking a step backwards, not forwards.
One can argue that it is the final photo that matters, not how one gets there. That is the long-standing argument on Photoshop. Many books are being sold helping people make better iPhone images. And as technology expands, so does who it reaches.
But, since most Instagram users are just sharing their lives with others through photos, they are not looking to be professional photographers or create great art.
Many years from now the current technology will not exist, but the images it was used on will. I am guessing no one will be asking how the images were produced.
You can also argue that photography has opened up to a greater number of people, and that is good for the craft. Instagram allows beginners to experience what many in the field have been using for a very long time and I think this is exactly where there problem originates. I think it is about feeling double-crossed. Like the amateurs are getting something that they did not do the work to learn.
Photography is fun, more immediate, less costly, and very accessible, unlike many years prior.
Without the education and long time experience, it is unlikely amateurs can actually equal the depth of quality and imagery of the pros. But the apps keep getting more sophisticated…
I have Snapseed on my Laptop, iPhone and iPad. I looked at the app yesterday for the first time. I figured since it was made by Nik, a professional app I use as a plugin for Photoshop and Lightroom, that it would be a great thing for those quick photos on the phone.
Below, the dahlia was taken by my iPhone in a shaded location. iPhones are not good in low light either. Enter Snapseed and we have a brighter image with soft focus in a cropped image. All one click effects. Not as good as I could take with the DSLR, but not too shabby.
Photo by iPhone with Snapseed
I do believe though that photography should be about more than simply trying to take as many photos as one can in five minutes or less. That is what I think this new phenomenon encourages. Why am I concerned when I don’t use Instagram or Snapseed?
I am trialling a new app on my Mac called Perfectly Clear, that performs 12 corrections in one click. It is an editing program similar to many of the others on the market. But why is it different? It seems even more sophisticated in effect than Snapseed, but is exceedingly simple in execution just like Snapseed.
I can only speculate what ramifications this will have for applications like Photoshop. It is a Photoshop and Lightroom plugin, but they also have the iPad and iPhone versions for the masses. Time will tell how this all plays out. It is just too simple to click a button and be done. If these apps keep improving, no telling who produces an image.
So, what comes from this discussion? I don’t really know, but I am betting a lot of long time photographers and photo editors are none too happy with the direction of photography. Do the photographers taking issue have a point?
Update: Yes they do… Listen to them discussing it.
I just want to add a podcast where professional photographers are discussing the very points in this post and comment section. In the first part of the podcast, the discussion is on using Photoshop Elements. The second part of the podcast, the discussion is with a wedding photographer talking about how the advent of digital has impacted his profession – “the explosion of photographers that broke into the wedding scene and the vast gyrations of pricing.” He goes into the reasons that I discussed where “everybody is a photographer.” Here it is from a professional’s point of view. If you think all these new clickers are not affecting the pros, think again. See how he is differentiating himself and how he is reaching those clients.