Photography

“Photography is rooted in the rich culture of amateurism. What’s happening today is similar to the original proliferation of Kodak’s Brownie camera starting in 1900. An inexpensive and easy-to-use camera in every hand didn’t usher in the end of photography or automatically turn everybody into Richard Avedon.

Photo apps won’t magically give Jane the smartphone photographer a better sense of composition, or lighting, or framing. The apps and filters only change a photo’s look and aesthetic feel. That doesn’t make it a better photo. If you put lipstick on a pig, it’s still a pig.”

I could practically quote the entire essay from Richard Koci Hernandez. He is far more eloquent in defining what I’ve felt for a long time about photography (or any art) and technology.

Another choice quote referenced in the video essay,

“When people ask what equipment I use, I tell them my eyes.”

– Ansel Adams.

 

A Personal History of Digital Cameras as Presented by a Simple Chart.

 

As I was flipping through my now 120GB+ iPhoto library I realized that my family is now on our 4th digital camera. Above is the oldest photo I have. This was taken with my wife’s (then girlfriend) Olympus C-830L1. That was back in December of 1999.

Fast forward to today and here’s a shot taken with our newest camera.

My Dog at Night

Because I like visualizing information, I made a chart comparing all of our past cameras resolution against our most recent.

Click for 36.3 megapixels of chart love

This chart shows a 1:1 scale comparison between that first camera and our most recent – a Nikon D800. That’s a pretty substantial increase in megapixels. That’s to be expected, as we’ve gone from basic point-and-shoots to full-body DSLRs over the past 13 years. While megapixels aren’t the only improvement made since 19992, this is just one way of visualizing the dramatic improvements in digital photography since I started.

1.3 to 36.3 megapixels of history. I’ve loved every camera and I’m excited to see how things look in another 12 years!


  1. Side geekery; the Olympus C830L had 2,400+ uploads to flickr the day I posted this article. Not bad for a 13-year-old camera.

  2. This neat tool that compares sensor size (another measure of improved image quality) doesn’t list our previous camera – a Nikon D40. The closest comparison is to the D3100, which still makes you go, whoa! Update: As Ekdal points out below, this site shows a direct comparison of sensor size between the two Nikons.

Filters Optional

Photography has struggled to be considered a form of art since its inception. Technological advances have led to more accessible tools with enhanced capabilities for the everyman. It has evolved from being complicated and time-consuming to becoming an easy and popular medium consumed and, more importantly, created by many, many people. This existential argument of the validity of photography as an art form persists to this day and is most recently manifested in the numerous rantings of individuals over the validity and usefulness of the mobile app Instagram.

Instagram, for the uninitiated, is an application for your smart phone that allows you to take pictures, apply an optional filter to stylized the photo, and then share said photo with other people via Instagram’s own social network or sharing to Facebook, Twitter, etc.

There are a few curmudgeon who think that Instagram is useless or in some extreme cases ruining the art and profession of photography.

Anyone who’s ever tried to take a photograph with even a minuscule hint of creativity are artists. Framing a shot, choosing certain lenses, lens filters and post production all modify the reality of the thing being photographed.

Another thing about this progression of art (and by association, photography) is how prior works influence new works. I can take a picture of Yosemite just like Ansel Adams, but that’s only because his work came before mine. I could even use my much more technically sophisticated tools to duplicate the style of Adams – to evoke the same feelings. Does it make my photo art?

All art builds on prior art. Even if your purposefully attempting to be contrary to existing art or a particular style. Opposing that which came before it means you’re cognitively aware of its influence and history! No art exists in a vacuum and therefore the work of people using Instagram is just as valid as someone earning income, a professional, using his high-end Nikon D800 to capture a certain look or emotion with lens, lighting and Photoshop.

Instagram is art and the people using it are artists – with, or without, the filters.

So what if I’m wrong? What if this entire essay is inaccurate in claiming that users of Instagram are artists and the resulting images, modified or not, are art?

If Instagram isnt art, then it’s just silly fun – a game. Relax. If you’re going to get upset over fun, then I’d love to hear you talk about how Scrabble is not writing, and is deserving of equal flack.

See Also:

Why the Internet Makes Me Feel Like an Idiot and Why I’m Not

The internet is a great tool to learn and experience quite literally every single human endeavor. You name the topic and there most likely exists – at least – a single Wikipedia entry. With a few YouTube video tutorials, some blog posts starting with “How To…” you can become knowledgeable in a myriad of technical and non-technical professions.

I work on the web every day. My job title is “Web Project Coordinator” and while this implies that I’m focused on the web I find myself both professionally and personally doing so much more.

On some days I shoot and edit video, others have me designing a layout for a site or coding some JavaScript. I even manage a few servers and help edit objective-c for an iPhone app! Not to mention my past IT support role has perpetuated my title as ‘computer guy’ around the office and at home.

I freely admit this is a 1st world problem and there are far greater difficulties facing the universe, but on an individual level I find the feeling of not being proficient in one particular area to be a serious mental drain. Why do I feel like a jack of all trades and a master of none?

Some days I feel like a fraud, that everyone I work with (and for) have been duped by smoke and mirrors. That if they ever found out how little I actually know I’d be branded as a fluke, a huckster. Part of me knows this isn’t true. That I’m smart and well received by those I work with, but man because of the Internet I feel like such a moron. Why is this?

It’s because I read. I read a lot.

I pursue Twitter and Google Reader to find out what’s going on all over the world. I read about Adam Lisagor and his awesome video work or Neven Mrgan and his splendid design chops. Boing Boing fills me with oddities to delight the senses and bizarre people I would love to meet.

Guys like Merlin Mann and Jeffery Zeldman make me feel like a sloth with their intelligent and witty writing. Don’t even get me started on Mike Matas‘ photography or Brent Simmons‘ helpful articles on coding. How about Michael Lopp’s awesome guide to being a better geek?

I digress, but you can see how after daily observances of a plethora of cool things one can start comparing themselves and asking, “Why am I not that successful? Why are these people so awesome?”

But I think I’ve figured it out.

I was having a discussion bitching to my wife on the ride home from work. I was withering in fake pain about how I don’t feel like I’m strong in any particular area and how I worry about my future. My wife, as smart as always, pointed out an obvious fact.

I’m comparing myself to 5 different people – of course I’m not going to be as good in each profession as these folks have chosen. I’ve been trying to stretch myself in so many different ways because I’m excited! I want to do everything I read about because it all sounds so interesting.

I realize now that I can’t try to do what 5 separate people have accomplished. I can dabble here, and try something over here, but at the end of the day I need to relax.

My wife reminded me that what is important is that the people I work with enjoy what I can do for them and that I continue to develop as an individual without the pressure to be as good as everyone on the Internet. I often forget that these folks are great at what they do and that what each one of them does is diverse and specific. People rarely blog about their shortcomings – about topics that they’re not proficient in. They talk about their successes, their passions and what cool things they’re doing.

So anytime I’m down in a funk, that I feel like no one would hire me and that I’m some sort of goober, I just need to remember that even thought the Internet can bring so much information to my fingertips that it does nothing to filter – to remind me that I need to take things in one at a time. Admire these things I see and hear, enjoy them, but ultimately be at peace with who I am and where I’m going.