The Digital Photography Revolution

Today’s world is increasingly digital. The digital revolution has brought about sweeping changes across the world that has marked the beginning of the information age. Digital technologies of all kinds, including digital music and videos, have become increasingly prevalent in our everyday lives. Included in this technological whirlwind is the switch from film to digital photography.  Digital cameras became publicly available in the early 1990’s. Since then, with the fall in camera prices and the increase in their speed and power, digital cameras have become all the rage. Digital cameras are perhaps the largest change to the lives of everyday consumers. In this blog I am going to talk about how the switch from film photography to digital photography has changed the world and the implications that this switch has.

I started taking photography classes in high school. At this time I was introduced to film photography. I immediately fell in love with the grainy quality of film and dynamic range of black and white’s. While time not spent in the dark room is considered one of the advantages of digital, I find that developing prints and the manipulations done manually is an important part of the process. The debate of digital versus film photography is not a new one. Each has their pros and con’s and many photographers have switched to using both for a combination of versatility and quality.

Advantages of Digital:           

  • Wider latitude
  • Obtain images in less light
  • Speed
  • Affordability of taking pictures (no cost of film or prints)
  • Versatility
  •  Photographs do not fade
  • Photographs can be modified easily

Advantages of Film:           

  • Better special resolution
  • Better black and white photographs
  • Cheaper cameras that last for longer
  • Better dynamic range
  • No shutter delay
  • Camera turns on instantly

Evidently, both mediums have benefits with digital photography’s ease and speed toping its list. In absolute terms, it is not possible to make a decision between the two that is not based in personal opinion. I think that the quality of film photographs is still better than digital but that is quickly changing. It is the speed and versatility of digital cameras that have lead to the digital photography revolution. I think that digital photography has changed the world in three main ways.

Photojournalism and Citizen Journalism:

“There will never be another still-only photographer job in Canada anywhere. It’s dead…A lot of traditional photographers are seeing this kind of as the death of photojournalism but, in fact, it’s never been better.”-Moe Doiron, Deputy Managing Editor for Photography, The Globe and Mail

The journalism area of photography is for a practical purpose rather than for the purpose of art. It seeks to capture images as they appear, to broadcast current events. This area of photography has been completely transformed. Moe Doiron, of The Globe and Mail, explains that the paper expects all photojournalist to be working with multimedia film. “They could be the best still photographer in the world but if they’re not embracing this new technology, there’s no place for them in the next five years.” Multimedia film includes works slide shows, voice over’s and animation. Taking good pictures is no longer enough to become a photojournalist. In the age of digital photography anyone can be a good photographer. Digital cameras do not have to be adjusted or developed and the camera helps the photographer frame the shot.

The ease of taking good pictures has brought about a new field: citizen journalism. Due to the growing presence of Smartphone’s, citizens everywhere always have a camera. Whether planned or by accident, citizens are now able to capture all newsworthy and not so newsworthy events. Instead of employing photojournalist, newspapers buy photographs from citizens who happened to be at an event. The decline of print media also adversely affects the field of photojournalism.

Professional photographers: End of an era?

More and more people are taking up photography as a hobby. The sheer number of photos that each person can take with a digital camera naturally results in better photos. It is not that we are becoming better photographers, rather it is that with thousands of attempts it is easier to capture the perfect shot. With a few basic lessons in composition, lighting, aperture and shutter speed anyone can become a photographer. In the days of film photography, a photographer would never attempt an image without the perfect setting for fear of wasting film. Now, amateur photographers can take countless photographs and fiddle with them until they are satisfied

So, what does this mean for professionals?

I don’t think that lucky shots can replace what a professional photographer can do but that is just my opinion. There are fewer and fewer jobs for photographers, all due to the digital revolution.  Jobs are decreasing because of the number of new photographers entering the field, drawn by the falling prices of digital equipment. Today, just about anyone can take good picture with a camera that costs less than $200. To put this in perspective, the first affordable DSLR camera released in 1999 cost $5500 and this camera was extremely cheap compared to anything else of the time.

“Photography is based upon an emotional response to something we see which triggers a feeling for the moment. When one captures the moment, the moment is printed and it becomes a document of a time, in one’s life” – Ric Cisson, Photography, Photofinishing, and Digital Imaging Professions

Social Media and Photo sharing:

Digital images can be saved on any computer, uploaded to the Internet and printed in any newspaper. Social media sites, like Facebook and Flikr, allow users to photo share. One can even share photos on ones phone with networks like Instagram and Path.

Is there really a purpose to photo sharing?

Personally, I am not a big user of social media sites in general, let alone photo sharing. Before joining the CIS class Flikr group, I had never been on a site like that. It is not a big surprise then that I do not see the point of photo sharing. Websites that host photo sharing make profits though fees or adverting. In short, the purpose is for exposure.  By posting photos on a site like Flikr, photographers can get public attention from large audiences.  Social networking sites not only enable communication but also provide an audience for photo posters. Beyond this there is no real point, in my opinion. While photo sharing does provide exposure for amateur photographers, I do not see this form of exposure as an asset for professional photographers and photojournalists. Overall, the social media aspect of the digital age has little to contribute to the traditional medium of photography. This being said, it does have a significant role to play in the new era of digital cameras and camera phones. A major reason for individual’s use of these devices is for photo sharing.

The cover of Life Magazine featuring an article on the impacts of camera-phones.

The future of photography

To be perfectly honest with you, I still prefer film to digital photography for the richness of the black and white photographs and for the fast response time. This being said, the digital revolution is here to stay. I am not saying that film is a dying art but the changes that digital photography has to offer including ease of use, large memory capacity and low prices have changed the field forever. Increasing numbers of professional photographers, photojournalists and armatures are making the switch to digital. Even smartphones come equipped with 5-8 mega pickle cameras. Digital technology has dramatically changed the way society interacts with photography. While these changes have had some negative impacts on photographers, the overall impact on society has been positive.

Here is a YouTube clip of photographer Adam Lerner discussion the topic of film vs. digital. While my advantages list sums up these points, I like this clip, as it is nice to hear the differences demonstrated with the two shown portraits shown.

“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” –Eve Arnold

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