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I took up photography while attending music college for recording engineering, and although I didn’t pursue a career in music, I’ve tried to follow the industry and technology very closely. What I’ve noticed is that there are some very striking parallels with photography.
Editor's Note: This is an opinion piece from Dan Bailey and does not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo Video or the staff of BHInsights.
Essentially, with a thousand-dollar laptop and barely a couple hundred-dollars-worth of music software, you can produce recordings that rival—and in many cases, exceed—the audio quality of hit songs that were recorded in million-dollar studios twenty years ago. In photography, an amateur using a thousand-dollar DSLR and a copy of Adobe Photoshop can produce images that easily exceed the quality of top photographs from the same time period.
Note, however, that I didn’t make any comments regarding the artistic or visual content of the music or imagery that can be created today. That’s an entirely separate issue.
As technology continues to become more and more accessible to the masses, there is a staggering amount of technically excellent material being produced. However, just like in the days of film and magnetic tape, it’s not the technical quality that makes a song or a photograph stand out, it’s the actual words and music of a song, and the particular way that it’s played or sung. Likewise, it’s the communicative and evocative nature of a photo that makes it distinctive.
As photographers, we sometimes have the tendency to forget this. We often get so wrapped up in the world of megapixels, autofocus, TTL, sync speeds, IS, VR and other technical considerations of photography that we forget about the moment, the light or the expression.
We all try to force photographs, even when we know that they probably won’t be very good. We convince ourselves that our technical knowledge and experience can make up for the lack of a clearly definable subject matter and great light. While it’s true that experience can occasionally help you pull something out of the proverbial hat, more often than not, uninspired subject matter will lead to an uninspiring photograph, no matter if you’re an amateur or a pro.
You know who is taking some of the best photos these days? Teenagers and people on the go. Why? Because they’re out there shooting photos with their smartphones that have very limited dynamic range, focal length and exposure controls, and because they don’t care about that stuff. They’re out there capturing moments, and if you look at Flickr Groups such as Photos Taken With an iPhone, and iPhoneography, you’ll see some really great stuff that’s been shot by people with very limited technology.
I’m not saying that you can only shoot great photos with an iPhone these days, but take a few minutes to check out what people do with very basic technology, as compared to what probably lives in your camera bag; it might help spark your creativity. Or better yet, go out a few times and leave the big bag of gear behind; take only your phone and see what you come up with. You might find yourself with some freshly-tuned creativity the next time you pick up your DLSR.
Technology is great. But remember, it’s your creative vision and artistry that drive it to it's full potential. Of course, this is just my own opinion. What I do know is I'm just one guy. Talk to someone else and you might get a different take on this subject. At any rate, it's just something to think about.
Dan Bailey is a professional adventure, location and travel photographer based in Anchorage, Alaska. He just published his latest eBook, Making the Image – A Conceptual Guide For Creating Stronger Photographs, in which he explores the visual concepts of light, color, form, balance and other compositional techniques. Read his blog for more photography insight, become a fan of his Facebook Page to see daily articles and new imagery, and follow him on Twitter @Danbaileyphoto.