How has social media affected photography?

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It is a well known fact that social media has had a huge influence on art and photography. The rise of this phenomenon has changed the way that we perceive and take images, as well as making photography accessible to everyone. Nowadays, everyone who snaps an Instagram-worthy picture of their iced latte thinks of themselves an accomplished photographer. There is nothing wrong with accessibility, in fact, it’s great that so many people want to become involved in photography through the lens of Instagram and other social platforms.

Although it is up for debate, social media is a great source of inspiration and ideas for all industries, but especially photography. There is no question as to whether social media has affected the way that photographers work, but in many ways, it is for the better.

Brief History of Photography

Where did it all begin?

Technically, photography has been around since the 11th century when the camera obscura was first invented; however, photography as we know it today has certainly changed. The camera obscura can be described as a dark room with a little hole in one side; an image is projected through this hole onto a wall opposite this hole. Surprisingly, this concept has possibly been around since 500 BCE when people would use tiny holes in screens of animal hides to create projections. Some argue that the camera obscura inspired cave paintings from the Paleolithic era, also known as The Old Stone Age. Who knew that cavemen also had a passion for photography?

The camera obscura that we remember most was the invention of the 17th century version that was portable. This portable camera could not record permanent images, but was most often used for artists to trace over the projection to create realistic drawings and paintings. The first permanent image was created by Joseph Niépce in1826;  this was achieved through using a pewter plate coated with bitumen which was then exposed to light. From this point onwards, print photography was born.

There were many developments in photography over the years including the Daguerrotype; this was invented by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, which is where its name originated from. The Daguerrotype was popular in the mid to late 1800s and was extremely expensive due to its processes and materials involving a silvered copper plate; for this reason, it was only available to the wealthy upper classes. Due to its complex and expensive processes, photography was a medium that was only worked in by professional photographers. However, in 1888, George Eastman invented roll film which made the need for solid plates redundant. Eastman then went on to establish Kodak, a camera company that we still use today. The invention of flexible roll film made photography accessible to everyone from amateurs to professionals.

The making of photographs went from strength to strength, leading to the idea of ‘instant photography’ as demonstrated by the Polaroid camera in 1960. This invention meant instant photography for all and wherever you were, whatever you were doing, you could capture moments. Kodak did not just stop at making accessible photography for all, they also invented the first digital camera in 1975. Steve Sasson used a CCD image sensor to record a digital image, although it did take more than 20 seconds to actually capture an image!

From the concept of the first permanent image in 1826, photography eventually evolved into the digital images that we know today.

How Social Media has Changed Photography?

So, how has social media impacted photography? Social media has become a massive part of our daily lives whether we are sharing key milestones in our lives or promoting a small business. Today, 90% of all internet users have at least one social media account that they use on a regular basis. The rise of Instagram and Pinterest have certainly changed the photography industry with regards to the popularity of photographic images and artworks.

Some people believe that social media has devalued photography as an art form, but others argue that it has had endless benefits in terms of promoting the work of photographers. Social media basically offers free advertising for all photographers and artists; it gives you the ability to create an online portfolio that can be shared and appreciated across the globe. Given that 4.5 billion users are active on Instagram everyday, there are limitless opportunities to connect with other creatives, share your work, and get noticed. The ability to use hashtags and view insights allow you to drive traffic to your Instagram page, targeting the audience that you wish to cultivate.

Your Instagram feed is the first thing that people see when they land on your page, so you have to ensure that it reflects your brand as a photographer. The visual aspect of Instagram is one of the reasons it is so popular; for photographers, the ability to share your work as a purely visual art form is useful for bringing in new work and building your brand identity.

The Rise of the Smart Phone Camera

The rise of social media and Instagram has also lead to developments in phone cameras. In recent years, the phone has transformed from what used to be a communication device to a bible of social calendars, social media, emails, marketing apps, and photography. Smart phone companies realised the potential of the camera phone as soon as Instagram, Pintrest and other visual social media apps became popular. These companies have capitalised on this opportunity by making their main selling point the new camera improvements and updates on their latest smart phone models. Arguably, the quality of a smartphone camera is one of the main reasons why people decide to upgrade their older smartphone models.

The cameras that we have on smart phones today provide incredible quality images that can then be immediately uploaded to social media. Some people think that smart phones are reducing the need for actual DSLR cameras because of the quality and technological advancements that make them such sophisticated pocket cameras. However, anyone who works in photography in a professional capacity knows that this isn’t the case. DSLRs have features that smart phones cannot compete with such as shutter speed settings, aperture and the ability to swap out lenses. DSLR cameras also produce photos with a far superior resolution and let in more light to create higher quality images.

Having said that, there are a few perks to using a smartphone camera instead of a DSLR camera from time to time. Cameras are usually a gadget that you take out for a particular purpose such as attending a shoot or a place of natural beauty. Cameras are taken with you when you intend to take some good photographs, but a phone is always with you. The reason why smartphone cameras are useful is because you can take a picture at anytime and anywhere. Most of the time, we don’t carry our cameras around with us, but we do carry our phones. Regardless of whether you are a photographer or not, it is convenient to be able to spontaneously capture moments with a camera phone.

Overall, it seems that social media offers more positive than negatives when it comes to photography. Technological advancements in photography has come leaps and bounds since the 1800s and we are now reaping the benefits of the digital era.