The democratisation of photography and the landscape photographer.Tim Jackson
Much has already been written about the democratisation of photography, which refers to the increasing accessibility of photography. Oliver Laurent (2014) considers the photography revolution, which has gone from analogue to digital and with cameras now incorporated into Smartphones at more affordable prices; he considers the rise of Smartphone photography to be driving the democratisation of photography. Michael Zhang (2017) from PetaPixel supports this view with data showing how smartphone cameras sales have exceeded the combined sale of digital compact, mirrorless and DSLR cameras since 2008.
This smartphone driven democratisation of photography has led to a huge increase in the number of images being captured. Stuart Jeffries (2013) of The Guardian even explored whether camera phones were destroying photography as an art form as people worry less about the artistic merits of what they are capturing, leading to the arguments about the differences between a photograph and an image. Less consideration has been given to the impact of the democratisation of photography on landscape photography.
The mainstream tool of choice of serious landscape photographers is the digital SLR (DSLR). It could be argued that since the democratisation of photography is being driven by smartphones that landscape photographers have little to worry about since they rely on having a DSLR, tripod and a bag full of filters to capture high quality landscape shots. A closer look at the data from the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA) (2017) shows a gradual but continuous drop in DSLR sales since 2012. Furthermore, the average unit sale price of a DSLR has dropped from $901 in 2003 to around $400 in 2014 and has remained at that level since. While a the lowering price of DSLRs could have led to their wider adoption, when combined with the gradual decline in units sold year on year it suggests a slow decline. The number of people engaging in landscape photography however seems to be increasing, as suggested by Graham Harris Graham (2014). It should be considered that there are other types of photography (such as Press and Wedding photography) that also use DSLRs but may be being hit by the grow of smartphone photography.
From a technical view point, DSLRs (which can be used with a range of lens and filters) currently have the upper hand over smartphones. This is not to say that smartphones can’t take a good landscape shot, but a smartphone is going to be more reliant on good lighting, etc. DSLRs offer more control over exposure, produce higher quality images with their excellent low noise performance and allow the use of filters for balancing exposures and doing long exposures.
Based on previous trends, it is likely that the performance of smartphone cameras will continue to improve. Improvements in low light performance, High Dynamic Range (HDR) and improved digital filters are very likely to be the features that allow smartphones to capture better landscapes. It is already possible to mount a wide angle lens and filters onto an iPhone using a Cinema Mount Smart Phone Grip Cage (2018). Any reduction in the size and weight of photographic equipment is surely going to be tempting to landscape and travel photographers who have to lug their kit long distances and up mountains. Mirrorless cameras still have the edge over smartphones in terms of quality and the ability to use filters but demonstrate the commitment towards smaller and lighter cameras.
If it is accepted that the democratisation of photography reduces the barriers to people who want to do landscape photography, particularly the cost of DSLRs, other barriers should also be considered. Landscape photography in particular often requires the photographer to undergo personal hardship. Driving long distances in the night to capture sunrise, climbing mountains, enduring cold and wet conditions to name a few. Landscape photographers will often have to return to the same location several times before the conditions are right for the shot they have in their mind’s eye.
The democratisation of photography has perhaps had less impact on landscape photography compared to other types of photography, but this doesn’t mean to say that change isn’t coming. As with other areas of photography, the supply of landscape images available is going to grow. The speed of the change will have a strong link to the speed of technological advancement. Photographers currently struggling to make money from their landscape photography are only going to find it harder going forward.
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Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA), (2017). Total Shipments of Digital Still Cameras (Classified by Type). [online]. Available from: http://www.cipa.jp/stats/documents/common/cr300.pdf [accessed 11/01/2018].
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Jackson, T., (2017). Mupe Bay Sunrise. [online]. Available from: https://www.timjacksonphotography.co.uk/portfolio/mupe-bay-sunrise/ [accessed 11/01/2018].
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Laurent, O., (2014). The Smartphone Revolution: Driving Democratisation of Photography. [online]. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/olivier-laurent/photography-smartphone_b_4480346.html [accessed 11/01/2018].
Zhang, M., (2017). This Latest Camera Sales Chart Shows the Compact Camera Near Death. [online]. Available from: https://petapixel.com/2017/03/03/latest-camera-sales-chart-reveals-death-compact-camera/ [accessed 11/01/2018].