It’s winter around here, and a freezing one at that. Today morning, I sat down, all wrapped up in warm clothes, and started to browse through some old magazines. I have a few editions of National Geographic from the 1990s. The photographs from these old magazines are so soul-stirring. Every photograph says something. Where are such photographers now?
(Bridge over a mountain stream – About a half minute exposure at f/16, ISO 50, with an ND filter on.)
I have written earlier about it and now once again I am on the same topic. Over the last many years, social media and photosharing apps have spoiled photography. Over-saturated, over-sharpened, unrealistic, heavily compressed photographs seem to rule everywhere. Photographers get influenced by social validation and end up losing their own way of photography. Am I wrong?
Popular Photographer or a Great Photographer?
One of the biggest problems with social media is that it is omnipresent. It’s everywhere. People are addicted to it. Every day starts with checking the likes, shares, comments, etc. and every day ends with dumping more stuff back.
What has happened is that now people tend to relate popularity with excellence in photography.
With the spread of social media, popularity is becoming an indicator of great. It is not so. A popular person is one who has good networking skills. Maybe charismatic too. Photographs posted by such a person garner a large number of likes (due to a large number of followers and social skills), but this does not give any indication of photography skills. I always say that someone with a hundred thousand followers on Instagram will always get more likes (or hearts) than someone with just a few hundred followers, even if the latter one posts images that parallel Ansel Adams and the likes.
A great photographer may not be popular at all. Also, popular is not the same as famous. A person with many followers or friends is popular but may not be known by anyone outside that circle. A famous person is well known by most in the field and even outside of it.
What this has done is that the standard for judging photography has changed. General masses tend to equate good photography with over-cooked photos that seem to pop up everywhere.
Yesterday, I saw a beautiful bird photograph by a photographer friend of mine. He had captured a very well composed photograph of a Verditer Flycatcher. For those of you who don’t know, this is a beautiful sky blue-colored bird. The image on his preview screen was lovely. Today he shared with me the post-processed image, the same that he has also shared on a social media site. The bird is now deep blue in color and almost resembles an Ultramarine Flycatcher on the back part or just a lighter shade of Blue-Whistling Thrush. I did not have the heart to tell him how he had overdone and spoilt a lovely image. Maybe he will read this and post-process the image again to a more realistic color.
So, do you see, what has happened? We are now facing a catastrophe on a humongous scale where hundreds or thousands of photographs or even more are going to be ‘over-cooked’ and desecrated.
… and the Stalwarts also Collapse
Sadly, this trend is not just on social media. Even the magazines that were once treated as the stalwarts in good quality photography are also now affected by this disease.
See for yourself. Take out the old editions of a few decades back of National Geographic, Geo, Geographical, and compare the photographs of present-day editions. Gone are those pleasing to the eye photographs. Once the maximum saturation that one could see was that from films like Fuji Velvia. Nowadays, this seems to be the minimum level. Even the sharpening is so much that the images tend to irritate (Maybe it is just me, but then this is my space to write my thoughts).
The Afghan Girl by Steve McCurry? That is just one of the incredible photographs that these magazines used to feature. Gone are those days.
Yes, there are still some exceptions but such magazines are few. If you are interested, these are some magazines that I still recommend – B&W, Aperture, Professional Photographer. Or, for that matter, pick up any edition of National Geographic from before the digital photography era.
Stop! Don’t waste time on this site!
If you are one of those who love the color of brilliant green chemical over the greens of foliage, if you are one of those who prefer the reds that stack up on one side of histogram rather than the subtle gradations in the reds of sunsets, this site is not for you. And, I am the kind of photography student who may seem to be on an entirely wrong path to you.
(Red light on Trishul Peak. This is not an over-processed photograph. Such colors do exist in nature. This was on one particular cloudy evening when the weather cleared up to give a few minutes of view at such a grand scene. I still plead guilty, as I have oversharpened a little to showcase the image properly on Instagram over tiny phone screens. -2 EV underexposed to show the scene as it appeared to the eye.)
Some old-school photographers like me are still struggling to maintain our style (whatever is left of it) and our sanity. I don’t know for how long. One good friend of mine and an avid bird photographer recently quit Instagram and Facebook. I don’t know the exact reason, but this may have been one factor.
I have been typing out my thoughts, and now it’s already late in the day. Time for some work in the garden. So, ending this now. My advice to my readers and also to myself – Just don’t overdo it. Study the works of old masters and let those be the masterpieces we should aspire to.