I can’t remember the last time I went to an event that someone, somewhere, wasn’t photographing. If I’m being honest, it seems to me as if more people live life through the lens of their camera than through the eyes in their head. Our culture has become so accustomed to filters and screens that even when life hands us the most beautiful opportunities we choose to view it through our personal livestream.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love photography… I have to, it’s part of my job. I’ve spent countless hours with everything from an iPhone to a Canon DSLR in hand; exploring new places and meeting new people. It’s human nature to want to hold onto, remember, and relive life’s greatest moments; the camera is an exceptional tool for doing just that (not to mention that its accessibility has managed to make everyone a photographer in one way or another). In fact, much of the earliest popularized photography was grounded in the idea of documenting personal or shared experiences and sending them around the world (if you’re super interested, look into early War Photography). The issue arises when we, as a society filled with conventional photographers, realize that our method of capturing life has changed from photographing our experiences to seeking experiences for the sake of photographing them.
“Pics Or It Didn’t Happen”
Photography has become the greatest form of validation and currency in our society. Many documents are actually considered invalid unless they have photographs attached to them; think of your driver’s license or passport. Consider even this: the deepest parts of space are places we, as a human race, understand almost exclusively through photographs.
Our photography habits are hardly different than that; as the understanding or validation we crave operates on a simple, now universal mentality of “photos or it didn’t happen.” That selfie you took at the gym, was it more because you felt you looked good or because you wanted the unspoken validation of peers that you were there at all? I would go as far as to say that we’ve become addicted to the way photography validates the world we live in, our own reality, and the realities of those around us. It has consumed our core motivation to photograph; replacing the art of collecting life with the assumption that our lives haven’t been lived unless we have the photo to prove it regardless of whether or not we have the intention of sharing it.
What Does This Mean For Photogr- Well, Everyone?
This addiction to validating our lives through photography and widespread access to the camera has made every common Instagrammer, Grandma at Christmas, student at a concert, marketing agency, and influencer a photographer and experience-collector of some sort (yes, this includes you). That said, it is now more important than ever that we all begin to understand what exactly a photograph is and what our responsibility is as photographers.
Let’s think of it this way: you, as a photographer, are an author and your photograph is the story you’re trying to tell. As an author, it is your job to do two things: 1) be an expert on the events, places, and people in your story and 2) use that expertise to write a story that is an accurate account of these events, places, and people. Photographs are no different. If you use your camera, be it an iPhone or a Canon DSLR, to capture a slice of your experience or the experience of another person, then it is your responsibility to be an expert on that experience. We cannot photograph what we don’t know, and if cameras, by nature, only have the capacity to display a dimensioned amount of space, and if the only world we see is through our camera, then we are neglecting invaluable information about our experiences that would enable us to tell our stories with integrity.
Photographs taken without this foundation have no depth, tell no story, and neglect how indispensable, irreplaceable, and beautiful our lives, clients, experiences, or subjects really are.
Enough Theory, What Can We Do About It?
We all want to be better photographers and tell better stories. I could have written “How to Light Your Next Headshot,” “PHOS’ Favorite Photoshop Tricks,” “The Best Instagram Filters of 2020,” etc. All of these topics are great and important to today’s photography, but they can’t be our foundation. If you want to take better photos, put the camera down.
If you’re an influencer, use your product for a week or two before posting about it. Allow your experience to fuel what you shoot.
The next time you’re at a concert, be present when your favorite artist comes up from under the stage floor. Can your phone really capture the subtle vibrations of the bass beneath your feet? Or the subdued warmth of spotlights as they rise up to the ceiling and back down to the stage? No, of course not. But if you allow yourself to genuinely encounter these things, to live in the concert for even just a song or two, the photographs you do take will link to strong memories of a legitimate experience that you can relive for years to come.
As a digital marketing agency, when a client comes to you seeking photography, build time into your process to really know them. Recklessly pursue getting to the heart of why your clients do what they do; become experts on their mission, vision, and values. Then, once you’ve dug deep enough, pull out the camera and see what sorts of stories your images begin to tell. I can guarantee you that it’ll be from this deeper place of understanding that the most authentic and powerful stories are told. Your images will begin to, as we strive for here at PHOS, serve purpose-driven brand systems that fuel the bottom line.