My Favorite Photographer Is...Everyone With A Camera

My Favorite Photographer Is...Everyone With A Camera

Some days, as we plod through our respective news feeds, it seems as though the Internet was invented for one thing and one thing only; to share photos. Although the quality of the photos we have to wade through can sometimes be questionable, and at times our feeds can become overwhelming, the relative ease with which photos are shared is in my opinion, the greatest benefit to our seemingly photo-obsessed and Social Media saturated society planet.

Hyperbole aside, if you peruse any internet forum and/or any Facebook group, you’d be quick to find that there are pages and pages dedicated to poking fun at those photos and those photographers whose work is considered subpar by other photographers. As an outsider looking in, it can be frustrating and intimidating and it’s something that would prevent even the most confident young photographer from sharing their work. And quite honestly, could anyone blame them? Despite that initial nervousness, it’s fairly obvious that once we begin to share, we open a Pandora’s box of sharing - especially if the feedback is positive.

Before we were so connected, sharing photos was a different experience entirely. Usually, it involved setting up a slide projector, inviting a group of friends over, and talking about your life-changing trip through the Grand Canyon while Kodachrome-tinted images were projected against a blank wall. If your friends were lucky, they had an emergency and were forced to leave before you got to the slides of your family reunion.

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Fortunately, that era of photo sharing is mostly in the past. What we have now is the ability to connect instantly with our fellow photographers - professional and amateur - from literally everywhere. It's inspiring to say the least. I mean, in all honesty, who can deny the motivational power of browsing through a Flickr feed of someone living on the other side of the planet? And although it might be humbling at first, one look at the work of the absurdly talented Russian photographers on 500px.com can inspire anyone to pick up a camera (seriously, how do they do it?). But aside from the work of the obvious pros, what about the normal, everyday photos that show up on a daily basis? It may be overstating a bit, but how often has the world been changed because of a photo that someone thought to share?

Looking at photos is always the highlight of my day. While I can appreciate the professional work of my peers, I have to admit, that stuff can grow to be boring and/or monotonous very quickly. Instead, what I love to see are photos with a more personal meaning to the photographer - snapshots of kids, pets, sunrises and sunsets, or photos of the places someone has been. Without trying to sound too hokey, it’s through these little moments that we’re able to connect with and relate to people who would otherwise remain strangers.  They share and we relate. We share and they relate. I'm certain that some of the most meaningful conversations I’ve had involve my personal work rather than any of the professional photography work I've posted.

It's probably not the most popular thing to admit, but when people start talking about the history of photography and the landmark photographers who came before us, my eyes start to glaze over. It’s not that I don’t enjoy the work - I do - but in looking at the work of the masters, I can’t help but think about the photos they took that never made it to the gallery walls and/or to the heavy pages of stuffy art books. What I love is the personal work, the private work, the work that was closest to their heart when they weren't being “the photographer.” To me, it’s in those ‘in between’ moments the hold the true beauty and the magic of photography.

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This is why it's difficult not to roll my eyes when someone complains about all the “bad” photos clogging up their feed and/or pokes fun at someone whose photos lack the amount of industry standard bokeh. What should matter isn’t the quality of the photo, but the content. That someone felt their photo was meaningful enough to share with everyone (yes, even selfies fall into this category), says a lot about who they are and what they value. It’s not only a glimpse not only into their life, but into their heart as well. A voyeuristic guilty pleasure if there ever was one.

I know this may be generalizing a bit, but I've always believed that if you want to know what is truly important to someone, look at the things they photograph (when they’re not on the clock of course). Looking through my personal work I see everything that’s meaningful to me, so I can only assume it’s the same for most people. In truth, having the ability to see the things other people consider important with a few swipes of my finger is really pretty convenient. Not only does it cut down on conversation time, but it allows us to gain an understanding of one another without even having to speak the same language.

Looking back, it's easy to see that what everyone was doing then, it's exactly what we are all doing now - sharing photos. Though the medium has significantly changed, the desire to share our photos is as strong now as it was then - it's just much more easy to do so now (and admittedly, there are a lot more people doing it). Back then, we gathered around slide projectors and made hand puppets against images projected against the wall. Now, we comment, like, and share. Though to be honest, although I wasn't the best at it, I do miss making inappropriate hand puppets while my parents loaded up the next slide holder...

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My point in all of this isn't to think back and relive how we shared our photography in the old days. Rather, the point I want to make is that regardless of the medium, our desire to share our work has always been there - and we should be sharing our photos.  I believe that if we truly had an understanding of this, it might be easier to accept and - better yet - perhaps appreciate all those photos that pop up on our feeds, regardless of their lack of artistry and however devoid of bokeh they are.

john-schell-lifestyle-camera-photography-starbucks-coffeeI really do believe that we are in the glory days of photography. Everyone has a camera, everyone is a photographer, and everyone is sharing their photos. Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, 500px, Reddit, or any number of the social media platforms, it’s the off-moments, the candids, and the non-professional work which continually keep me interested and over and over remind me that my favorite photographer is and will always be...everyone with a camera.

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John Schell | Instagram 

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28 Comments

I fully agree with this article. Not everyone starts out as an Ansel Adams. The important thing is sharing the photos, and getting a meaningful critique on how to improve. Also the old adage: "The best camera is the one you have with you" is important. Regardless of how mundane the trip, I take a camera with me everywhere.

I agree! Always have some kind of camera with you, but that is getting easier since cellphones now have good enough cameras.

"What should matter isn’t the quality of the photo, but the content." I always say this I really don't care if your shot is at iso 6400 or it has no good bokhe but if the content is good that's what matters. I'm glad you pointed that out.

Zach Sutton's picture

Thank you for radiating what I've been saying for a while now, John.

People are always talking about how photography is dead or dying...when in fact it's never been so alive before in history. We just need to differentiate between personal and professional

Spy Black's picture

Professional photography IS dying, personal photography is skyrocketing.

I think the speed (and ease of use) we share photos is what has brought to the surface the personal ones. It just happened that everyone has always had a camera, like the Kodak 110, but the photos taken with sucha a camera (or roll camera) and the lack of internet never did it to the world. It's easy to see. Neither professional photography is dying nor personal photography is skyrocketing; it is just a re-organisation.

For my part, I would never ask a non-professional to take me photos. And the professional in case needs to prove he knows what he's doing.

Spy Black's picture

Have you seen what's happening in photojournalism lately?
http://tinyurl.com/mob3mpl
http://tinyurl.com/n8ae8ne
These are just two examples of different scope, but you get the idea.

Sure, we always had the Instamatics, and no way to put them out to the world, but that is exactly the reason why personal photography is skyrocketing. You have a camera in your phone that can instantly upload to any social media. Your camera today also has essentially unlimited picture storage, whereas the Instamatic ran out at some point, tempering the amount of shooting you did.

So yes, professional photography IS dying, and personal photography is skyrocketing.

Well... photojournalism is just a part of what can be called professional. Sure it is being beaten, but it is more of a costs matter than a personal avalanche (those who have any camera and call themselves photographers despite not knowing anything about photography). Job insecurity is everywhere, not just in photography.

Sure the social media has its part in all this, but in essence not much has changed. What is very alive is the sharing process: the distribution is what has been changed. And we all know distribution is not everything what photography is about.

This example only shows that this news agency has deemed good photojournalism as useless if it can save a buck. This website shows the differences in professional photojournalist compared to "amateur." Both can show a powerful moment, but one clearly stands out in quality. Can you take a great photo with an iPhone, of course you can. I have seen it done. But these days, people want quantity over quality.
Professional photography in its current form must evolve and step up the game to overcome this shift in society, but should not sacrifice quality for quantity.
http://suntimesdarktimes.tumblr.com/page/3

Spy Black's picture

"This example only shows that this news agency has deemed good photojournalism as useless if it can save a buck."

I think you may find that mentality clear across the Corporate Imperialist landscape. ;-)

Kurt Langer's picture

Quite cute & cool pics to go with the article. And you got the right camera to match the babe.

Spy Black's picture

Yes, that EOS digital film camera is amazing...

Greato post...

Well I'm glad somebody said it. So true. I have seen as many captivating images on instagram by non-photogs that blow away the content of some the "fine art" photographers. It's that way in any art form. Content is everything, always has been.

I recently decided that, when I am uploading my photos to my Flickr or blog, to start stripping the EXIF data or references to how the photo was taken. Can;t always manage it, especially if I am out in the field, but if someone really needs to know how I took a shot they can ask and I can tell them. I've seen to many instances over the years of promising photographers get crushed because, after praising a photo, someone starts to condem them because it was not taken with a "pro" camera.
Besides, I shoot quite a bit with film still and I never quite got into the habit of writing down or recording all my settings for a shot. :)

You have to have a healthy balance of content and technical quality. It's got to be exposed properly as well as jar the emotions.

One more small note. Some people are saying that Pro photography is dying, ok, but I was in a magazine store yesterday, they had probably 200 magazine titles, maybe even 300.. minimum of 40 pages each let's say, and all with advertising throughout, there has to be 10,000 or more professional images just in that number alone - conservatively. Then I went on Sak's Fifth website to check out some web design, I noticed about 200 pages of fashion photos in all departments, with about 50 images per page and the same held true for all their other departments, and that's jut one retailer among tens of thousands who are online and rely on professional images and photography. So somebody please educate me on how this means it's dying. In fact, in this day and age there is more, not less photography being done professionally as we live in a much more image-driven world, fueled by online marketing and advertising. Back "in the day" we had fewer magazines, fewer news outlets, fewer places for photos, and nothing online.
Perhaps the reference is to Weddings and consumer-market Photography, where uncle Jim has a DSLR and he's now shooting the wedding, in which case that's probably true, time to evolve, make hay, there's a lot out there, go find it.

Lenn Long's picture

Uncle Jim at the wedding has always existed. The issue back then was that everyone knew of an Uncle Jim and using film he may or may not be getting the shot. So for the worried bride there was a larger level of risk. Today there are more Uncle Jim's and they all know if they are getting the shot because they can shoot it 10x over without the overhead cost of film processing and proofing. And if you're thinking, "Yeah but is Uncle Jim capturing the perfect moment?" Wait a couple years when Uncle Jim starts shooting with a 4K DSLR Hybrid and he's able to pull out that perfect moment from a 24fps movie he shot, drop it into a Sticky Album or an Animoto movie.

Moral to the story, if you're competing against Uncle Jim, your own work isn't good enough and your pricepoint for service is too low. The Mercedes Benz car salesman doesnt care how many people are buying Kia's.

Well, I think the photos in this article is pretty boring, pretty blonde girl sitting in cafe, flower out of focus in the foreground, completely overexpose background, absolutely no composition. I see neither quality nor content. now, these are the photos (I wouldn't call them "work") I will absolutely hate clogging up my feed.

not that I don't get what the author trying to say, but isn't it obvious? come on, more life and more interesting material in everyday life photos from mass users, duh.

And for the comment to say "Professional Photography is dying", is completely nonsense. Exactly because the easy access of digital camera, it makes becoming Professional Photography that much more difficult and challenging, because after being flooded with "snapshots of kids, pets, sunrises and sunsets, or
photos of the places someone has been," we want to see some good stuff, really good stuff.

To give an non-photography example, everyone might be able to write a cute piece of their everyday life in their computer or iPad, and share, that doesn't mean you have more Woody Allen, nor that it means you don't need Woody Allen.

David Vaughn's picture

At first I was going to give you an upvote, but you kept getting higher and higher on your horse that you got out of reach.

'I really do believe that we are in the glory days of photography.'

Nowadays, photographers and photos has become so universal, that it is as ubiquitous as water out of a tap; it has lost its special and unique meaning.

If one walks into a store and there are literally thousands upon thousands of photos to choose from, as opposed to say one hundred, the photos loose value.

When there were less photographers, and thus photos, around, photography was more special than what it is today.

It hasn't lost anything. At all. I guess in your mind painting stopped being special the minute anybody could do it, too.

Content and focus is 90% of the photo. The 10% remaining is obsessed to death by protographers. And it's too bad that many take photos in and of the same places and then try to make it different when finding something different and/or meaningful is the objective.
Very nicely written article and even more beautiful photos and subject; good examples.

There are a couple of major differences between "then" and now that make a straight comparison difficult, and perhaps it's these differences that bring to light some of the complaints.

1. "Back then" (B.D.I., or before digital/internet), we all saw the same pro photos, whether in coffee table books, magazines, galleries, or newspapers. And each of us only saw a handful of amateur photos -- those from our own camera and those from our close friends and families.

Few of us saw the work of very talented amateurs, unless we happened to have one in the family.

(In my experience, it wasn't slide projectors, but albums being passed around the living room, or even just stacks of 4x6 or 5x7 prints straight from the developer.)

2. The sheer number of photos was limited -- not just the ones we saw, but the total that existed.

So it's easy to say there are too many bad photos out there, because now we're *seeing* the work of thousands of amateurs, not just the amateurs in our family, but those all over the world, via Flickr, Facebook, or whatever. While many of still see a relatively limited number of pros' work.

David Vaughn's picture

I like looking at personal photos...when it's somebody I genuinely care about...Such as my significant other or a family member. However, I think that Facebook is comparative in nature. I mean, how can you possibly share a photo of you on a beach in Hawaii without seeming like you're trying to make somebody jealous. You might just want to show your family members and bf/gf what you're up to, but the personal disconnect that happens over the internet makes it very difficult for third parties to discern that.

I do agree that content should be more focused on than it is for a lot of photographers. It seems like a lot of stuff being put out is technically proficient but emotionally sterile.

They make viewers go "wow" and photographers go "What lens was this taken with," but other than that there's no other discussion....because there really isn't anything to discuss or to talk about.

But then, on the flip side, you might get a really striking photo of a wonderful moment and share it and peers will go right for the jugular: "looks out of focus," all while they post more photos of flatly lit women in bikinis.

It can be disheartening when others don't seem to "get" that some moments just can't be, and shouldn't be shot according to the textbook.

Totally agree, what a fun sample to work with - the beauty and draw to photography is anyone who wants to do it...can. Keep up the good work and for aspiring photographers - read everything you can and learn .<a href="http://www.jaredlawsonphotography.com" rel="nofollow">California Portrait Photographer </a>