Has Technology Taken the Fun out of Photography?

Has Technology Taken the Fun out of Photography?

Technology is a locomotive moving full speed ahead. From the creation of the first digital SLR almost two decades ago to the mirrorless revolution, the progression of technology in photography has made the craft more accessible, affordable, and reliable than ever. However, even with all of this progress, I can't help but feel that we've lost a little something along the way.

The Soul of a Hobby

Although many of us shoot professionally, the vast majority of photographers out there do it for the fun of it. Even those of us that do make a career out of photography usually started as hobbyists, eager to tinker with these image-making toys we call cameras. Some started out with film, relishing the oohs and aahs of the image coming to life in a darkroom tray or getting that envelope of prints back from your lab. Many of us started later with digital, enjoying a faster learning curve but still enrapt with changing those settings on the camera to see how that image would look when it popped up on the LCD and computer monitor. 

To me, it's that tinkering, that flirtation with the unknown that makes photography so enjoyable. People like to problem-solve. We love to experiment, get a result, and try to make it better. Would any other hobby be as enjoyable if we knew with 100% certainty that we would nail it each and every time? Would it be as satisfying to run a marathon if you already knew what your end time would be? If you were painting a picture and you knew exactly how it would turn out, would it still be worth painting? 

Hobby Versus Career

Of course, it's one thing to want a taste of the unknown when your livelihood isn't on the line and another thing altogether to depend on that consistency to keep food on the table. Never before have cameras been so reliable! With mirrorless, barring the use of flash, you can see what you're going to get before you push the shutter. That's pretty amazing and oh so helpful for a working pro. Does it take the fun out of it? Perhaps, but who cares if you're producing better, more consistent work because of it, right? 

However, relying on the tech to do the work for you can be detrimental to your self-worth as a craftsperson. Have you become a glorified button-pusher? Do you even have any skill? If you handed your camera to a random person at the wedding you're shooting, could they take the same picture as you? Questions like these and the resulting answers you feed yourself can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. 

The Quest to be Different

If cameras are getting more and more advanced and more and more photographers are using the same cameras, is it any wonder that our work has started to look so similar? Everyone dogs Instagram photos because of their filters and such, but are we really that far behind them? We are becoming hamsters on a wheel of technology, churning out the same shots as our peers. Even film photographers are sending their work to the same labs, getting the same results as their film-shooting brethren. We're becoming a homogeneous soup of imagery that becomes harder and harder to escape. 

Ok, enough with the cynicism! We are all creatives here, and all is not lost. We can take steps to not only create unique work, but also enjoy ourselves doing it.

In Search of Stimulation

Image manipulation has become taboo in purist circles. I've found myself looking at imagery and saying, "whoa! Lay off the Photoshop" more times than I can count. At what point does a photograph cease to be a photograph, after all? Well, that's a discussion for another article. But I think I may have been hasty in passing judgment. Remember earlier when I was talking about that need to tinker? Well, in a world where automation is the name of the game, is it any wonder that photographers are searching for a new outlet for their creativity? If the method of capture is losing its luster, perhaps the post-processing is where it's at! At the computer, we can be free to make imagery that sets us apart. And no, that's not saying you can't make unique imagery with your camera. Of course you can. However, on your computer, you have much more flexibility and freedom. Let's not go too crazy, though. Hopefully, it will still look like a photograph when you're done!

If you're a working pro, make it a point to shoot personal work, even if it's just of your family. When you're not shooting to pay bills, you're more likely to ease up on the safety nets and take chances in your work. Experiment with dragging the shutter a bit. Maybe throw on a manual focus lens or some legacy glass. Have fun and experiment. Maybe you'll find something that you can reference later in your professional work!

Are you a film shooter who sends your film to a lab? Why not take a class on development and printing? Most medium to large-sized cities have a community darkroom where you can take classes or at the very least, rent some time. I promise you it'll be a good time and worth every penny! I shoot film because it feeds that need to dabble with the unknown and, well, to play! I can then experiment in the darkroom with the images, using my hands, creating, messing up, trying again, etc.

Find ways to challenge yourself while you're shooting, even if it's with the latest and greatest cameras. If you're mostly a natural light shooter, start to dabble in flash work. If you only shoot strobes, get out there in nature and push yourself. We all have preferences with our work, but it's that challenge that keeps us fulfilled. If you're shooting mirrorless, occasionally turn off the instant preview. Make it harder on yourself. Keep yourself stimulated.

What do you all do to keep photography challenging and fun? Sound off below!

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23 Comments

Robert Nurse's picture

The definition of "Fun" as well as "Photography", for that matter, has certainly shifted over the years. When I first took it up in the mid 80's, you didn't have to know nearly as much as you do today. What you needed to know was centered, primarily, around the camera. Post processing was out of reach for most as having a dark room, enlarger, chemicals, paper, etc. wasn't a "must". You local lab took care of that for you. With the advent of the digital realm all that is now possible for any photographer to do on their own. How much of that is "fun" is up to the photographer. The better each of us wants to be, the more we have to know and the more pressure we may be putting on ourselves.

Terry Waggoner's picture

I for one staring developing my own film(B&W)............and have come to enjoy it

Terry Waggoner's picture

I, for one, having gone through the "gotta have's" on new gear have regressed and returned to shooting analog. I miss the instant gratification of shooting digital but have rediscovered the need to slow down and think about what/how I want my shot to be.

Simon Patterson's picture

For me, the challenge of photography is what I enjoy the most about it.

Not the gear wielding side so much (I have all the gear I need and I know how to use it reasonably well), but the challenge of spotting something interesting, and the challenge of communicating something meaningful or moving by making an image of interesting things.

So I don't need to set myself artificial challenges that relate to gear. I find photography itself challenging enough as it is, which has little or nothing to do with gear. It has been like this for a long time and I can't see this ever changing.

Tony Tumminello's picture

No way! The forum and comment section slapfights have been more entertaining than ever!

Rk K's picture

If your creativity and the 'look' of your images comes from the gear you use, you're doing it wrong.

A wise old photographer told the class that after you get the shots that you planned for, do the "What Else?" shot. Do something unplanned and different than the safe shots.

In the spirit of "What Else?", I recently did a shoot and used a 24-70 lens for 60% of the shots, then a 55mm f1.2 Nikkor from the 70s shot wide open for the odd glowy "look", a 105mm f1.8 Nikkor from the 80s or 90s for the wide open clean look, a 45mm Canon T/S to change the focus plane and just for kicks some BW and Color SX70 portraits which sucked for the most part but magical for a couple shots.

According to the client I did it right.

JetCity Ninja's picture

not for me.

Ryan Luna's picture

Fuji has put the "fun" back into photography with the X-T2 I shoot with.

Photography for the most part has always been fun for me. I did walk away from it after I retired from the Navy and got back into it several years later. Today I am shooting both film and digital as well as processing both black and white and color film. There are things I want to do with film that I didn't do when I was in the Navy and now I have the chance.

Andrew Lodge's picture

If you ignore spec sheets photography will be way more fun, even with an old or "crappy" camera.

I apologize for not reading the article but I know the answer. NO! It has not.

Every time I read a 'don't follow the herd' article it destroys a chunk of my soul. How about writing something different?

Timothy Gasper's picture

"Fun" can be defined by each person. After shooting with film for over 50 years and shooting a bit with digital a few years after it came out, I don't concern myself with PP for digital. I try to capture as much as I can with the first shot. If I need any PP, it will be as minimal as possible. Since most of my work is done in medium format film, that's what I call fun.

Errick Jackson's picture

No. Technology has only made it more fun for me.

To me, the fun of photography was never about how 'expertly' I can focus my camera or get the right settings, it's just the final image; after shooting, after editing, the final image is the fun part.

I personally think the rapid improvement and automation provided by recent technological advancements is forcing people to come to terms with whether or not they're actually visual artists and not just people who can operate a device and that's striking a communal nerve.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I keep it "fun" by shooting who I want and where I want so I'm much more motivated.

I mostly shoot natural/ambient light, but, from time to time, been using a speedlight with bare, parabolic, and simple softbox modifiers just to practice and get something a little different.

Definitely not afraid of tech. I soooooo want to pull the trigger and get an a9 or a7RIII for the new eye-auto focus capability. I'm about "work smarter not harder". Brings me joy when I compose a shot and it's sharp as fuck. :) But, alas, I want to spend the money on roadtrips/trips (especially if it's photo related), so my aging and beat up a7rII and a7II will have to do for now.

Rafael Cavalli's picture

I don’t think that the camera system is the main reason to have fun or not. Work is work but the way you get through it is the key. I still have fun when working on personal projects or clients. I still meeting new people and trying my best to give them good photographs. We don’t need to overthink about it, and my advice for who is not that happy working with photography is “remember why you started”.

Ansel Spear's picture

Far be it from me to nitpick, but the first DSLR saw the light of day 33 years ago - not 'almost 2 decades ago' as suggested in this article.

'...In 1986, the Kodak Microelectronics Technology Division developed a 1.3 MP CCD image sensor, the first with more than 1 million pixels. In 1987, this sensor was integrated with a Canon F-1 film SLR body at the Kodak Federal Systems Division to create the first DSLR camera.

Hans Rosemond's picture

Ah yes, I should have said the first mass-produced DSLRs for consumers entered the market two decades ago. Thanks.

Gerald Bertram's picture

For the last 10 years I have been a Canon DSLR shooter, which is about as close as you can get to analog shooting, tech wise. I have recently brought a Sony full frame camera into my kit. I won't go into all the advantages I am now discovering with the Sony (switchers will know what I am talking about) but this tiny little tech-powerhouse of a camera has renewed my excitement for photography. Granted my love of the craft has never really waned but I am finding myself having more fun shooting with the Sony vs the Canon. I would suggest anyone that is a long time shooter of one of these older brands like Canon or Nikon to pick up (buy, rent, borrow) something recent Sony, Fuji or Panasonic just to see if the difference provides you some new creative enthusiasm. To each their own but that has certainly been my experience.

Kirk Darling's picture

I don't think it's technology per se, because photography has ALWAYS been high-tech compared to other arts.

But these days I do perceive an "intrusion" of people who are spending large amounts of money on the technology without the usual commensurate desire to play with the technology.

Back in the day, plumbing the technology for oneself was part of "the journey." Testing and shooting and printing and trying things out for ourselves.

These days I see so many people who seem to think good photography comes merely by having the best technology.

"What is the best this? What is the best that?"

They seem to think that they get all the numbers right, their pictures will be good.

Or, "Can you do this? Can you do that?"

I want to say, "It's digital! It costs you nothing to try it for yourself!"

I'm a photography educator and have been for 12+ years. I moved to a rural area where I've been secluded from the world stage and took a new teaching job where I have a new kind of student -- young students scared of failure and who don't find the joy in experimenting and stumbling upon happy accidents. They want the formula to the quickest success without the journey of failing. I've never encountered anything like it before and it's been disheartening. This past year, I made the least amount of photographs since I was a teenager because it hasn't been too much fun for me. And the fun is the challenge. So what do I do now? I've been enjoying making work from appropriated Google Steetview images because I miss being able to shoot on the street and find those gem moments of human absurdity and/or humanity. I also just ditched my camera to focus on learning classical guitar. Which is very hard ...and I enjoy that. I'm sure I'll come back to photography but for now I'm taking a much needed break.

I grew up in the film era (1960s) and became a hobbyist in that time. With film, most everything was frozen at the moment you clicked the shutter (and since you could not see the results, you needed a good sense of how things would work). Photography was much more a product of the moment. Color balance, lighting, focus (or lack), composition... it was all locked in at that moment.

I still feel that photos should be mainly a product of the moment, and not a creation of extensive post processing. Crop,ok. Lighten/darken, maybe. But beyond that, it changes. In many cases the original photo is barely recognizable It's still an art form and can be very esthetically good, but it's no longer a photograph to me. It's an artwork based on a photo.

I rarely do anything to a photo beyond cropping and maybe small exposure/color balance corrections. That is the photo I took and I have little desire (in most cases) to make it into something else.