Thoughts on Photography
Earlier this summer I gave a talk on photography during an Alameda Business Network meeting at the local Elks Lodge. Having spoken to the group before I wanted this time to touch on some of the reasons why photography is so fascinating to me and where I see the field moving forward for the future. The transcript of that talk is below – I hope you enjoy!
Bear with me a moment here, because I want you to imagine. Close your eyes if it helps…. Let’s say you are a photon. A tiny little particle of light. You are the fastest thing in the universe – you move at 186,000 miles per second. (As a point of reference, that’s 7 times around the globe, in one second!) Let’s say you shot out of a star, 10,000 light years away. You travel past other stars, nebulas, and galaxies, and wind up approaching a small planet called earth. As you get closer, you see oceans, mountain ranges, and then you see a human being, looking up at the night sky. This person raises a small metal box with a piece of glass on the front. As you soar down from the heavens, you go through the glass, and SPLAT! You land on the sensor of a digital camera. And even though you’re dead, there is a record of your incredible journey: a little white pixel on that photographer’s image of a starry night.
This is the kind of stuff I think about 😉
Since this is my third time speaking, I thought I would try and keep it interesting by talking a little about why I am so obsessed with photography… why it sometimes seems like the whole world is, and how I think photography will shape our future.
First, a little background about me. Believe it or not, I used to be extremely shy. I remember my mom having to come pick me up early from my best friend’s birthday party in first grade, because I was too scared to talk to anybody. I was the kind of kid who’d hide behind his parent’s legs and tuck my head into their knee and wait for the big scary grown up to go away.
Luckily, I’m not that shy anymore, but it did leave me with a sense of being an “observer” more than a “participant”. When I discovered photography, I realized I had found a way to be on the outside, while still being involved in the action. It allowed me to show the beauty I saw around me – a way to communicate Ideas without using words!
It also let me to be a part of things I wouldn’t normally have access to – such as being on the sidelines of a football game right there at the moment the team won the championship. Or getting waved in through the VIP lines of San Francisco’s most exclusive nightclubs. Or just a few weeks ago, where I was there at the Amgen BioGENEius Challenge, a high-caliber Biotech “Science Fair” – where the smartest high schoolers in Northern California presented their research projects. Their projects ranged from the latest Alzheimer’s research, to modern methods of early cancer detection. (Although the coolest project I saw was a kid who invented a robotic hand “gripper” to help people with weak limbs grasp objects. It is operated by beta brainwaves, so basically it works by just “thinking”!)
Even though I have whittled it down to find my niche in Portraits and Events, there are so many aspects of photography I love, that I still find it a little challenging to keep it contained. I really enjoy the variety of different jobs that come my way. In addition to “paid” work, I still go out to shoot landscapes sometimes. I have a few fine art projects under my belt, a few I’m working on, and several ideas in mind for future projects. For better or worse, photography is not only my profession, it’s also my hobby!
Now, you may have noticed I’m not the only person who is interested in photography. Frankly, my field is EXPLODING. You’d think, with any measly camera phone able to take a picture these days, I’d be out of a job. On the contrary, I think it has just raised the bar for demand and quality. In this increasingly visual society, hiring a photographer has become the norm, not just for weddings and family portraits, but things like baby showers or even profile pictures for dating websites. If you ever do a Google search for Photographer (please don’t bother!), the results are a little intimidating. On Alameda alone, there are 7 or 8 studios that show up in the basic search, and depending on which directory you go to you will find dozens more. Expand to the rest of the East Bay and you’ve got HUNDREDS of photography business listings. Add San Francisco and I’m sure it’s in the thousands.
Part of me has to wonder how many of these “self-proclaimed” photographers are actually making a living at it, but it does make it a little challenging to compete. You can find photographers on Craigslist willing to work for free, just to develop their portfolio, and you can find really amazing high-end photographers who won’t step out of the house for less than $10,000. In reality, the craigslist photographer is probably just starting out and you may be disappointed in the pictures. And the $10,000 photographer – you’re probably paying for “status” as much as image quality. Personally have tried to position myself in the mid-range. I do my best to provide excellent quality at a fair price, and deliver friendly customer service with quick turnaround.
Before I move on, there’s one other aspect to all this I feel like I should touch on. It has to do with a “modern artistic” trend in photography known as the “Selfie”. This is a little difficult to address, because as a photographer, I WANT people to like pictures of themselves. It’s how I make my money. But I have to admit a little concern about society and it’s self-image. It’s one thing if people are like: “Look at me! I’m at the Pyramids of Giza!” It’s quite another if you’re like, “LOOK AT ME! I’m eating lunch!“ or “Check it out, I’m going to the bathroom!” Where does it end? Are we becoming overly narcissistic? Is this trend “cheapening” Photography? I am always looking for depth and personal meaning in the photos I look at, but sometimes I wonder if there’s something to the fable of Narcissus, and how he drowns in the pond from obsessively gazing at his own image.
Anyway – society’s imminent doom aside – I’d like to wrap it up with a few thoughts about the future of photography. The technology is moving at an extraordinary pace. The camera here on my phone, I have to say, is almost BETTER than my first professional grade camera I bought in 2005 when I started my business. There are still fewer manual controls (it’s kind of like only being able to use my pro camera on automatic) but the image quality is becoming extraordinary. With cameras like the indestructible little GoPro, we can take our cameras surfing or skydiving – really capture the most exciting things we do in life. And like it or not, technology like Google Glass will become more prominent. Imagine a future where you can put on your glasses, or say, a contact lens – and when you’re out on the street and you can see the names, ages, and interests of the people walking by you in a pop-up window. It can tell you how many calories are in the potatoes you’re eating. Maybe it can tell you the number of germs on the door handle you’re about to grab. Sounds like science fiction, but I’ve been to the tech conferences, and these technologies may not be that far away!
Another recent innovation is called the light field camera. This camera, when it takes a picture, uses multiple lenses and depths of field to capture the scene at different focal lengths using all available ambient light, so you can create amazingly detailed 3D images which you can focus in post-production.
And lastly, there is NASA’s WMAP Satellite, which is taking pictures of stars and galaxies billions of light years away. These astrophysicists have captured images of the very early universe, 45 billion years ago, just moments after the big bang… so we are using photography to learn about the beginnings of the universe itself!
To me, THAT is pretty deep. Thank you.
(I ended this talk by taking questions from the audience, as well as asking them these few questions as well…)
• What do you think about the flood of images you are bombarded with on the web, facebook, pinterest, instagram, etc?
• What other ways does photography influence our modern world?
• How has photography changed for you over the years? Do you see it differently now?
Please leave a comment with your answer to one or more of these questions, or with a question for me!