How Society Accepted Bad Photography And Never Learned

Your photography being judged by Instagram interactions started with mobile photography getting better and better.

If you know any better, you can look around the web and see pretty awful images absolutely killing it on social media platforms and in other places. And I’m not really saying this as an opinion, but it’s more of a fact. Photography has gone from something that required care and practice and turned into “content.” It’s now just a part of a package, and that’s all in some cases. This hasn’t been all bad. It’s opened and democratized photography for the masses while giving ultimate control to your Instagram dictators. And as much as I’m blaming Instagram for this, I’m also blaming technology. Apple, Google, Samsung, and others have had a big part of it. So too have the people. We ultimately are just sheep that keep going back to the toxic relationship with social media–grazing what we want only to return when we wish or when we’ve beckoned to do so.

Phones Being the Standard

I want to back this up to a really long time ago. Around 2008 or 2009 is when the iPhone really started to take off. There were apps with it and more. But the camera tech in it was pretty paltry. So many people back then still considered using a dedicated camera for better photos. The market had a healthy selection of point and shoots, DSLRs, and mirrorless was barely cutting its teeth. Everyone used to call all mirrorless cameras, “Micro Four Thirds.” It didn’t matter what it was–Sony NEX, Samsung NX, it was all called that wrongfully! Fast forward two or so years, and the camera in the iPhone started to become excellent. People used it more and more. And to get even better images, they slapped filters on them with Instagram.

During all of this, Apple was moving a light speed, and Instagram was running with it. And the filtered image became a thing.

Filtered Images Gave Way to Taste vs. Ultimate Quality

I say the word better because it was more about taste. People liked that they could suddenly get this beautiful, nostalgic look. And back then, nostalgia was in. Vinyl was just returning. Hipsters were raiding their grandparents’ closets and shooting old film cameras that we barely experienced. And we were looking to the past for inspiration. Why? There was a major US recession. Everyone wasn’t doing so well financially. It’s part of why people went thrift shopping. It’s why after the prominent writer’s strike, we remade shows.

Do you remember Dear Photograph? It was a popular Tumblr blog that catapulted the nostalgia game. It’s still going. Photography then switched over from a world where tastes were defined by a select few old men, and the power was given to the masses–only to be later given to a select few again. But the nature of filters was pretty rampant. People put filters on every single image they uploaded. That lasted for maybe a few years until it got old and people started primarily not using Instagram’s own camera. Instead, they take the photo with their phone or a proper camera, edit it, and then upload it. With photo editing, it became all about presets. People didn’t and still don’t know what they’re doing. And that’s gotten even worse. With the removal of folks who actually knew what they were doing, everything became about Instagram and social media numbers.

Today: Anything is a Photo, Including Bad Composites

And that’s brought me to something even more disturbing–the photo composite being passed off as a photograph. They’re not photographs, it’s not photography. They’re composites. I still remember when a VP from Adobe was on a presentation and told us about a project that was going to empower designers to create photorealistic images without paying for a photographer. Since then, I still haven’t forgiven them. And the impetus for this article was really hitting me when I moved apartments. By browsing Amazon, I was looking at product images only to see really awful photo composites taking the place of actual photos. Why? It’s been happening for a long time, but they’re getting worse and worse. Here are some of the ones in the past month that have really made me roll my eyes.

But here’s the thing, we’ve learned to just accept it. We see it and move on. We’ve lost a significant part of us as photographers, and the game that technology plays in it all isn’t helping much. Nor does the loads of misinformation that I see out there on YouTube where everything thinks they’re an expert. Not everyone is an expert. Not everyone can go into their kitchen and make a hand lotion from scratch. Not everyone can consistently shoot a photo that makes the jaw drop. And not everyone can surely take a bunch of elements and blend them into a canvas that looks like a photograph.