Photography Today: Paint-By-Numbers Easy?

I was having a beer with a friend last night and he mentioned how easy it is nowadays to be a photographer, what with all the great gear and how everything looks good, even on a phone camera. Which of course got me thinking, “Is it that easy?” Has the tech made everyone great photographers?

I related it to painting. You can visit art museums, learn from the masters, take lessons, go out and find things to paint plein-air, carry your oil paint and linseed oil to your next landscape, or you can stay at home with a paint-by-number kit. Both are painting. One is much “easier”, but does it make a great painting?

We were at an event, a Day of the Dead ceremony with dancing and a procession and obviously most people were shooting it with their phone. The light was going down, past dusk, and into night. He showed me a photo he took of me, and said, “It’s blurry but you get the idea.”

The fact that more cameras can make a good exposure, that alone doesn’t make a great photographer. There was the same sentiment said in the 1970s when more automatic film cameras came out, and then in the 1980s when auto-focus showed up in cameras. “Now, everyone’s a photographer,” they complained then.

Not really.

These are the photographs I made at the ceremony. They are planned and executed in very low light using a capable camera that I know how to use well.


They’re not paint-by-number at all. In fact, because of the nature of the event, with lots of movement and people in many positions, I had to shoot several of every moment to edit down to one that was best among the group. It’s not a quick point and shoot and you get it–all done!

You can see how dusk became night. As photography is the recording of light on things, there was very little light as the event progressed. Remember we don’t photograph stuff, we photograph the light on stuff.

So, has photography become so easy now that anyone can do it? Or has the phone camera made it even easier to get a properly-exposed and (sometimes) focused file, similar to those automatic cameras in the 1970s and 1980s, but that is all?

Images that looks good if you don’t look too close or for too long.

Are you seeing great photography from people today, greater than has ever been before? I know I’m not. I’m seeing more images–not even photographs because they’re not printed and framed for display but seen on a small four-inch screen for a second before being swiped into oblivion. I’m seeing more places where people can post photographs that encourage that kind of photographic sharing–small and quick.

I don’t even call what people are doing today “photography”. That’s image-sharing. Photography includes making photographs. That exist, not just files in a phone or hard drive. As a photography gallery owner says, “I don’t sell Jpegs, I sell photographs.”

Has photography become easy–paint-by-number easy? I do think exposure has become easier for non-photographers, and auto-focus usually works, but I’m still blurry in that pic my friend made of me and I don’t know if most people would even care, since the delivery mode is so small, close enough is good enough. The device delivery’s small format has made it so that imperfections aren’t even seen.

Have a gallery display of 12×18″ prints, and then we’ll see what kind of photographer they really are.

How easy it’s become.

Final note: How easy was it for my friend? Here is one of his iPhone pics of the event (with the latest iPhone) which might look fine on a small phone screen. And the pic of me, which was made when it was still daylight. You decide.

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