Photography Through A New Lens: The Impact of Phones and Social Media

The introduction of smartphones and social media has revolutionized photography, for better or for worse. Over the past decade, camera phones have become ubiquitous. With constant access to a camera, photos can be taken anywhere and everywhere. The phone camera has become the focal point for smartphone connoisseurs. Advertisement campaigns like Apple’s “Shot on iPhone” indicate that the camera is truly what sets apart a smartphone from the competition.  

Since the introduction of the smartphone, there has been a decline in respect for photography as an art. In many cases, photos taken by the newest phones are comparable to those taken by point-and-shoot cameras. Accordingly, the market for point-and-shoot cameras has declined. 

However, although phone cameras can yield impressive shots, there are still limitations to what they can do. DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex cameras) generally remain superior to both phone and point-and-shoot cameras in terms of quality, power, speed, and creative control. For those interested in photography, this means that there are still many skills and techniques that cannot be learned through the use of a phone camera. 

This creates a clear distinction between the “snapshots” taken by phone cameras and photographs taken by professional cameras. “[Phone camera users] are not taking the time to really see,” as Washington High School’s digital imaging teacher Barbara Boissevain puts it. “Learning to see is very important as a photographer.” The show-and-tell nature of most social media posts prioritizes the subject of the photo rather than the photographer’s vision.

From an economic standpoint, there has been considerable job loss for professional photographers. Ms. Boissevain experienced this personally: “In my former profession, I was an architectural photographer,” she says. “A lot of architecture firms and design firms decided to have in-house photography instead of hiring freelance photographers. It’s one of the reasons I went back to teaching.” Unsurprisingly, the job outlook for photographers shows an eight percent decline through 2026 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

Despite the apparent negative impact on photography, it would be one-sided to not address the positive effects of social media. Social media has become an important platform for photographers. Compared to having a website or a physical exhibition, social media makes it far easier for photographers to gain recognition for their work. Additionally, many photographers advocate for specific causes through their photos. With a greater internet presence, these photographers are better able to raise awareness for their causes. For example, political movements like the Arab Spring got more attention due to the visual evidence photographs provide. 

As phone cameras become more advanced, the future of photography as a career is uncertain, but, for now, traditional photography remains relevant as an art form and tool for social change. 

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