In modern times, pursuing photography can feel like walking into a hurricane. It seems that with every passing day, we are bombarded not only with millions of new images, but new gear that seems to need upgrading every few months. And, recently, we’re being told that we need to apply artificial intelligence (AI) learning models trained on supercomputers to push our images to the edge of perfection. Is there any way to enjoy photography in this hectic digital age? I think there is, but it takes conscious effort.
Challenges for Photography in a High-Tech World
It goes without saying that photography has improved in some ways due to improvements in technology – especially in image quality. In other ways, it hasn’t really changed at all, like in the joy we get from going out to photograph in the first place, so long as we still make the time to do so.
However, most people also have a burning desire to share their images. That’s where technology is rapidly changing things for the worse.
Most photographers who share photos these days do so on places like Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest. These platforms are run by tech companies who don’t care much about photography. Instead, tech companies have realized that they use the human act of sharing images to power their platforms that encourage consumerism. They are not about the photos whatsoever – which is why any B-list celebrity will have more followers than the best photographers even on supposedly photography-centered platforms like Instagram.
These companies run sophisticated systems. Google and Meta have hired programmers, marketers, and psychologists to maximize the superficial consumption of images. They have created systems where truly appreciating photography is suppressed, because it isn’t lucrative for them. Instead, photography on these systems is more about following trends, browsing aimlessly, and growing psychologically addicted to scrolling.
In turn, the slower style of taking more time to appreciate single photographs is being eradicated. Photography is not only as a visual art, but also a medium to understand the soul of another, infused in a photograph – and that side of photography is very easy to lose in the modern world.
Slow appreciation is exactly what tech companies don’t want. It means less infinite scrolling, less clicking, less superficial engagement, and less interest in their Next “Great” Technological Innovation. There isn’t any time to appreciate the relationship between the photo and the photographer – it’s all about moving quickly onto the next blood-pressure-boosting screenshot or vapid 15-second clip.
This is only going to get worse with AI. AI is being pushed ostensibly as a way to improve your photography, but it is doing just the opposite behind the scenes. Tech companies are using the hard efforts of photographers to train AI so well that it can largely replace photography, at least for most commercial uses.
In cases where AI-generated images do not replace photography, they will slowly mutate our internal conception of photography as our images stand side-by-side with AI-generated creations. Many photographers will unconsciously feel the urge to create more like a machine, rather than like a human being. In a way, we already do – consider things like “fix it in Photoshop” or “clone that out with AI,” which are surely things you’ve heard, or even said, before.
How To Enjoy Photography
On the surface, you might ask, who cares? Well, if you’re one of the lucky ones that can still enjoy photography despite the advancement of soulless tech companies, that’s great. However, I have seen quite a few others become rather disillusioned and disappointed by photography due to the advancements of technology.
They realize that technology is making it more difficult to develop genuine connections with others through the slow appreciation of photography, and that sharing photos through Instagram is like attempting to truly satiate your hunger by eating only sugar.
In other words, modern technology and big tech is making the world a rather unfriendly and vapid place for genuine human connection. To combat this, there’s really only one solution, and that’s to go against the trend and create more meaningful connections with others through photography. This could be things such as:
- Joining a local photography club, offline if possible.
- Finding a fellow photographer with whom to exchange shots, with the promise of really taking the time to appreciate each other’s photography through writing commentary and critique.
- Joining smaller forums that are not governed by infinite-scrolling AI algorithms.
- Close down as many social media accounts as you can.
- On image sharing platforms that you feel like you still can enjoy, be cautious and wary and don’t use them too much. Use them when they can be genuinely useful to you rather than merely when you are useful to them.
In other words, I recommend seeking out fewer superficial interactions through large image sharing platforms and instead, connecting with individuals on a personal level. If you look at photography online, try to spend less time quickly viewing hundreds of images, and spend more time absorbing the smaller number of shots from people you know.
This might seem counter-intuitive. As human beings, we have an instinct to absorb as much information as possible, and that includes consuming large amounts of photography. This instinct is natural because during most of human history, information was rare, and what information we did come across was often useful for survival. Now, just the opposite is true – there is a glut of information, very little of it useful.
In short, our instinct to go after information has become maladaptive. One study found that “higher levels of perceived cyber-based overload significantly predicted self-reports of greater stress, poorer health, and less time devoted to contemplative activities.” Tech companies have realized this, and they capitalize on it – but in reality, even knowing about it, the glut of information is still too much for many people to handle.
Thus, instead of following our maladaptive instincts, it pays to slow down and simply consume less. Quality, not quantity, as they say. Will that potentially make you less popular as a photographer? Yes, it will – especially if you also take this advice to heart in terms of sharing your photos. Rather than posting algorithm-optimized photos and videos on platforms like Instagram, you’ll get less attention – but deeper connections – by sharing photos that mean something to you, on smaller platforms with people you know. I would rather have a few kind words about my photos from a single person who genuinely took the time to reflect, rather than a million likes on Instagram.
In today’s world, tech companies have successfully transformed photography from a contemplative visual art into a rat race to power superficial and frenetic consumption. Even so, that does not mean you have to follow along. If you’re not satisfied with the state of sharing photography today, change your own photographic sphere by seeking out genuine connections and friendships that will last so much longer – and getting back to the roots of why you began to love photography in the first place.