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Opinion: Photography is now too easy – we must try harder!

July 24, 2022

There is no longer any skill in taking well-exposed photos of obviously attractive views, says Nigel Atherton. The world has moved on.

We live in the age of the infinite scroll.

Instagram alone contains so many photos that you could spend literally a lifetime swiping through them and still never get to the end, because it’s being added to at a rate many times faster than you can view them.

In a world where an estimated 3.2 billion images are posted online every day, getting yours to stand out and be noticed seems an impossible task.

Many older photographers will fondly recall the days when the secrets to taking great photos were known only to a select few who had learned how to manipulate the knobs and dials of their cameras, while the rest of the world had to be content with blurry photos of their relatives, minus their heads. Today, the younger generation have grown up with cameras in their pocket and taken tens of thousands of photos by the time they reach adulthood, honing their skills and learning from their mistakes instantly and without cost.

Consequently, most of them are instinctively better photographers than their grandads ever were. Technology has largely consigned the technical skills of focusing and exposure measurement to history, except with a few challenging low light or fast-moving subjects, so being able to take a visually pleasing, competently focused, and exposed image of an innately attractive view no longer merits a pat on the back. Almost everyone can do it. The bar has been raised. If you want to bathe in the kudos and adulation of your photography peers, and win prizes in photo competitions, you’ll have to try harder.

This isn’t to say that chocolate box images of honeypot locations can’t be award-winning, but the question is what you contributed to make it stand out from every other photo of the same subject. Did you take the trouble to try and show it in a new and interesting way – a visually arresting perspective, great light or fortuitous timing – something to make it more than a record shot? Or did you just stroll up to the obvious viewpoint, fire off a couple of shots without so much as bending your knees, and let the beauty of the subject do the heavy lifting? If the latter, that’s fine. You have a nice record of your day. But don’t expect to be rewarded for noticing the obvious. You may as well expect praise for putting your trousers on the right way round.

Caption: This photo of Kinkaku-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan, is a pleasing record of my visit. But it required no skill – I simply stood among the scrum of other tourists taking exactly the same picture from the same spot. Much as I like it, I would never enter it into a competition. Photo: Nigel Atherton

Caption: This photo of Kinkaku-ji temple in Kyoto, Japan, is a pleasing record of my visit. But it required no skill – I simply stood among the scrum of other tourists taking exactly the same picture from the same spot. Much as I like it, I would never enter it into a competition. Photo: Nigel Atherton

Taking great pictures of well-photographed locations that stand-out in the infinite scroll of social media, or that catch a competition judge’s jaded eye, requires thought, effort and, skill – or at least good fortune. Finding the beauty in the mundane arguably requires more skill, as does creating the beauty from scratch, through design, lighting and direction.

If this all seems like too much effort remember that photography is, first and foremost, a hobby and you are of course free to photograph whatever you like, however you like, as long as its legal, respectful and doesn’t harm anyone else. Just don’t enter your casual snaps of cliched views into competitions and expect rapturous applause. The world has moved on.


The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Amateur Photographer magazine or Kelsey Media Limited. If you have an opinion you’d like to share on this topic, or any other photography related subject, email: ap.ed@kelsey.co.uk


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