Going the Way of the Polaroid: What Do Smartphones and Instagram Mean for the Future of Photography?

Photo by Danielle Bean. Equipment: Holga 120n.

When I got on the Instagram bandwagon a year or two ago, I was among the hoards of smartphone users with little or no talent with a camera, treating otherwise boring photos of my dog and that awesome cocktail I just ordered with an overwhelming amount of filters, frames and fake sunset lighting. As I scrolled though my editing and filter options with glee, I watched my photos transform from fuzzy and typical to something not half bad, including my new filter default: the yellow, kitschy, old-timey lens of 1977.

Consumers like me experienced a huge shift in photography when cell phone cameras became mainstream about a decade ago, a shift similar to the mass availability of the 33mm camera in the mid-20th century. My newfound talent for “art” begged the question: how are Instagram and other smartphone photo applications, like Twitter, Flickr and SnapShot, changing photography?

Chris Becerra, a local photographer and educator at OSU and Corvallis High School, said camera phones and social media have made huge strides in democratizing photography.

“At no time in human history have photographs been seen by more people,” he said. “I think it’s a good thing.”  But he added, “Smart phones have already killed a lot of industry and the next thing, if it’s not dead already, are point and shoot cameras. Why would you buy one if you have an eight or 10 megapixel phone already?”

Photo by Danielle Bean. Equipment: Gowlandflex with Leaf Aptus back.

Becerra points out that most consumers only use a camera’s most basic applications, something offered in the latest phones, but he isn’t worried about cell phones rendering pros like himself obsolete.

“Will everyone have their friends come to their wedding with cell phones to take pictures?” he asked. “Sure, but I’m not worried about that killing my business. My target market is people who really care about having the best possible memories captured. People who are willing to pay a professional.”

Becerra also points out the physical engineering limitations of lens design.

“Physically you can’t manufacture a 200 millimeter lens that you can put in your pocket.”

Instead of becoming phased out by cell phones, companies that manufacture professional camera models are taking a cue from smart phones—they’re making smart cameras. Many single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras come equipped with wi-fi connection and integrated apps that you can control with your phone, and the wireless Eye-Fi memory card automatically transfers photos to your computer.

Dan Wise of the recently shuttered Oregon Camera can speak firsthand about the changing world of photography. After closing in December, Wise transitioned into a printing-only business around the corner from his downtown shop. Wise agrees with Becerra in that the majority of people’s photo needs are met with their cell phones.

“Cell phones are going to kick point and shoots out pretty soon,” he said, but he also pointed out that cell phones don’t have the zoom capability of higher-end SLR cameras.


Photo by Danielle Bean. Equipment: Holga 120n.

The World’s Fastest Camera, Crazy High-Res, and Megan Fox

As each year ushers in the new photo app-du-jour, folks at MIT have developed a trillion-frames-per-second camera that researcher Ramesh Raskar says will challenge what we mean by “camera.”

In a summer 2012 Ted Talk that went viral, Raskar introduced his crazy fast camera with a plea to “stop obsessing over the megapixels in cameras and start focusing on the next dimension in imaging.”

Raskar says that although researchers have more work to do before this technology leaves the lab, in the future, femto-photography could prevent car collisions by visualizing what’s around the bend for drivers, help firefighters locate survivors by the light reflected through open windows, and usher in the next-generation of health imaging.

Photo by Danielle Bean. Equipment: Canon 5d MkII

Camera technology’s real-world use isn’t limited to science, as evidenced by Megan Fox’s smokin’ hot 2009 Esquire cover photo. The cover was shot in video, not in stills, using a high-resolution Red ONE video camera, the predecessor to the Scarlet Red camera. Becerra cited this high-res camera as what to look out for on the horizon.

“People will look back at this in history as a huge watershed moment,” Becerra said. “Probably within the next ten years you won’t take pictures any more, just video.”

What does this mean for photography? When choosing an image, photographers will be able to choose from a wider array of perfect moments.

“You can take video and pull out a single still image and print it,” Becerra said. “This takes away the timing skill.”

Good news for those interested in picking up a new Red Scarlet camera: this fall, prices dropped to a bargain at just under $10K.

Photo by Danielle Bean. Equipment: Holga 120n.

Danielle Bean…

Danielle Bean, a member of Corvallis’ Temporary Art Guild, is a local photographer with a twist—her intriguing and often dream-like portraits and landscapes are primarily shot using film and alternative cameras, although she’s also delved into digital media.

“I shoot for myself and am pretty open to new things, so the rise of these new tools hasn’t really had an impact on the way I value my work,” she said, when asked whether she felt newer technologies like camera phones had influenced her work. “There’s a lot more thought that goes into quality photography than what is typically put into Instagram, or even Lightroom when wielded by users who rely heavily on presets. Any tool can be a vehicle for art—it all depends on who is using it.”

To view more of her work, visit http://www.thelittlebeanphotography.com.

by Kerry Brown

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