Digital Photography is Exploding, But Where Exactly Are We Going With It?

Everyone is a photographer these days, and it is estimated that 380 billion photographs were taken last year, with a huge percentage of them created with the 1 billion+ camera-equipped phones now floating around. The New York Times’ James Estrin has some interesting thoughts on where this radical-shift in the practice and definition of photography is taking us:

Just as access to pens and paper hasn’t produced thousands of Shakespeares or Nabokovs, this explosion of camera phones doesn’t seem to have led to more Dorothea Langes or Henri Cartier-Bressons. But it has certainly led to many more images of what people ate at lunch.

[…] A photograph is no longer predominantly a way of keeping a treasured family memory or even of learning about places or people that we would otherwise not encounter. It is now mainly a chintzy currency in a social interaction and a way of gazing even further into one’s navel.

He thinks the strengthening torrent of digital images will have one of two possible effects: a culture that is more aware and appreciative of photography, or a society in which it’s impossible for any photo to rise above the flood of images.

In an Age of Likes, Commonplace Images Prevail [NYTimes]

Image credit: Lunch by churl

  • Ren Bostelaar

    One could have made the same arguments a hundred years ago when Kodak put inexpensive box cameras and film in the hands of millions.

    The value of photography doesn’t come from some kind of elite-enforced scarcity. The good stuff will always be good, and the bad stuff will always be bad, and the proportion will always remain the same.

  • Fra Lippi

    If you look at the 19th century you’ll see an some extremely literate societies. Everybody wrote and many people wrote quite well. Yet there are a relatively small number of 19th century authors who are still commonly read. I see this as very similar. We have a large number of people using images to communicate. Many of them are successful at it (and by successful I mean they connect with their audience). But very few will produce images worth remembering in the coming years and decades.

  • oldtaku

    There’s a lot more low quality filler, surely. But the standout pictures are still standouts, and there are many, many skilled amateurs producing some fantastic pictures which we can now see instead of having them consigned to a a shoebox in the attic.

  • picklefactory

    The point of having pens and paper isn’t always so that I can write a literary masterpiece; sometimes it’s so that I can have a shopping list. The point of having a camera in my phone isn’t always so that I can produce photographs for a gallery, sometimes it is so that I can take pictures of things and remember them for later.

  • ceebee

    I for one am completely tired of looking at irrelevant digital snaps. Could someone please invent some sort of camera virus that puts an end to digital imagery? Please!

  • Bua

    “Photographers” will come and go. Only true awesomeness will stand the test of time.

  • Matt


  • Jonathan Maniago

    You don’t have to impress the whole world. If you can still please your clients, your loved ones, or yourself, I see no need to fuss even if other legends in the field are setting very high standards.

  • rtfe

    “glory is fleeting but obscurity is forever” -Napoleon Bonaparte

  • The Walrus

    I agree that the good will always be good and bad will always be bad, but unfortunately those who judge that no longer know the difference.

  • brett.

    buy film, not megapixels.

  • TedCrunch

    I note you have a digital image as your avatar. A camera virus would have prevented us from seeing your face (as though that would be bad). It breaks my heart that you are suffering so badly from all those nasty irrelevant digital snaps.

  • punktoad

    Timeless images will always be treasured and there may be more to treasure now. But the real impact of the image explosion is that communication is improving exponentially. A picture is worth a thousand words. That means we are creating 360 trillion imagined words.