One of the big things that inspires me in photography, life, and technology is the ability to “democratize”, to add “access”, and to make things affordable to the masses.
I grew up “lower-working class” (my mom was more or less a single mom, working 3-part time jobs and barely being able to afford rent every month). I lived in anxiety as a kid (I remember being 11 years old, and my mom telling me that we might be homeless next month because my dad gambled away the rent money).
I grew up pretty scrappy, knowing how to make do with what I had. I didn’t have much money at all as a kid (I would sometimes take my lunch money, go hungry for lunch, and use my lunch money to eventually buy sneakers or clothes).
However my savior was technology (specifically my computer). My computer empowered me. Once I got the Internet (AOL 3.0, with a dial-up 38.8k modem) I was able to play free games, download (illegally) early versions of Photoshop and Visual Basic, I self-taught myself web design, programming, had access to tons of “free” information online, and the ability to connect with people half-way around the world.
I always had an artistic bent as a kid, but never was (that good) at drawing or painting. I wanted an artistic and creative outlet… and I was lucky enough that photography found me.
When I was 18 years old, my mom bought me a little Canon SD 600 digital point-and-shoot camera as a graduation present for high school. I was amazed by the technology. I loved how I could create “instantaneous art” and see the results immediately on the back of my LCD screen. I remember old field trips as a kid, when I had to use disposable film cameras, and couldn’t get “instantaneous feedback.”
Digital photography liberated me. I was able to explore the world, and creatively capture the beauty I saw in front of me. With my little digital camera (and laptop I got for college), the only limit I had was my creativity.
Sub-$300 devices for the masses
Flash-forward to 2016. We now live in an insanely amazing world where we can buy essentially mega-computers (smartphones) that fit in our front pockets, that have infinitely more computing power than supercomputers a decade ago, and that cost below $300 (most Android phones). We have laptops (Chromebooks) which also can be bought for $200, which gives us access to the Internet, free online tools, and instantaneous connection across the globe. As long as we have a free Wi-Fi connection and a power outlet the only limitation we have is our creativity and minds. We can no longer blame technology for not being “good enough”; we are our own self-imposed limitations.
Apple just released the new iPhone “SE” (special edition) which is a 4-inch iPhone (smaller than the iPhone 6S/6S Plus) which has the same camera, hardware, and horsepower of the iPhone 6S, all for a starting price of $399 (for the 16GB model).
My God. I think we have finally arrived. Now I truly believe that (at least for most of the masses) we have access to all the digital tools we need as photographers.
First of all, I believe the iPhone 6S camera (now the iPhone SE camera) is more than sufficient for 99% of us photographers. Many of us now upload our photos to Instagram and social networks; where we see the images through a 4 to 6 inch screen. Unfortunately for most photographers, printing photos is a thing of the past. So unless you plan on printing your photos super large, a 12-megapixel camera is more than enough for you.
Secondly, you no longer “need” a laptop, desktop, or a proper computing device. Your smartphone can do almost anything that your laptop/desktop can do. Especially for us photographers, we can use free tools like VSCO to edit/post-process our images.
Thirdly, our smartphones are also publishing devices. In the past, photographers had to print their images if they wanted their images to “exist” in the real world. Nowadays we can upload our photos immediately to social media networks. direct message them to our friends, or view on our devices for our own enjoyment.
What more do you really need?
At $399 you have access to the iPhone SE’s top-of-the-line smartphone camera, computing device, and workstation. You can take photos, edit and process them, and publish them instantaneously.
Think about what we needed in the past (even with digital technology): we needed to buy a $1,000+ digital SLR, buy a $1,000+ laptop, and have access to an Internet connection at home ($50+ a month).
Much earlier in history, we needed film, chemicals, and technical know-how to make images. The barrier to entry was a lot higher.
Now photography is truly democratized for the masses. And as technology jolts forward, smartphones (and cameras) will just keep getting cheaper, technology will be faster and more powerful, and access will become ubiquitous to everyone around the world.
About the author: Eric Kim is an international street photographer who’s currently based out of Berkeley, California. You can find more of his photography and writing on his website and blog. This article was also published here.