How Much Technology is Enough?

There were a couple of articles recently about the growing role of technology in cameras, specifically along the lines of how technology is making photography easy – too easy to be truly artistically challenging, it seems. I’ve written about something similar before, in terms of artificial intelligence and post-processing. This is a bit different. It’s about how much work your camera should do vs. what you should do as the photographer.

I’ll link to one of those articles below, in which the author opens up that argument and concludes the opposite – that technology in fact makes photography more challenging, focusing the artist’s attention on the things that are meaningful and not on the things that are mundane. I agree with that view, with some limitations.

The original YouTube post arguing that photography is now too easy comes from a somewhat irreverent Brit, who tends to offer perspectives that are dismissive of the standards and approaches and the effort taken by most photographers to produce good work. He is intelligent and articulate, but seems to have come to dismiss photography – at least commercial photography – as not worth his time. The reason as stated by him – it’s now too easy.

Strangely, I watch some of his YouTube content and I frankly find his photography much too simple – just slightly above the artistic level of family snapshots. All images are in focus, for sure, and all nicely framed, but most are lacking any real contemplative energy other than – “that looks cool, I’ll take that picture”. He works exclusively handheld and wanders around, stopping briefly to take a photo, all the while a GoPro strapped to his chest. None of his photographs seem to take more than 5 seconds to assess and capture. I believe he works fully manually, not leveraging the technology in his hand, yet strangely upgrading that technology seemingly each year. Like many of us, he has done wholesale system swap-outs, which surprises me even more now based on his now published view of the role of technology in photography.

He does indicate in his video that he is puzzled by his recent reaction, having just witnessed the reveal of the latest Leica and Sony cameras.

Leica re-released a camera from 1984 with minimal features. Sony released the next latest greatest in the A7 series, with huge numbers of automated bells and whistles, including an “AI chip” which learns your habits and preferences over time. The two could not have been more opposite in features/functions, yet strangely, they are similarly priced. Leica is betting on their brand name and enough frustration with technology to make the re-introduction profitable. Sony is just being Sony – assuming that more tech is always better.

Our YouTuber suggests that people tune into his videos not only for the photographic result but for the experience of having him take the photograph as well. If the camera does all the work, it’s not much of an experience. But with all due respect to him, the irony is that it’s not really much of an experience to begin with, given his run and gun, point and shoot approach to photography.

But on to the actual arguments made.

Our YouTuber makes the argument that if equipment gets too sophisticated and “good”, and you always succeed at what you are trying to do, eventually you will get bored and stop doing it. Seriously? There is a fundamental flaw with that logic right out of the gate. Humans are so far from perfect that any attempt to predict what will make them perfect is sadly delusional. He mentions his own efforts at learning/playing golf. No golf equipment will make you a perfect golfer, despite his suggestion otherwise – there are too many variables to control. And no camera equipment will make you a perfect photographer. Ditto on those variables.

The Petapixel article challenges his claim, suggesting, like me, that there are too many variables to control and each outing/use is different. The author also argues that technology doesn’t take the picture. Instead, it just eliminates some of the more mundane tasks and allows the artist to be an artist, concentrating on composition, lighting and presentation. Whether we can manually successfully keep the focus point on the eye of the moving subject has nothing to do with the quality or challenge of being a photographer. A photograph of the butt end of a bird with its perfectly in-focus head turned toward the camera is still a crappy (pardon the pun) photo.

Our YouTuber also suggests that his perspective would likely be different if he was a working professional, obligated to get it right all the time. He admits he no longer is. I wonder why. But even that argument doesn’t hold water, as us amateurs are equally invested in great images. In fact, I would argue that we are more invested in the quality, since our only reward is our reputation and the recognition of peers and admirers.

In my look at the Canon EOS R5 on my YouTube channel, I commented on how the camera helps me overcome some of the deteriorations of aging, specifically the ability to achieve fast autofocus, the ability to track when my body doesn’t move as quickly and the ability to achieve presentable photographs when my hands shake more than they ever have. Lastly, the ability to even carry the gear to begin with was a key consideration, with newer equipment smaller and lighter.

But I’ve also commented on the obsessive quest for technology by some who only look for the next upgrade, never really exploiting what they already have. Every day photographers and videographers who rant about wanting unlimited recording limits or 150 megapixel cameras for no other reason than they can get them. One such party captures home stills and videos of the family and nothing more. Yet, if a manufacturer misses a supposed milestone window for the next upgrade, they are indignant. Whole YouTube channels are devoted to publishing the latest rumors, with associated commentary on the pros and cons. See my last blog post to glean what I think about that.

So what does that mean for me? I embrace technology and exploit it as I need to. I recognize that budget, learning curves and individual interest do factor into that decision. But I also find it strange that some reject technology outright, preferring to remain with film, fully manual cameras and chemical production of prints. Hang on though, even that involves technology – just not with silicon. So why embrace one and not the other? I’ve come to realize that there is there is a technology limit for each of us, just as there is a budget limit. It’s not because technology makes things too easy – it’s because we need to partition the things we control differently. I don’t need to control every step in the process – others do. I don’t need to put hands on every step of the process – I’m happy to make an artistic contribution and partner with my camera. We get along great.

So where is your sweet-spot? When is technology enough in photography? I would love to hear your views.

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