The Guam Daily Post

12 23Thu11262015


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Smartphones threatening professional photo industry

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SMARTPHONE shoppers nowadays don’t just look for the biggest screen, fastest processor and coolest operating features; their buying decisions are also influenced by the quality of a smartphone’s camera, which is slowly replacing the standalone point-and-shoots.

Modern technology has changed the way people keep and view their photos. The traditional photo albums and scrap books are close to being completely phased out by Facebook, Flicker, Instagram and other specialty websites, where people upload their “Kodak moments.” One no longer misses capturing those moments unless they don’t have a smartphone. If they blink the first time, there’s another chance to unblink.

Is the prevalence of smartphones threatening to put professional photography out of business?

Yes and no, according to Guam’s veteran lensmen.

“More people are taking their own pictures, doing photography in-house, or relying on easily accessible stock photography,” said Victor Consaga, who has been a photographer for 18 years.

Still relevant, but...

While professional photographers have not totally lost their relevance, there is a decline in the number of people willing to pay for professional photography, according to David Castro, who switched between commercial photography and photojournalism for 35 years.

“Add the ease for people to become  ‘professional photographers’ on the side while keeping their regular jobs allows the weekend photographer to charge considerably less than a photographer who makes their living through photography,” said Castro, a section editor for Variety.

With further advancements of smartphone cameras equipped with photo-editing apps, anybody can take decent photos and manipulate images. No more red eyes.

“Smartphones are about the equivalent of a point-and-shoot camera,” said Rich Ocampo, a freelance photographer for four years. “If you want consistent professional quality you need a pro photographer.”

The vain lot who want naked pictures of themselves are willing to pay a lot for a professional job, Ocampo said. “We get this a lot from some people asking us to shoot with them. As funny and embarrassing as it may sound, it’s one of the easiest [ways to earn] money as a photographer,” he said.

Real-time images

People used to wait for days to see how their pictures turned out. The waiting days for the finished photo products are gone. Within seconds, images can be retrieved and posted online for the world to see.

Those who want print copies either use home printers or order prints online.

“I think most people who want their photos printed are (those who want to keep) family portraits and wedding (albums). With the technology that you can almost print at any time at any given place, it makes photo printing almost a classic if you have your photos printed,” Ocampo said.

Castro has noted a significant drop in actual photo printing. “People have been happy to just view photos on their electronic devices with the Internet allowing us to share photos with everyone digitally,” he said.

With photo processing labs going the way of the dinosaurs, Castro said the business has had to adapt. “They focus mostly on formal photography: school portraits, weddings. The Japanese wedding photography is big business on Guam and studio portraits. The labs that could not adapt have usually gone out of business.”

The darkroom artists

Although the business of photography is on its death throes, the art remains very much alive. Expertise in film photography is a privilege earned by the veteran darkroom artists of the pre-digital era.

“I explain both film and digital photography to [my students] in order for them to know how certain photographic terms came to be,” said Consaga, who teaches photography at the University of Guam. “Many tools in Photoshop are named directly after their darkroom process, such as dodge, burn and mask. Some students are interested in using film; however, the extra cost of film and processing discourages them.”

Castro said film is making a revival in the artistic community. “For some it is going back to something they used in the past and for younger people it allows them the chance to experience analog in the digital age,” he said.

Local film photography enthusiasts have formed a group called “Guam DarkRoom” that mostly includes hobbyists.

“Choosing film over digital is like choosing oil paints over acrylic paints or buying a sailboat instead of a motorboat. Digital is convenient, accessible and efficient but it may not always give you the desired results,” Consaga said.

The influx of DSLR cameras and their affordability allow people to do a lot more. Hence everybody thinks they are professional photographers, Ocampo said.

As the smartphone industry continues to demand more advanced software, competition flares up between Adobe Photoshop versus Smartphone filters/Camera Apps. “For instance, Samsung S4/iPhone5 produce almost DSLR-like photos with built-in effects and readily available in minutes and can be shared by the user at any time, whilst Photoshop takes time to create a masterpiece 2 to 3 hours minimum,” Ocampo said. “It's like an art class: Van Gogh versus crayons with coloring books.”

Back to the future

The company Lomography recently released new film camera models such as the Belair 120mm film camera and the Konstruktor 35mm build-it-yourself camera, Consaga said.

But he believes the future of photography is in video. “Digital photography is basically high resolution still video frames. High definition video cameras are capable of doing still frame grabs that can also be used for print,” Consaga said.

Castro foresees photography to continue evolving as a medium.

“Many more people will enjoy the ability to capture a moment in time or with video capture an event in motion. As a profession, most photographers have learned they have to adapt and include video into their workflow. So they are not just photographers anymore, but they are becoming videographers,” Castro said.

“But there will always be a need for great storytelling, so great photographers, videographers and cinematographers will always rise to the top. But for most of the rest, a new career may be in their future,” he said.

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