Sunday, October 03, 2010

Photography Today

Has become, in so many ways, democratised. I remember film point-and-shoot cameras being very popular up until 2003 or so. The next couple of years saw a surge in digital cameras (then called 'digicams') amongst the general public. Today, we simply call them 'cameras' and their film predecessors have more or less been relegated to history.

Lately, the trend in Digital SLR (DSLR) acquisition is nothing short of alarming. Around almost every corner in any given public space or shopping mall, are people with DSLRs hanging around their necks. Whether this is because the masses have suddenly discovered a passion for photography, or because DSLRs are a lot more affordable these days, or simply because it's 'cool' to carry/own a 'high-end' camera, I don't really know. It's probably a mix of all three, plus the fact that many compact cameras have gotten pretty ridiculous with features that are really not integral to photography.

When I started out with my DSLR in 2006, the cheapest models retailed for about RM2700 or so. Today, that money can fetch very decent cameras like the Nikon D90, and most entry level cameras fall into the under-RM2000 bracket.

As the DSLR market becomes saturated, especially with more DSLR-as-accessory users than actual photography enthusiasts, I have over the last year or so forced myself to consider what photography really means to me, and how I can distinguish myself from the hordes of trigger-happy enthusiasts. Someone once said that unique images are made when one points the camera away from where everyone else is pointing theirs, or something to that effect. For me, that 'somewhere else' was film, and the journey has been a very rewarding one so far.

Mr Tomohisa Ikeno, designer of Nikon's flagship film SLR, the F6, said:

I think the essence of [film's] appeal can be summed up as "the value of unique pictures." With a digital camera, the number of pictures you can take is infinite, in the sense that there is no limit in the number of shots to take, unlike shooting with film. Some photographers reject the prospect of such ease, as they desire a more careful, rigorous approach to taking pictures. They want to treasure each picture-taking opportunity by etching their vision on film.

Over the last few weeks and months, I've seen a sudden profusion of DSLR owners; among them, Noel and his D40, Melody and her D3000, Adelene and her D90, Suzanne and her 550D, Louise and her 550D, and Lee Fui and her Lumix G1 (which is not an SLR, but an interchangeable-lens camera nonetheless).

Talking to Suzanne at Len Yi's housewarming, I thought about the days of film, when high ISOs were unheard of. When there was no such thing as Image Stabilization or Vibration Reduction. When pictures could not be previewed and the photographer was limited to 36 exposures of the same ISO at any one time. And, if you go further, when autofocus did not exist (let alone today's insane 39-point or 51-point DSLRs), and when burst mode was a figment of the imagination.

With all those limitations, the photographers of the past produced some really legendary images. If there is one reason why I still find photography exciting, it's because I know I'm not there yet. There is still so much to learn, and so much to accomplish.

A friend recently shared,

Now that there are DSLR toting folks everywhere, I think it's good for you to venture deeper [...] You could dabble with more conceptual and challenging photography. I think it's attention to things like sense of place that set apart the truly great photographers who produce the photographs that really stick around as classic, from all the rest who can take a pretty picture and...that's it, a pretty picture.

It's a challenge I joyfully accept. I think, like Jia Hui, photography does keep me alive and help me stay sane in certain ways.

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