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  • Saskia Koopman

Navigating the Lens: The Social Media Generation's Impact on Professional Photography

Illustrations by Megan Le Brocq

In the era where smartphones have become an extension of the hand, so has the camera of the eye; the title ‘photographer’, then, becomes a badge worn by many. With the accessible ease of taking a photo at any given moment, and subsequently sharing it instantly with the world, the question arises: are media content consumers becoming desensitised to professional photography? Or, has its accessibility merely democratised the art form?


Gone are the days when photography was limited to those with fortunate access to expensive camera equipment, or technical expertise. The advent of the smartphone, equipped with its high-quality cameras and facilitated use, has turned everyone into a potential photographer. Social media platforms have taken the role of virtual galleries, showcasing the varying perspectives and talents of individuals around the world, free of charge. A poignant example of such a facilitated ability to freeze a moment in time is embodied in the rise of Instagram, a global platform which has arguably become the virtual melting pot of diverse expressions. Once dominated by professional artists, its evolution has democratised the process of sharing and appreciating photography, the virtual gallery no longer being curated by institutions, but by a kaleidoscope of diverse visual narratives. 


Accessibility continues to increase, allowing or even urging people to capture and share moments with a quick tap or a click. This effortlessness leads to a certain democratisation of the medium which indicates a more inclusive and diverse representation of the world through its very lens. In that guise, it has empowered a larger breadth of representation and perspective, allowing almost any individual to share their innate experiences, contributing to a global visual dialogue. 


However, this overt act of capturing and sharing photos has not emerged free of challenges. The sheer volume of content that our generation has birthed is flooding social media feeds daily, with an average of 95 million photos being posted daily on Instagram alone. Turning to its implications in the photography profession this has caused an innate desensitisation to quality has arisen from such a  sea of snapshots, within which distinguishing between amateur and professional work has become challenging. As a result, the appreciation for professional photographs, a sum of undoubtedly months of composition and craft, may be dwindling. American artist Chris Wiley has epitomised this sentiment, deeming the rise of social media to have created a paradox, wherein  “ironically, the moment of greatest photographic plenitude has pushed photography to the point of exhaustion”. Indeed, overexposure, and the subsequent pressure to produce content at a fast pace has polluted a generation so willing to overlook the value of patience, skill, and a discerning eye, in exchange for a couple of likes and validation. 


While smartphones and social media are arguably responsible for democratising the art form, they have also placed challenges upon an already complex profession like that of photographers. Social media has forced professional photographers, like many other creatives, to adapt to the changing landscape. The oversaturation of the market and the availability of content has conditioned the average consumer to expect to see and own photos with little to no pay, posing a financial strain on professionals whose job depends on the alternative. Indeed, a 2023 survey of Professional Photographers of America (PPA) revealed that 35% of its respondents reported a decrease of income to the previous year, alluding to such financial pressures. 


That being said, I am not ignoring social media’s success in providing a platform for photographers to showcase their portfolios, connect with potential clients, or even build a wider, global audience. The negatives are matched by positive impacts, meaning that for the photographer, a balance is required between embracing the accessibility of the medium and maintaining the integrity of the craft. For the regular social media user, striking a similar balance is crucial. It involves leveraging the platform’s reach to connect with friends and staying informed, whilst being mindful of the impacts of these platforms on mental health and ensuring authenticity in online interactions.


In the ‘social media generation’, the very essence of being a ‘photographer’ has transcended conventional limits. Whilst everyone has the ability to capture each and every moment, the true challenge still lies in preserving an unwavering commitment to quality and talent. However, the democratisation of photography in the age of social media has not diluted the impact of the craft; instead, it has enriched the visual narrative, allowing diverse voices to be heard. Regardless, we must cultivate a discerning eye, recognising artistry in a world where its essence may be starting to be lost. 



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