Disrupt Yourself Before you Wreck Yourself

I am lucky enough to be able to say that this is my second time studying at Newhouse in my career. The first time was when I was a member of the Military Photojournalism Program class of 2004-2005. At the time, I was way out of my league as an Army journalist without much formal photo training in a class of very talented photographers from the rest of the military services. It was an amazing opportunity and I learned volumes about photography from people who truly believed (and still do, I hope) in the purity and importance of photography as an art form.

That experience gave me a unique perspective as I saw, over the next few years, the rise of digital photography for the masses, eventually including smartphone photography, which has cut out the need for a separate camera and made fine photography accessible. I saw how classically trained photographers became frustrated as their jobs were outsourced, essentially, to technology that anyone could operate. Looking at it from the perspective of the Innovator’s Dilemma, I see the photography industry as a prime example of an industry that was disrupted by technology and failed to disrupt itself in time.

For a long time, photography was a skilled trade that required specific education and training, as well as expensive equipment and technical know-how. Because of this high price of entrance, so to speak, photography was seen as an art form, or at least as an impressive skill. Then, camera phones arrived. Obviously the first several iterations of camera phone were nowhere near the quality of “real” cameras, so the photography industry was probably not too worried. Camera companies continued making newer, more feature-laden cameras, and while the DSLR cameras made fine photography easier for untrained consumers, there was still a significant learning curve in operating these cameras, and in editing the photos after they were taken. Meanwhile, smartphones continued improving their camera quality until all of a sudden, they could take photos at the same or higher resolution than DSLRs. They are also packed with features like in-camera editing, slow-motion video, panoramic photos, and they are housed in a device that is seen as a necessity for pretty much everyone these days, so people are buying them anyway. The average consumer does not have much reason to invest in an expensive camera these days, when the smartphone they carry with them everywhere can meet all their photography needs. Sure, true professionals still use the expensive equipment, but even professional photographers use smartphones for projects, and the quality is often almost identical to the casual viewer. IMG_1631

So, while I’ll always love Nikon cameras, I’ll have a hard time convincing myself in the future to invest thousands of dollars in a top-of-the-line DSLR when my phone can not only take some beautiful, high-resolution photos, but can also make me look like a red panda (or is it a fox?). What could be more entertaining than that?!



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