Viewpoint

Has the rise of smart­phone tech­nol­ogy bridged the gap be­tween am­a­teur and pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­phers? It’s not as straight­for­ward as that, ar­gues Jon Bent­ley

Amateur Photographer - - 7days - Jon Bent­ley

Ev­ery­one’s a pho­tog­ra­pher th­ese days!’ It’s a com­plaint you of­ten hear from pro­fes­sion­als. The im­pli­ca­tion be­ing that thanks to the af­ford­abil­ity and ac­ces­si­bil­ity of dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy, and the om­nipres­ence of com­pe­tent smart­phone cam­eras, the gap be­tween the am­a­teur and the pro­fes­sional has nar­rowed. There are no longer so many bar­ri­ers to en­try that help pro­tect pros’ es­teem and earn­ing power.

I’m not con­vinced the grievance is jus­ti­fied. In some ways I think the fi­nan­cial in­vest­ment re­quired to ap­proach pro­fes­sional stan­dards is higher now than 30 or 40 years ago. I bought my first de­cent SLR and dark­room equip­ment with earn­ings from hol­i­day and part-time jobs while I was at school. I re­mem­ber the Nikon FE cost a lit­tle over £200, and the dark­room kit tens of pounds on top of that.

I can re­call think­ing back then, while try­ing my hand at shoot­ing black & white por­traits and land­scapes, that I was us­ing kit equiv­a­lent, or close, in qual­ity to that favoured by lu­mi­nar­ies of the day. Pho­tog­ra­phers like Jane Bown with her Olym­pus, Homer Sykes and Fay Godwin with their Le­icas and even Arnold New­man, in his 35mm work, with his Nikon F. There were no ex­pen­sive sen­sors to be­come ob­so­lete – whether novice or mae­stro, your im­ages were recorded on sim­i­larly af­ford­able rolls of Tri-X and HP5.

Af­ter I’d loaded some Ko­dachrome 25 I had the means at my dis­posal to shoot pic­tures of cars that, at least tech­ni­cally, were po­ten­tially good enough to grace the cover of my favourite mo­tor­ing mag­a­zine Car. When I spun my cheap en­larger round 90 de­grees, point­ing it at the wall, I could even pro­duce high qual­ity 16x20in ex­hi­bi­tion prints at very rea­son­able cost, partly thanks to the de­cent yet af­ford­able Mi­nolta Rokkor lens I’d cho­sen for it.

Th­ese days costs and, it has to be said, tech­ni­cal stan­dards have in­creased. I’d need much deeper pock­ets now to feel I had pro­fes­sional- qual­ity equip­ment. While sam­pling Nikon’s ex­cel­lent new D850 the other week I couldn’t help think­ing how ex­pen­sive such top-notch cam­eras have be­come. My old, ad­mit­tedly only ‘semi-pro­fes­sional’ FE was about £1,100 in to­day’s money. To­day’s D850 is around £3,500. Even smart­phones with the best cam­eras are get­ting more ex­pen­sive, not less. Top- end iPhones and the Sam­sung Galaxy Note 8, for ex­am­ple, are nearly as ex­pen­sive in real terms as my 1970s FE.

Cheaper and per­fectly de­cent cam­era op­tions than the D850 are of course avail­able, but all the rest of the kit you need for most 21st- cen­tury pho­to­graphic ca­reers has to be con­sid­ered. A com­puter with Light­room and Pho­to­shop isn’t cheap; a large-for­mat inkjet printer would add an­other grand or two, and then there’s the cost of a high- qual­ity mon­i­tor, colour cal­i­bra­tion kits and all the stor­age re­quired for your huge files.

What makes ev­ery­one a pho­tog­ra­pher th­ese days isn’t more af­ford­able tech­nol­ogy, it’s a more wide­spread en­thu­si­asm for pic­ture-tak­ing and greater op­por­tu­ni­ties to share and con­sume pic­tures. I sus­pect the fi­nan­cial bar­ri­ers in terms of equip­ment re­quired to be a se­ri­ous pro­fes­sional are, in many photo-tak­ing fields, higher than ever.

‘Back then, there were no ex­pen­sive sen­sors to be­come ob­se­lete’

Jon’s shot of Pe­ter Morgan, us­ing very sim­i­lar kit to many pro­fes­sion­als of the day

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