5 Ways Pop Culture Has Transformed Photography

The ultimate digital-age resource for anyone pursuing a career in photography, Profitable Photography in the Digital Age explains the fundamental shifts within the photography industry since the inception of digital imaging and the Internet and explores how you can still make a living.

by Avril Delaney

Thanks to the ever improving quality of smartphone cameras and photo-sharing social media outlets like Instagram, everyone is now a photographer. Instagram filters and editing apps like Snapseed and VSCO Cam allow users to quickly create sometimes quite stunning photos and post them online to be seen by hundreds, if not thousands of people, instantly. Whether this cheapens or democratizes the art form is a matter of much debate, but what is certain is that it has changed the way we think about and experience photography as an artistic and journalistic medium.

Avril Delaney, Chief Content Editor of image-sourcing platform ImageBrief explores 5 ways in which social media has influenced the world of photography:

1. The Selfie Generation

This image has been licensed solely for PERSONAL, NONCOMMERCIAL use and TEST or SAMPLE use, including COMPS and LAYOUTS and may not be used in any final materials distributed inside or outside the licensee or any related entity. License granted for a period of 30 days from date of download from www.imagebrief.com. Image IMG-648835-583944. Copyright Ozzy Jaime/ImageBrief.com

Photo © Ozzy Jaime

Selfies are nothing new. From Rembrandt’s tronies to Robert Cornelius’ famous daguerreotype, self-portraiture has long been a go-to practice for the visual artist in need of a cheap, readily available subject. Still, while these people relied on their own visages as a means of improving their craft, today’s Instagram selfie—as well as its forefather, the Myspace mirror-shot—is usually nothing more than a cheap exercises in vanity. So much so that the Instagram selfie has more or less become a symbol for the vapidity of the millennial generation. But the selfie craze has also caused an interesting backlash among some photographers who’ve used the sheer volume and general mundanity of Instagram selfies as inspiration to push their own self-portraiture further, or even turn the phenomenon itself into a subject.

2. Analog Aesthetics

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Photo © David Tribby

For the most part, digital and smartphone cameras have replaced film, while Instagram filters and editing apps have replaced the darkroom, which has led to an increased interest in the photo processing techniques of the past. For many, digital photography is too clean, too bloodless and too predictable.

And we see this sentiment reflected in the aesthetics of a great deal of modern photography, where the use of film and the visual language of the analog and/or disposable camera (i.e. harsh frontal flash, film burns, over saturation etc.) have become sought-after markers of authenticity, often copied, but never quite duplicated by digital editing apps.

3. #IWuzHere


Photo © Sash Alexander

From the concert venue to the art gallery to the swanky rooftop bar, you weren’t really there unless you posted it on Instagram. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Allowing users to tag, exchange and search photos of an event expands the feeling of community that shared social experiences create. No matter how good the band is, a concert is more enjoyable when it is packed, and a searchable pool of hashtagged and geotagged online photos allows that insular crowd to extend this feeling of community into the digital space. Still, amateur concert photography has plenty of detractors and it is now something of a trend for bands to complain about audience photos/videos (many have actually tried to ban it). And although this might make them sound a bit old-fashioned, they make a decent point.

4. Lost in the Noise

This image has been licensed solely for PERSONAL, NONCOMMERCIAL use and TEST or SAMPLE use, including COMPS and LAYOUTS and may not be used in any final materials distributed inside or outside the licensee or any related entity. License granted for a period of 30 days from date of download from www.imagebrief.com. Image IMG-800063-988704. Copyright Luis Sandoval Mandujano/ImageBrief.com

Photo © Luis Sandoval Mandujano

When Nick Ut’s famous ‘Napalm Girl’ graced almost every front page in the country, it sparked a national conversation. The photo of a naked, badly burned 9 year old Vietnamese girl running from a U.S. napalm attack had such a major effect on the social consciousness during the Vietnam War that even President Nixon took note. The idea of a single photograph having such an impact on the culture today is unthinkable. Most of the photojournalism we encounter today is done by so-called ‘citizen journalists’ whose blurry iPhone pictures and shaky videos get picked up and instantly pumped out all over the internet and cable TV. They pop up on our Twitter and Facebook feeds, where an image of an ISIS beheading is given the same amount of space as a Buzzfeed quiz, or your aunt’s vacation photos. They come with ‘Graphic Image’ warnings, so even if we don’t accidentally scroll right past them, we can still choose to ignore them. The social media explosion has given us the incredible ability to share our photos and stories with the entire world in a matter of seconds, but more often than not, images that previously might have made an impact just get lost in the noise.

5. We’re all Mad Men


Photo © David Burstein

Commercial photography, one of the few arenas in which photographers/visual artists can still make some decent money, is also being encroached upon by Instagram and its ilk. By now we’ve all seen crowd sourced ad campaigns like this one from Honda or this Taco Bell commercial made entirely with user submitted Instagram photos. Social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook provide corporations and PR agencies with potentially endless pools of free content, leaving little room in the advertising world for interesting art and photography.The broad digitization of culture has permanently altered the world of photography. But not all of these changes have been for the worse. It’s true that social media has further eroded the line between artist and layman, but for many serious photographers it has also been a source of inspiration. We’re now left with the difficult task of finding creative new ways to push the art form forward—and we’re up for the challenge.

Avril Delaney is Chief Content Editor at ImageBrief, an online platform where creatives from the world’s largest advertising agencies, brands and publishers license images direct from insanely talented photographers. Find more of her work on ImageBrief’s blog or follow her on Twitter.

T4107NY Through the Lens

By Vivienne Gucwa

Almost ten years ago, Vivienne Gucwa started to walk the streets of New York with her camera in hand. Deciding on a direction and traveling as far as her legs would take her she began to recognize lines, forms and structures she had previously paid little attention to. With a simple point and shoot camera she started exploring her city and capturing the momentary, ephemeral qualities of her home town. With no academic training in photography she was surprised to find tremendous popularity when she began posting her photos online. She’s amassed a massive following. Her mastery of light, composition and color has won her wide recognition in the photography community. Get it here.

2 thoughts on “5 Ways Pop Culture Has Transformed Photography

  1. ChristyL

    Interesting article. I personally think that the Instagram era has had a positive impact on photography. In that, we have suddenly had to reevaluate the merits of “the picture”. A more real, starker type of photography is developing. Non-stocky images and video are actually shown to be more appealing and the modern art of photography seems to have recaptured some of the spirit of a true artist with natural raw talent rather than a technically perfect image or video which can often seem lifeless. This revolution is exactly what companies like Image Brief and Content Eleven want to be part of. I think the future looks bright…through a lens.