Does the endless availability of information (and subsequent addiction to gaining "knowledge") actually "kill" the process of enjoying photography?

 The imminent disappearance of Digital Photography Review (DPR) has been rattling around in my brain since I read about it yesterday. In the moment I wrote about what I thought the effect of this deletion would mean financially, both for camera companies and also the many thousands of bloggers and v-loggers that depend on the residual effects of freely and widely promoting so much gear with so much online content. And content delivered with so much detail.

The site itself is like a clearing house for comments, opinions and other ruminations from photographers all over the world. But at its essential core it's a commercial site that uses the promotion of material desire to profit, and to do so requires that the content be made as "sticky" as possible. The goal is to keep a visitor engaged as deeply and for as long as is possible. The hope is that some percentage of the millions of visitors will click on the ads and links and that will end up resulting in sales. Rants, brand tribalism and differences of opinion are part of that sticky glue that keeps people coming back. 

One thing I've found out over the course of my life is the "need" of many, many people to exhaustively research everything they do. Everything they buy and everything they use in their own processes. Consciously or unconsciously the people who have been engineering content on Amazon's DPR site have understood that set of needs for well over a decade which is why the news feed about the industry is constant and the reviews are done only, mostly, for the more popular camera types and brands. The ones most likely to sell well. The  content helps to fulfill the audience's need to sit in front of computers, phones, iPads, etc. and "research, research, research."

In some ways this could be a result of the demographics of serious, potential camera buyers. Since high end cameras could be considered luxury goods which are far better than what is needed for most photographic engagements (or real world photo work) and since a huge percentage of the people in the world can not conceivably afford to buy them it seems obvious to me that most buyers came through a college education and entered a professional workplace. The education and even the protocols of "information technology" work require doing research. Research sounds good. Research drives innovation (sometimes) while less financially rewarding work is much more codified and routine. Not requiring the proclivity for deep research.

While most people who buy expensive cameras (meaning, in this context now, any camera that's more capable and more expensive than a smart phone) start with the plan to spend much time out shooting photographs I suspect that the most avid camera consumers, because of their education and corporate training, are actually more compelled to use any camera purchase as the starting point to begin researching  (avidly and with little concern for efficiency of time) their next step up in the hierarchy of cameras. The vaunted "upgrade path." And this need for research and "advancement" is exactly what sites like DPR have long provided, enabled, goaded and manipulated. 

If the only goal of a photographer is to make a good photograph we could have decided never  to have embraced digital imaging and we'd still be able to make great pictures with film cameras. If we'd copied the process we used for buying film cameras, replacing camera bodies maybe every five to seven years (or more) the sites would have had so much less power over us. Less compelling reasons to park on a site for the purpose of "urgent" research. Less time spent seated and scrolling.

I think it was well known that we all could have stopped buying "up" the digital camera chain at any time past 2010 and realized just as good photographs as we get from current gear except in the most obscure and specialized fields. And having stopped our research, reading and forum disputes we would have had much more time to walk through the streets, forests, cities and the landscape of human relationships and make photographs that would have been superior because our time would have been spent researching the subjects and relationships of ourselves to our passions instead of making images to "prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that camera XXX had 00.15% more dynamic range than camera YYY."

We talk about the  idea that these big sites help us build community but from an overview perspective I think the readily available "bait" and the "promise of superior technical results" pushed us away from actual hands on experience and actual community to a much bigger degree than we think. We spent less time, not more, with other people. Less time engaged in face-to-face conversations. Less time photographing subjects because we like them and not just photographing random stuff to show off the wide open edge definition of some new lens offering some insanely fast aperture. 

We basically, as an online community, imprisoned ourselves in little clusters in the forums to either argue about the buying decisions we made or were going to make, or to argue endlessly about minutiae that has little relevance to our real lives. Or to our photography. 

I'm certainly not immune to the whole idea of researching cameras and lenses and I've spent too much time over the years reading it on so many different sites. But I think I know the solution. It's as easy as turning off the computers and phones, picking up a camera that you enjoy using, and heading out the door to make photographs of subjects that you, personally, find to be interesting. 

The next step is to engage, in person, with people who share your interests in photography. Meet for coffee. Meet for walks. Push each other into fun projects. Help knock down the barriers to actually engaging in the non-virtual pursuit of photographs and fun instead of becoming an endless internet voyeur of gear buying. Or worse, a continuous gear researcher. 

In the end who really cares if your miracle lens resolves a few more veins on leaves at the very edge of a frame? And who in the world would willingly spend minutes, hours and days trying to prove or disprove "equivalence?" 

Perhaps it takes the death of a historic site to get people out of their seats and on to their feet with a camera in their hand, a plan in their head, and the joyful anticipation of what awaits them as they step across the threshold of their homes and into the real world around them.

Sometimes I go hours without drinking coffee. It's called sleeping.


Roland Tanglao said...

i have no plan. i just go out with my Sony RX10IV and take photos! that's my "plan" :-) it works for me #ymmv :-)

John Krumm said...

The truth for me is that I used to do the exact same thing pre-internet using magazines. I was into motorcycles, and I would read almost every motorcycle magazine cover to cover, often multiple times. I could tell you model weight and horsepower, and summary of reviews. The internet is like an always updating magazine, but with the addition of forums, which adds the ability to argue with other readers. It's definitely a huge time-suck. I've become a slightly better photographer, but a much better typist. I will miss DPR, but I will welcome the time not spent arguing about things that don't matter.

I did just join the Fred Miranda forums. I took a look and it's user supported with fees, and while there are gear forums, they put the image sharing forums front and center. I'll try it for a year.

Michael Matthews said...

Now that I have a working computer (Mac mini) and…for the first time…a 4K monitor, I’ve been setting up a stripped down Lightroom CC catalog, weeding out endless, useless duplicates, etc.. As I sort through old stuff, II find that the shots made with my Nikon D80 more than ten years ago are every bit as good (or bad) as those made with three subsequent cameras. Popped up to full-screen, the images produced by the Nikon’s 10 megapixel CCD sensor suffer not the least in comparison to those offered up by the 16 and 20 megapixel CMOS sensors which followed. Any of them, given similar subject matter, can be made to look exactly like any other with just a very few Lightroom Classic slider moves. All that time spent dithering over gear decisions…..

Anonymous said...

This is, very subtly, one of Kirk's most astute observations. How many of us spend more time on stupid internet sites talking and reading and watching and writing about minor minutiae than actually planning and taking photos? To what extent has the argument and counter-argument engaged us in needless overthinking of why we need this, or how there is a unique set of colors/glow/soul of this inanimate consumer object or that one? Not to mention the primary raison d'etre of many such sites: to make us feel inadequate with what we have, thereby inducing the desire and perceived need to always require just a little bit more.

Jon Maxim said...

Hi Kirk. This is all very well, but where will I go now to fuel my GAS?

Anonymous said...

I think Chris and Jordan are truly camera gear geeks like most of us, but they also understand the need to be entertaining for the sake of attracting and sustaining an audience. If in the process it also sustains the industry and consumers, I suppose there is a net benefit to us all. There will always be a parallel or concurrent existence of the nuts and bolts of gear and the art and science of capturing the image but, again, if one or both of these create the desire to engage in the craft and subsequently become a consumer, we all benefit. By the way, on the most recent DP Review TV video, Chris discusses his journey to becoming a Leica fan.

Anonymous said...

Jon, Petapixel will soon have Chris and Jordan hosting their YouTube channel.

Mike Shwarts said...

You have a good point. But DPReview had some other values. I know people will complain about the arguing in the forums. Almost all forums have arguments. However, the forums were great for learning about obscure combinations of camera, lens, teleconverter etc. Want to buy a $150 teleconverter for you Tamron 70-300mm to get more range until you can afford that Sigma 60-600mm? Ask about the combo on the DPR forums. Somebody will be along to tell you it works, but autofocus is slow except on sunny days. Can't find something in the manual? Somebody will tell you that Sony uses a different term for what you are searching.

Anonymous said...

The forums have been less prone to violent disagreement and vitriol than the news pages. I will miss the adapted lens forum in particular.

Gordon R. Brown said...

Re: Chris discusses his journey to becoming a Leica fan.

A request for Anonymous: A search in DPReview TV showed the most recent video was from January, discussing a Canon camera. If you would be so kind, please provide a link to the video you cited so that VSL readers won't have to search through 442 videos.

Mitch said...

FOMO (fear of missing out) is a powerful social force.

Camera specification sites and manufacturers seem to have learned this long ago.

These sites provided me with invaluable information, education and community of like minded professionals and were indispensable.

Uh, invaluable circa 2003. When I was converting my newspaper to digital and all of us were somewhat lost in a wide wilderness, figuring it all out together. Like how to write AT&SO modem commands to get our StarTac telephones to connect to our candy color clamshell MacBooks to get our 600K Nikon D1H Jpegs shipped back to our newspapers with all this miracle tech.

The value pretty much began to decline for me after Rob Galbraith shut down his site all those years ago.

(Got to get back to editing the job I shot today on my Circa 2015 Nikon D750's)

Anonymous said...

“Bootstrap” Bill Turner was a frequent contributor to the Olympus forum. He died in 2011 and many on the forum were saddened by his passing. He often posted pictures of fences labeled “da fence”. Every time I take a picture with a fence in it I think about this man I only knew about from the forum. That’s what I got out of DPR.

Eric Rose said...

I started a photography group here in Calgary 18 years ago. It's NOT a club!! I hate photo CLUBS! Anyway we meet once a month and get out with whoever's available during the month. Coffees, beers and/or lunch somehow seems to happen as well.

Most of us have been doing serious photography since the 70's. Almost none of us give a crap about all the geek stuff. And yes most of us have digital cameras. As well as film. Some of us even have darkrooms that get used - gasp!

The stars of dpreview TV or whatever they call it are friends of mine. As most of you probably know they have landed over on PetaPixel. If I need to find out what I really need to know about xyz camera or dodad I go and ask one of them. I love having geeks for friends, it saves me a LOT of time. Time I can use to actually get out and DO photography rather than read about it.


Anonymous said...

Gordon,. Here's the link. Released just a few days ago. Chris talks about his Leica journey beginning at about 6:15 in the video.


gjhimages said...

I think it contributed to me becoming an internet photographer, spending far too much time in front of a screen and not enough time out shooting
Hopefully time spent with camera will now increase

Anonymous said...

Presumably AMZ bought DPR as a marketing mechanism to help contribute to the top and bottom lines. Assuming that's true, it underscores that it, one of the most popular internet photo sites, existed primarily to sell us stuff. In that case, to the extent we think of its staff as friends, comrades, mentors, is the extent to which they have been successful in capturing us.

On the other hand, since AMZ is letting this go, perhaps it didn't succeed in capturing us all that much after all, and the participant interest overrode the commercial aspect?

Having said that, I do hope there is some means of capturing the vast knowledge information (and misinformation) base.

But then, I miss the usenet days of almost 40 years ago:
rec.photo.equipment.medium-format etc.

crsantin said...

Unlike many here, I was not very interested nor invested in DPR. I would check it for news or updates but didn't bother with the forums and never really read the reviews beyond the conclusion paragraph, if at all. It's just a website. Life will go on. It's true that camera sales are in a steep decline and honestly, these companies are getting what they deserve. So are we. They spent years leading us down an upgrade path. New cameras every single year, new lenses and then new formats, new lens mounts with a slew of more new lenses. Relentless upgrades designed simply to take money out of our bank accounts. And we all bought into it. We let ourselves be manipulated. We convinced ourselves that this was the right way. Photography became spec based. Megapixels and AF modes and animal eye focus and high ISO performance.So I have no sympathy for DPR, its readers, us, or for Sony and all the others. Fuck em all.