The Rise of Mirrorless Photography: Are You Prepared for the Evolution?

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The topic of mirrorless photography seems to be everywhere these days, and it certainly stirs up controversy in its wake, with photographers seeming to pick one “side” or the other.

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I recently wrote an article for Digital-Photography-School.com all about mirrorless photography, and in specific about how it’s changed me as a photographer. The article went viral, with close to 9,000 shares on social media and close to 40,000 photographers taking the corresponding “poll” about mirrorless photography. I estimate that the reach of the article was probably close to 150,000 photographers. Again, like other articles on mirrorless photography, it stirred up a lot of discussions.

Mirrorless technology will change the future of photography, and I’m ok with it.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room – change. In general, people don’t like change. We become comfortable with the status quo and when anything comes along to shake that up, we get our backs up against the wall and put on our “defensive” hat.

Photographers vs Change

A look at our history

Photographers in specific aren’t a stranger to change, and as such, we are familiar with resisting change.

  • In the 1930’s when the Brownie became the “consumer’s camera”, photographers worried and stressed that it would commoditize photography. It didn’t.
  • In the 1980’s when professional photographers were switching from Medium Format to SLR cameras for weddings and portraits, some pro’s dug their heels in deep saying that SLR would never “make it” for professionals. It did.
  • In the late 1990’s and the early 2000’s when the switch from film to digital was happening, many photographers resisted the change, stating that you couldn’t do with digital technology what you can do with analog technology. Look at where we’re at today.
  • There were surely similar resistances and arguments against autofocus, in-camera metering, and so on.

My point is this – change is inevitable. In fact, there’s a famous quote by Greek Philosopher, Heraclitus that says “the only thing that is constant is change”.

The only thing that is constant is change</p> <p>– Heraclitus

We should learn from our history that change is mostly for the betterment of our industry and that we should consider adopting. This isn’t to say that you must jump on the latest and greatest thing every time, but it means that you shouldn’t be closed to new ideas. Innovation is what pushes our world forward, and you should seek excitement and inspiration from it. Side note: if you’d like to learn more about “change” as a topic, I suggest the book “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson. It’s a short parable about the importance of adapting to the changes around us.

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Mirrorless photography is the next “shift” in our industry

The topic of “mirrorless cameras” has photographers arguing on and off the web. Let’s re-consider our point of view by remembering that the only change in life is constant, and that we’ve been in similar positions many times in our history where change inevitably took over, whether we liked it or not. There’s never been anything positive that has come from arguing or challenging just for the sake of doing so. Our history is proof of this. Some photographers say that many of the benefits of mirrorless (EVF, size, ease-of-use, affordability) are a bad thing for our industry because it makes great photography more accessible to everyone. Let’s discuss and dissect this.

What makes a great photographer?

There are four main components that make up a great photographer:

  1. Technical knowledge. This includes the foundations of photography such as light and posing, knowledge in the basics such as shutter speed, white balance, aperture, ISO, and incorporates the technical theory and know-how in making a great image.
  2. Technical follow-through. This is the physical application of the technical knowledge above. It’s knowing how to set the shutter speed, aperture, how to focus, meter, and so on.
  3. Artistry and creativity. This is the artistic expression of the photographer, and includes composition, lines, mood, feeling, storytelling, and so on.
  4. Personality. We all know that you can be technically the greatest photographer, but if you want to take pictures of people, then you must have the right personality for it. You must make people feel comfortable, warm and welcome in front of the camera and therefore it’s a big part of the equation in the discussion of people photography.

Citing our examples above, in the 1930’s when the Brownie became mainstream, photographers worried that they’d be going out of business because now everyone could take their own pictures.

They thought that having the equipment was enough. Obviously, over the past several decades, we’ve seen a huge shift in that mentality. No longer is it about having the equipment and knowing how to use it. Today, many consumers have pro-level equipment and can “technically” make a decent image, but note that this doesn’t make them a great photographer.

Photographers must learn to separate themselves through knowledge, creativity and personality.

Why Mirrorless Photography?

If we look at the four components of a great photographer, above, I would argue that in theory, a mirrorless camera makes #2 (technical follow-through) easier.

It makes seeing the exposure, setting the shutter speed, seeing white balance and seeing the tonality easier. Let’s remember, though, that #2 (technical follow-through) is really only the practical application of #1 (technical knowledge) and without a solid foundation in the basics of photography, then the follow-through of such is just on the surface.

The fact that it makes technical follow-through easier doesn’t inherently make you more artistic nor does it make you more likeable behind the camera. What I’m suggesting is that mirrorless cameras will make the technical follow-through easier for everyone. As the mass-market adopts this technology, we’ll see more images with bokeh, better exposures, consistent white balance, sharper files and more decent imagery.

But bokeh, exposure, white balance and sharpness do not make an image great, and we know that, so why are professional photographers so scared? Why are professional photographers so much against it?

How mirrorless photography will change our industry

My prediction is that mirrorless photography will take over our future just like SLR’s took over medium format and digital took over film. I predict that mirrorless photography is the next big shift. Consumers and professionals will continue to adopt these mirrorless cameras and the manufactures will continue to improve the technology that goes into them. I predict that the technical follow-through will become irrelevant and will become commonplace. We’ll see bokeh, good exposure, good white balance and sharper files flooding Facebook and social media. Decent images will become the norm. What does that mean to our industry, then? It means that the only way to truly make great images from hereon out will be:

  • Technical knowledge
  • Artistry and creativity
  • Personality

This flips the whole conversation on its head – it means that professional photographers will be able to separate themselves from others by having a strong foundation in photographic techniques, by being uniquely creative and by having a likeable personality. This will actually improve our industry, because right now, many every-day folks pick up a new DSLR, discover bokeh, start a photography Facebook page and their friends think they’re amazing. The bokeh and clarity is better than an iPhone image and so obviously it looks amazing to them, comparatively speaking. When this becomes the norm, however, then it’s no longer amazing. Once technical follow-through is status quo, the only way to be great and impress your friends will be to be a great photographer. Interesting concept, isn’t it?

“I choose not to be stuck in the status quo. I am open to, am excited about and am adapting change.”

Time to Rethink the Way you Shoot, Photographer

Technological advancements will raise the standards of photography by separating the “decent” from the “great” by emphasizing their artistry, their vision, their education, their experience and their personality.

We must open our minds to this fundamental shift, because it’s not going away. Don’t be a “grumpy” (you must read Dane Sander’s Fast Track Photographer to know what a “grumpy” is) and resist the inevitable change that is happening right in front of our eyes. Instead, be excited by it, embrace it and take advantage of it to breathe new life into our work.

Assuming all of this, let’s not forget that even a great photographer doesn’t necessarily mean a successful professional photographer, because we all know that if you want to succeed in this business, you must have a solid foundation in the business of being creative. Oh … and that’s what we’re here to help you through!

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