Ten Years of Digital

11th November 2017
I got my first digital camera ten years ago last month. It was a Canon IXUS 860 IS. Most phones have better cameras on them these days but at the time it wasn't a bad little compact, though I didn't really know enough about cameras to have been able to make that judgement then. The previous year I'd bought my first SLR while visiting an uncle in Boston (electronics were invariably cheaper in the States back then). I remember the shop clerk trying to convince me to buy digital but I was having none of it. I had absolutely no idea about cameras but had this idea in my mind that digital couldn't be as good as film and would give me nothing but 'fake' looking pictures. I'll repeat that I had next to no knowledge of photography back then. I just knew I wanted to make pictures. Not long afterwards I was on a whale watching boat and one person on board thought it funny that I had to be sparing in my use of the shutter button because film wasn't cheap.

Nowadays film cameras are mostly just for older photography enthusiasts with lots of spare money and hipsters with ideas of irony. The use of the word digital in front of the word camera seems redundant. Our lives are becoming more and more digital in every aspect, and photography is no different. It's been changed enormously because of the digital revolution. And by now, while I'm still not a full-blown technophile, I've wholeheartedly taken digital photography onboard.

I now have ten years worth of images on hard drives, where shoe boxes full of cheap negatives and glossy prints would have been. I now edit my images myself, instead of handing the little film tubs into a chemists or electronics shop and waiting a few days to see what they turned out like. I've advanced my skills through trial and error a thousand times faster than I might have with film. I've made images that ten years ago would have absolutely blown my mind. The rest of the world has been moving along with advancements in photography too though, so most of my wow images are less mind blowing compared to the new standard that digital has helped bring along. Nonetheless, it's been a decade of big change for me, and my main goal with photography is being realised, if only on a small scale - to get people to appreciate the natural beauty in the world around them. My idea of what this means has changed in the past ten years too, but the basic principle remains the same. The natural world has its own intrinsic value, worth protecting for its own sake (as much as for the economic angle of "ecosystem services" it provides us). If photographs can help people realise the wonder of the world then they can act both as sources of inspiration for individuals who see them and as protectors of the subjects in the images. Humans tend not to love something they don't know, and without love people aren't going to feel the need to protect something. If photographs can inspire people to realise the amazement of the world around them it'll take them one step closer to trying to help protect it.

Obviously there's an environmental slant to everything said just there. One of the arguments against environmentalism is that people can't be expected to go back to being cave-dwelling hunter-gatherers. Being 'green' is often seen as bringing things back to a pre-Industrial Revolution kind of lifestyle, devoid of any advanced technology. But I don't think there are many people who believe that to be a serious model of future human existence. Advances in technology are what has propelled Homo sapiens into the unparalleled levels of species success we find ourselves in today. At no other time in recent history has there been as much opportunity for people as there is now. Death rates are dropping, child mortality is dropping, famines and wars are still prevalent but they're scarcer than ever before. Technology has undoubtedly been behind these advances in quality of life (I'm speaking generally here, obviously plenty of people are still in dire straits). And further advances in technology will continue to enhance our opportunities into the future, and indeed solve many of the problems we face.

The rise of digital photography is a small time player in the grander scheme of things but I've no doubt it has its part in making people more aware of the world around them, as well as the need to help keep it healthy.

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