Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Photographers, embrace Instagram

By Richard Koci Hernandez, Special to CNN
October 15, 2012 -- Updated 1507 GMT (2307 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Richard Hernandez: Smartphones have ushered in a golden age for photography
  • He says that one can be creative in many ways, including the use of nostalgic filters
  • Hernandez: But some professionals see it as the end of skill and craft in photography
  • He says photo apps won't magically turn people into Richard Avedon

Editor's note: Richard Koci Hernandez is a national Emmy award-winning multimedia producer who has worked as a photojournalist for more than 15 years. A two-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, he currently teaches at the University of California's Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

(CNN) -- It's the greatest magic trick in the world. This act of wizardry is performed hundreds of millions of times every day with the press of a button, or more increasingly, with a gentle tap of the screen -- and poof, time stops.

The magic is photography.

Today, we're taking and uploading more than 200 million images per day via Facebook alone. Our phones have become our recording devices. Or as I like to see it: My camera can also make calls.

Richard Koci Hernandez
Richard Koci Hernandez

Smartphones have ushered in a golden age for photography. But disappointingly, much of the conversation has been focused on the device and the use of faux nostalgic filters rather than on how photographers can choose from a wide range of possibilities to be creative.

Art photography: When reality isn't good enough

We mustn't forget -- a magician's props, like a photographer's choice of camera, are only part of the illusion created. When the rabbit is pulled from the hat, its color or breed is irrelevant. What's important is the magician's ability to artfully make the rabbit appear and ultimately evoke astonishment from the audience. In photography, the equivalent is taking an image that evokes strong feelings, regardless of which device captured the picture or its nostalgic hue.

Smartphones have democratized photography, and Instagram, in particular, has given us an unprecedented platform for our snapshots. But instead of marveling at all the choices, there's some grumbling. Some professionals feel threatened as they see the playing field leveling; they interpret it as the end of skill and craft in photography. They should have no fear of such a thing.

12 tips to become a better smartphone photographer

Photography is rooted in the rich culture of amateurism. What's happening today is similar to the original proliferation of Kodak's Brownie camera starting in 1900. An inexpensive and easy-to-use camera in every hand didn't usher in the end of photography or automatically turn everybody into Richard Avedon.

Photo apps won't magically give Jane the smartphone photographer a better sense of composition, or lighting, or framing. The apps and filters only change a photo's look and aesthetic feel. That doesn't make it a better photo. If you put lipstick on a pig, it's still a pig.

Photographing with a smartphone

For me, photography is my memory. I've chosen photography to prove that I exist. I see my captured view of the world as my search for meaning. For me, words are often inadequate, so I choose to define my experiences with photographs.

This little act of magic does not divorce me -- as the critic Susan Sontag implied in her book, "On Photography" -- from the here and now. In fact, it deepens my bond to the present moment.

An image I take, sprinkled with synthetic nostalgia, tells all: "I was here and this is what I saw." The camera phone allows me to offer a small taste of my here and now, on unprecedented levels, to a global audience with astonishing immediacy.

Why I use filters

The pictures of my childhood had a warmish, faded, slightly out of focus feeling. They are the memory of things past, comfort food for the eyes. It seems natural for me to add the option of nostalgic filters to my photographic process.

When we discover an old, faded, cracked and torn image, we handle it with care and respect. Time has honored it with its blessing.

My digital images, however, will never see the ravages of time. They'll always remain, preserved, pristine and forever in their original state, in the perfection of now, without the possibility of the flaws of the past creeping in and eroding it.

I want my memories, like the prints of my childhood, to fade, to mix with the ether of all that has come before. Because I know that time cannot touch my digital images, I add in the passage of time by using filters.

Embracing the present

It is all about time. It's about the time we are losing, and what the future will do to our memories. It's about the fact that technology can instantaneously compress our collective thoughts and images into binary digits of 1's and 0's.

We have a sea of images now. On the horizon, I see the forming of a new photographic language. Let's embrace photography, as it exists now. And let's continue to find our individual voice, perspectives, stories and style, regardless of the medium.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Richard Koci Hernandez.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1611 GMT (0011 HKT)
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1724 GMT (0124 HKT)
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 0106 GMT (0906 HKT)
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1516 GMT (2316 HKT)
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1434 GMT (2234 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
August 28, 2014 -- Updated 1432 GMT (2232 HKT)
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 0243 GMT (1043 HKT)
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
August 30, 2014 -- Updated 1722 GMT (0122 HKT)
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1330 GMT (2130 HKT)
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
August 29, 2014 -- Updated 1849 GMT (0249 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT