Home / Photography Business Advice / What is the definition of “photograph” and why is it changing?

What is the definition of “photograph” and why is it changing?

As photographers and business owners we are constantly growing and changing our businesses.  To truly understand how we need to evolved, we must begin to understand what is a photograph?  Apparently the definition of the word is changing with the evolving culture and you may be surprised as to HOW we define the word “photograph” by the end of this article.  So… WHAT is a photograph and WHY can it be so many different things?

Is a selfie a photograph?  Is a camera phone photo a photograph? Is Instagram a compilation of photographs?  More than likely the answer to these questions can be both yes and no.

The emerging culture of new adults has seen the world through the jaded glasses of the internet and social media throughout most of their life.  They grew up texting and owning a cell phone and posting their every move, decisions and meal to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and more.  They don’t remember life before Starbucks and certainly not life before the internet.  They feel more comfortable texting or messaging someone on Snapchat, Kik or Line than they do speaking to someone in person. THESE are the customers of tomorrow.

What do older generations say a photograph is?

If you asked your parents or grandparents, “What is a photograph?” They will very likely pull out a printed photo or canvas as they tell you a story of that photo.  These photographs, they had meaning, they were investments, they offered a story and truly froze a moment in time.  They were memories that you held in your hands.

To many of the older generations, photographs were an investment or a luxury that only few had.  For some, school photos may be the only images they have of themselves growing up as their family could not afford a camera.

For others there may be 35mm prints or negatives.  Potentially they will even show you treasured memories of previous generations in the form of tattered black and white images that they hold dear.  Treasured pieces of lost loved ones.  Images of service men and women as they traveled the world ensuring our country’s freedom.

John Lennon
In the truest form of the statement, a photograph, is a memory, artfully captured by a skilled professional who forever emblazons a memory on paper (or canvas or wood or book etc.).

But, today, in one of the most affluent and wealthiest generations yet to live in our country, these “pics”, these “selfies”, these “snaps” are NOT photographs.  WHY?

Why is the definition of photograph changing?

How many times have you logged on to social media to see all your family and friends raving over these “cute”, “pretty” pictures?  You sit there thinking, that is HORRIBLE!  Awful lighting, poor composition, bad exposure, not a bit of art to it?

Are you a bitter old photographer? Well maybe but that is another story for another day.  But this goes to prove our point. Far too many people don’t know any better.

In recent years we have begun to see a flood of “pics” across all areas of life, social media, the internet etc.  The cost of cameras decreases as every smart phone now contains a digital camera with more megapixels than my first professional digital.  With this flood has also come a watered down sense of what a photograph truly is.


The sad facts about photography today.

The sad fact is that most young adults, cannot tell the difference between good, better or best photography.  They can barely see the difference between good and BAD photography!  Many of these apps offer photo manipulation at their hands.  People proudly post their “pro” photos edited on their Iphone with “filters” and they “Snap” pics with goofy flower crown and animal faces that distort the actual image to the point that you don’t even know who the person is in the photo!

All for what?  For a few people to like their photo and tell them it is CUTE?  Or better yet for your oh so precious “snap” to disappear in 48 hours?  There is now emerging the generation that is by far, the most photographed generation in history and yet they enjoy these photographs the LEAST of any generation before them.

Is it because “pics” are a dime a dozen now?  They no longer require an investment.  You can snap a pic anytime you want on your cell phone and for many that is good enough.  You can head to your local Walmart or Walgreens and hook you phone right into the machine and make prints?  Maybe.

Is it because you show up to weddings and there are people in the crowd with equal or better gear than you have?  Potentially.

Is it because we have cheapened the profession of “photographer” with digital files instead of canvases and digital galleries instead of proofs?  Perhaps.

The GOOD news about photography!

This article is not meant to be a Debbie downer, “Go out and find another job because if you are a photographer you are screwed” type post.  Because I don’t feel that at all.  It is meant to open the eyes of anyone reading this.  The definition of photograph is changing and you CAN change with it.

The best news is.  The definition is totally subjective!  A photograph can be anything you want to be and MEAN whatever you tell your clients it means.  And THAT is okay!  You can continue to make this profession your own and bring value to your art.

For whatever the reason, the definition of photograph is changing.  So what are you to do about this changing profession of photographer?  I think it’s time for YOU to tell us?  How are YOU dealing with the changing landscape of the photograph?  We would love to hear from you!

Be sure to join us next week as we share with you what you are REALLY selling as photographers… hint… it’s NOT photographs!



The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!