My generation has already been labeled with countless monikers — the Millennials, Generation Y, Global Generation, Generation Next — but my aunt introduced a new name during one of her recent visits. While I was showing her photos of me and my friends, she declared, “I’m going to call your age group ‘Generation Photo-Generation P.’ You are all photographed so often that you are all way more photogenic than we ever were.”
She’s right — cameras have become so commonplace in today’s culture that many people my age don’t think twice when they have their photo taken. We are the subjects of so many snapshots that we’re very comfortable posing for photos and using cameras to take our own. But looking through old portraits in museums or my grandparents’ albums, it’s clear this wasn’t always the case.
For a long time after their invention, cameras were so bulky and expensive that they were used to take formal portraits, not candid shots. Because photos were taken so infrequently, people posed for them differently and often ended up looking stiffer than they probably were in real life. Furthermore, digital cameras give us so much more control over how a photo looks. If the first shot isn’t perfect, it can just be retaken, and a person doesn’t have to wait until the film is developed to see how the photos came out.
The increased access my generation has to cameras is exciting; it allows us to better document our lives and the events occurring around us. And while my formal education about photography is limited to the introductory year-long class I took at Aragon as a junior, there are four lessons I’ve learned over the years I always keep in mind when using a camera.
First, no matter how nice cellphone cameras become, nothing will ever replace a good-old digital point and shoot. Since I got an iPhone, I find that I rarely carry my camera with me because my phone takes decent photos. Yet, time and time again, I find the snapshots I take on my phone — especially outside shots — are never as sharp as the ones taken on a digital point and shoot. Also, digital cameras have so many more settings and features than cellphone cameras have. If you’re going to snap a lot of photos — especially outside — and carrying a camera won’t weigh you down too much, consider tossing it in your bag.
Second, photo-editing technology should be used responsibly and sparingly. Right now, we are constantly being forced to question the accuracy of what we see in photographs. As more and more accusations surface regarding over-airbrushed bodies or retouched faces, it could be easy to write off all photo editing software as toxic. However, photo editing tools can be extremely useful. I often use the program that came on my laptop to quickly fix darkness and exposure issues before I print or post a photo I took. I am always hesitant to do any further editing because I want to preserve the photo as it is. Candid shots aren’t meant to be perfect, but they are meant help us remember the moments as they really were.
Third, photos have the ability to keep us connected to our friends and family when shared respectfully. I love when my dad emails me photos during his business trips — they are fun to receive and give me a peak into his world while he’s away. That being said, I’ve also stumbled across photos of people I know at events I wasn’t invited to, and that can be hurtful. I make an effort to take photos with friends and family at events, while also being mindful of how and with whom they are shared.
Lastly, and in my opinion most importantly, photos should augment our memories, not replace them. It’s often tempting to rip out my phone or camera when I see something happening so I can quickly document the moment. But oftentimes I am unsuccessful. Either I don’t get my camera ready in time or the moment just cannot be perfectly captured by a cellphone camera. Sometimes, I find it’s just best to experience the moment as it is happening and rely on my memory to preserve it for me.
As camera technology continues to improve, I will try to balance experiencing my life through my own eyes as well as my lens.
Annika Ulrich is a senior at Aragon High School in San Mateo. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at firstname.lastname@example.org.