Google Earth would have been a science fiction dream when I was a lad growing up. Now, I use it and its Street View feature all the time to plan my photoshoots.
I also like it for ‘visiting’ places I was once proud to call home. They are all very different in both scenery and culture from Northumberland. The small loch-side village in Argyll, the coastal town in Tanzania and the mountain hamlet in Andalucía are far removed from here, a place I feel equal affection for.
I also like to look at places I have never visited. I used Street View to ‘drive’ along the main road through Agbogbloshie earlier today. This wetland in Ghana once teemed with wildlife. Then it became a dumping ground for the world’s electronic waste.
Now, young people there scrape a living by pulling precious metals from the toxic detritus. They have a life expectancy of around 30. Cattle with festering sores graze between the waste. Ghanaians are not protected by the same EU Health and Safety laws that look after us.
Some 65 million tonnes of electronic waste from the UK, Europe, the US and Japan end up being illegally shipped to places like Agbogbloshie and similar dumps in China, India, Malaysia and Pakistan.
This year, around two billion mobile phones will be manufactured. Most of those will be replacing older phones. Built-in obsolescence and successful marketing campaigns persuade us to buy newer electronic gear that we don’t really need. When you discard your old phone or camera, it may well end up helping to poison a child trying to survive from your detritus – a sobering thought.
Worldwide camera sales have dropped from 120 million units per year in the mid-2000s to around 30 million now as so many people turn to using their phone cameras.
Many consumer-end cameras have an expected shutter life of around 80,000 to 100,000 actuations. This is unnecessarily low. In comparison, my five-year-old DSLR is expected to shoot at least 250,000 images, and some have reported counts of 500,000. My camera can also have the shutter replaced.
Powerful marketing and peer pressure persuades us that the latest amazing features are something that we cannot do without.
One new camera sports 45 megapixels. Great, but that has a drawback. The file size is going to be enormous, probably between 50Mb and 100Mb. You only need eight to 10 megapixels to print a high quality A3 photo, so is that necessary?
Another new model can take 60 raw file images a second. Wouldn’t you rather learn the skill of capturing that decisive moment by anticipating the right time to press the shutter?
One thing that really pleases me is that almost all the participants on my courses have used older model cameras and they are happy with them. Some have been using cameras that are 10 years old and they still take fantastic photos.
It’s the person looking through the viewfinder, not the features of the camera, that make great photos. Maybe we should upgrade our skills, not our cameras, and make less electronic waste.