Five 21st century innovations that have revolutionised photography

Five 21st century innovations that have revolutionised photography

The photography industry is more vibrant than ever before and there’s never been a better time to be a photographer

Photography has come a long way since Joseph Nicéphore Niépce captured and fixed the first images created using light in the early 1800s. But the technological advancements in the first 200 years are arguably much more modest than those made in the past 20 years alone – since digital photography and the wider digital revolution came about, technological advancements have exploded.

Since the digital revolution began in the early 21st century, camera technology has improved significantly alongside the wider technology market that has also played an important role in revolutionising photography as we know it. So, here are five 21st century innovations that have made today one of the best times to be a photographer, and it’s quite possible that you own or have used all of them…

1 Adobe Lightroom 

Adobe Lightroom makes file managements batch editing of images incredibly easy, and changed the way photographers process their images

Adobe Lightroom is the world’s most popular file management, image editing and Raw processing software available. It’s safe to say that those of us who use it take what it has to offer for granted and rarely think about editing before 2007 when the first version of the software was released.

In the early days, Lightroom was a slightly more advanced version of what you’d get if you combined Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw. But in subsequent releases, features and functionality were improved to make Lightroom one of the best programs of its type available for photographers.

There are now two versions of Lightroom available; Lightroom Classic where the interface follows on from the original versions of the software and is designed for use on desktop and laptop computers; then there’s Lightroom CC, which is available in computer and tablet-based versions with touch control and cloud storage so you can process your images on the move.

Editor's tip:

On Focus there we have many Lightroom tips and tutorials covering how to use the software along with tutorials on numerous popular editing techniques here.


2 Mirrorless cameras

The Fujifilm X-E1 mirrorless camera model. Mirrorless models have quickly become one of the most popular types of digital camera models with both consumers and professionals

Mirrorless cameras have been around for a little longer than most people realise and came from a surprising manufacturer – Epson.

"Mirrorless cameras, in many ways, represent digital photography coming of age and moving in a direction of its own, rather than being based on previous generation camera design."

The 6.1 MP Epson R-D1 rangefinder was released in 2004 and uses Leica M-mount lenses. Leica themselves weren’t far behind with the release of the Leica M8 in 2006, but it wasn’t until the release of the Panasonic G1 in 2008 that mirrorless cameras were truly brought to the masses.

Since those early days, we’ve seen mirrorless camera technology developing at lightning speed with some incredible features and functions not possible with DSLRs, which are essentially the digital version of film-based SLRs. Mirrorless cameras, in many ways, represent digital photography coming of age and moving in a direction of its own, rather than being based on previous generation camera design.

Mirrorless cameras are incredibly popular these days because they make it possible for manufacturers to pack cutting-edge technology into camera bodies that are typically smaller and lighter than their DSLR equivalents. And with Micro Four Thirds, APS-C, full-frame and medium format options available, there’s a mirrorless camera suitable for all types of photography and photographers’ needs.

3 Smartphones 


An image being edited in Lightroom CC with a smartphone

It’s safe to say that smartphones have revolutionised communication and life itself since the first iPhone was launched back in 2007.

"Consumers quickly realised that they didn’t need a compact camera for holidays and family snaps because they already had one in their pocket or bag."

What you could call a smartphone have actually been around since the 1990s, but it was the touchscreen control, the use of apps, internet connectivity and true web browsing that made the modern smartphone something quite special.

In terms of photography, smartphones have almost obliterated the compact camera market because these clever devices also incorporate high-quality cameras comparable in image quality to what was possible with standard compact cameras. Consumers quickly realised that they didn’t need a compact camera for holidays and family snaps because they already had one in their pocket or bag.

The image quality and functionality possible with smartphone cameras have been continually improving, and even magazine covers have been shot with mobile phones. Built-in camera apps are generally what most people use, but there are also plenty of other options available from third-party developers. Not to mention the ability to shoot in Raw and edit images using apps such as Adobe Lightroom: Photo Editor Mobile, Snapseed and many more that offer advanced editing control on your phone.

Editor's tip:

Read our dedicated smartphone photography guides here.

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4 Social media

Screenshot from Instagram - social media has made it much easier for photographers to connect with others

Love it or hate it, social media is here to stay. And while photographers have mixed opinions about the likes of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, there’s no denying that social media has made it easier than ever before to connect with other photographers, and indeed new and existing customers.

"Where techniques were once guarded like treasure and generally only passed down from professional photographer to assistant, now anyone can access vast amounts of knowledge..."

Social media is undoubtedly a great marketing tool because it allows photographers to get their work in front of more people than they could without it, but it provides so much more than offering platforms for marketing and connecting with other people.

The ability to learn practically any shooting or editing technique through platforms such as YouTube, Vimeo and, of course, Picfair’s Focus has democratised photography. Where techniques were once guarded like treasure and generally only passed down from professional photographer to assistant, now anyone can access vast amounts of knowledge through social media and improve their skills.

Editor's tip:

Learn more about using social media for your photography with our guides on the business of photography here.


5 Drones

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), make it possible for anyone to shoot dynamic aerial stills and video with ease

Aerial photography and video have always been awe-inspiring because of the unique view of the world they can provide, but getting a camera into the air hasn’t always been as easy or affordable as it is today.

"Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), make it possible for anyone to shoot dynamic aerial stills and video with ease."

Not that long ago, the only way to shoot from the air was to charter a helicopter, which was incredibly expensive, to say the least, but now anyone can get shoot high-quality aerial images using a drone.

Drones, otherwise known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), make it possible for anyone to shoot dynamic aerial stills and video with ease. Not to mention, they can be set up and in the air in a matter of minutes and packed away just as easily, so you can use them almost as conveniently as your standard camera, but with all the benefits of reaching unique viewpoints and also locations that are inaccessible on foot.

In the early days of drones, they were exciting yet crude devices, but in the last five years alone the technology has moved along at a rapid pace with manufacturers including Autel, DJI, Parrot and Yuneec offering drones that appeal to all types of photographers and videographers. Not to mention, some drones capable of producing high-quality stills and video are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand.

Editor's tip:

Find our drone photography articles and tutorials here.


All images from James Abbott.