Three Decades of Photography Evolution & Some Hard Lessons Learned

By Belle Verdiglione

Last updated on 04/04/2024

Photography has witnessed remarkable shifts over the past few decades, and we are all aware that embracing change is often met with resistance and uncertainty. However, it’s essential to recognize that within these transformations lie incredible opportunities for growth, creativity, and innovation.
As we approach Part II of the Imagenation Summit, where we will dive into the future of photography and how to ensure you are prepared for it, we have invited the award-winning photographer, Belle Verdiglione, to share her extensive experience with us. With three decades in the industry, Belle has a wealth of knowledge and has experienced the importance of adapting to the evolving industry to stay ahead of the game.


As I sit at my desk in my purple flares and reflect on my three decades of photographing people, it’s apparent that the photography industry has gone through massive transformations over the years. While I haven’t continuously operated my photography business throughout this time, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing a great deal of evolution in the industry. One thing I know for sure is that humans often resist change.

I know I sure as hell don’t like change.

But with change comes growth, and I’ve seen incredible photographers fall by the wayside because they weren’t ready to step up and embrace change.

From the early days of film to the digital revolution, the birth of the internet and social media, the introduction of software like Photoshop and Lightroom, and even the rise of presets, the industry has continually evolved. And with each shift, photographers, myself included, have been known to grumble, complain, and say no deal 🙅

It’s a phenomenon that’s not unique to photography but a reflection of human nature. When faced with change, we experience a physiological response that triggers our fight-or-flight mode. It’s a natural reaction rooted in our instinct for self-preservation. Change can feel unsettling, disrupt routines, and challenge our comfort zones.

Film to Digital:

It’s the late 1990s; grunge music and Brit-pop are on our airwaves, and keeping our Tamagotchi alive is high on the to-do list. I’m studying Photomedia at university, and digital photography is making its grand entrance into the mass market. I’m a strict film-only gal, even though my mates are jumping on the digital bandwagon.

Photographers, including myself, believe digital photography can’t rival the nostalgic allure of film. Even as the early 2000s dawned, I remained steadfast in my belief that film would persist while digital photography would quietly fade into obscurity. Hmph.

Once again, it’s fear of the unknown and a tendency to dwell on the potential negatives. I’m concerned that the transition to digital photography might sever my connection to the craft and my source of inspiration. What made film so special was the deliberate, intentional, and unhurried approach it demanded. Even if my light meter was in my hand and my model had to stand super still.

photography evolution

Fast forward to today, I find solace in the cost-effectiveness of digital photography compared to the expenses associated with purchasing film rolls and stacks of Ilford paper. While I may reminisce about the deliberate pace that film required, I certainly don’t miss the uncertainty of being unable to view the shot until after the film had been developed.

Digital photography has shaped our culture of convenience, provided us the gift of instant feedback, and the ability to refine our craft swiftly.

The Introduction of the Internet: 

It is the year 2003, and I’m in Cuzco, Peru. Internet cafes dot the streets, offering a slice of connectivity to travelers like me. In a cozy cafe, I sip my cafe con leche and craft an email letting my family know I had survived another adventurous bus journey. The ability to share my experiences online, even from remote corners of the world, marked the start of a new era in communication and photography.

With the introduction of the internet, we had more connectivity than ever before. From photography forums to website creation tools to print-on-demand services, the internet allowed us a global platform to showcase and sell our work.

A year later, Zuckerberg’s now-famous blue platform, Facebook, debuted. It took me three years to hop on the train, and I remember thinking it wouldn’t stand the test of time. LOL. Zuckerberg 1 – Verdiglione 0.

At this time, social media was an unfamiliar territory. The early adopters, however, were the ones who reaped the rewards, while many photographers failed to take the plunge and fell away.

Jump ahead to the present day, and social media is an invaluable marketing tool in our arsenal. It’s a reminder that embracing change and venturing into the unknown can provide substantial benefits.

internet coffee, Photography Evolution

Through all these changes, I’ve learned some hard but valuable lessons:

Adaptability is Key: Embrace change as a chance for growth.

Respect Tradition, Embrace Innovation: Film may hold sentimental value, but digital photography has its merits, too.

Community Matters: Photography is not a solitary pursuit, even though I felt alone for so long. Engaging with the photography community, both online and offline, fosters connections, learning, and support.

Quality Endures: Amidst the changes, the essence of photography remains in capturing moments and emotions. Quality work, regardless of the medium, always stands the test of time.

Evolve with Integrity: Embrace the advancements of tech while maintaining the integrity of your craft. Keep your artistic voice alive in your work.

Through three decades of photography, I’ve leveraged my experience to adapt, grow, and continue doing what I love — telling stories of my muses and capturing heart and soul. Each era of photography has its challenges and rewards, and I’m excited about the next phase of evolution, probably driven by AI. So, the question remains: Will you grumble and complain or embrace this opportunity to save time and do more of what you love to do?

belle verdiglioneBelle Verdiglione is an award-winning published photographer. Speaker. Proud mama of two. Unapologetic feminist, collector of punk records, and enthusiastic Espresso Martini drinker (but not all at the same time…usually.).

Belle Verdiglione is your break-the-rules mindset and business coach, speaker, and founder of Camera Queens, a female and non-binary photography community.

You can listen to Belle chatting with rad humans on her Camera Queens podcast.

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