7 photography trends to watch in 2021

Close up of camera lens and shutter with reflections of light.

By Mark Condon

Posted on 01-04-2021

Like all things, photography moves in trends. However, unlike the cut of our jeans or the latest social media app, those trends are not always easy to see while we are living in the midst of them.

But they are most definitely there and being aware of them is not just fascinating — it is a useful way for any photographer to better understand their own influences and their place in the world.

It also raises the question – do you ride the wave of the trend, or deliberately go against it? Awareness gives you the freedom to choose.

If you break it down, there are two major drivers of photography trends: Technological developments and world events. The invention of the smartphone is the most obvious case in point for the former: Retro filters, portrait orientation and selfies are all trends we can thank our phones (and social media) for.

World events and the sociopolitical climate can give rise to thematic trends — those that are not so much about how we are shooting, but what. What are we — as consumers, as community members, as human beings — most concerned about in any given moment?

Of course, photography is a diverse art, and different genres experience trends of their own. Still, some visual and thematic trends are overarching.

Here, we will look at 7 of those trends to watch out for in 2021.

Inclusivity

Humanity is a resplendent tapestry of different ethnicities, sexual orientations, body types, ages, religions, capabilities, and beliefs. More than ever, we want the images we see to reflect this.

Events of 2020 — particularly the Black Lives Matter protests — have heightened this already growing trend. And while the word “trend” may imply something that will disappear as quickly as it started, let us not forget that many trends make the transition to permanent reality.

By being more inclusive, photographers and the industries they represent are saying to those diverse groups and often-overlooked minorities, we see you — we acknowledge you.

This is an important trend for commercial photography, as consumers want to see themselves represented authentically in brand imagery. Fashion, editorial, photojournalism and stock photography are also areas where choosing diverse human subjects will matter increasingly in 2021.

Fantasy meets reality with digital art

“Now, more than ever, we need escapism,” said fashion designer Jeremy Scott, whose spring 2021 collection for Moschino was modelled by ethereal, hand-crafted marionettes. But fashion is not the only genre where escaping reality will rise as a welcome trend.

Bringing surreal and fantastical visions to life through digital art is a way to bring hope and relief from the struggles of 2020. Across genres, expect to see new brilliance in the results of digital manipulation, enabled by powerful software like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Illustrator.

Being a form of escapism, this trend will be less about subtly building upon reality and more about completely reimagining what’s captured on camera into otherworldly scenes that enliven the imagination.

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Nostalgia

Photography by nature lends itself to nostalgia — after all, any moment we freeze on film is immediately in the past.

For 2021, that nostalgia will remain another form of escapism. Escaping via futurism is less likely, given we are looking to get away from uncertainty and latch back onto something that feels solid and known — the past.

Photographers will continue to explore nostalgic techniques like film grain, warm tones, and light leaks, which may be created with analogue film or by using Lightroom presets or post-production effects.

Smarter edits using AI and machine learning

The creative potential of photographers continues to expand, with AI and machine learning making it easier for anyone to create professional-looking images.

Adobe Sensei leads the charge with an AI-powered engine that analyses photos and compares them to a database of thousands of professionally edited images. Based on that analysis, it intelligently recommends the best edits and adjustments for your shot.

Similarly, Adobe Photoshop 2021’s latest AI-driven features mean photographers can spend less time on complicated editing processes and more time doing what they love — i.e., getting out and hitting the shutter button.

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Artistic photo-documentary

Documenting world events does not have to be an exercise in complete rawness and realism. In fact, if you look around at the coverage of 2020’s socio-political happenings, you will notice an array of film effects and filters enhancing documentary shots with a different kind of beauty and power.

Heavily influenced by and directed at social media, these artistic photo-documentary shots blend with the nostalgia trend, giving the viewer the distinct sensation of living inside an important history that has already been made.

You need only look at photographers like JD Barnes and Simbarashe Cha — whose images added immeasurable beauty to 2020 reports by The Atlantic, New York Times, The Economist and others — to know that this trend is not going anywhere. And nor should it.

Creative drone photography

Drones just keep getting smaller, smarter, faster and cheaper. No wonder more and more photographers are adding drones to their existing camera collection.

The interesting thing to watch out for in 2021 is where these improvements in drone technology will take us. There is little doubt that photographers will continue to find new ways to get creative with aerial photography across different — often unexpected — genres, from wedding to fashion to sports. Watch this space.

Authenticity

While the fantasies of digital art can give us the escape we crave from pandemic life, it is realism we crave when it comes to imagery of people and our everyday world.

We are tired of the false and over-glamorized representations of real-life that dominate advertising and social media. What we seek is a clearer boundary between truth and fantasy. We want real people to be real people — we want to celebrate humanity, imperfection, and humanitarian pursuits.

As such, we can expect a renewed focus on authenticity across many areas of photography, from commercial to portraits to events — and, in many cases, even in the ‘influencer’ images we see on Instagram.

So there you have it — seven photography trend predictions to keep your eye on in the coming year.

There is no denying that 2020 has been tough. But one thing it taught us is that we should never stop creating…and with the ever-improving suite of Adobe apps, our roles as creatives is made just that little bit easier.

What creative projects are you planning for 2021?

Topics: Photography, Creativity, Creative Inspiration & Trends, Creative Cloud, Artificial Intelligence, Outlook 2021, New Year New You

Products: Illustrator, Lightroom, Photoshop, Sensei