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In Facebook age, is camera-shyness a thing of the past?

By Rachel Rodriguez, CNN
CNN iReporters weren't hesitant to get on camera and share their portraits.
CNN iReporters weren't hesitant to get on camera and share their portraits.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Americans are more and more comfortable with the idea of being in front of the camera
  • Photographer Marcus Krause says his clients are often eager to have their picture taken
  • Millennials, described as a very narcissistic generation, aren't shy on camera
  • Share your own self-portrait as part of CNN iReport's cultural census

Editor's note: As part of CNN's Defining America project, CNN iReport is conducting a cultural census. We're asking people to share a self-portrait, show off their handwriting, tell us what they typically eat for dinner, and more. This piece is the first of four stories that focus on the self-portrait project. It was inspired by the fact that the self-portrait assignment was the most popular of the five cultural census assignments, with around 500 submissions.

(CNN) -- Marcus Krause has been a wedding photographer for nearly 25 years. He's always captured mostly candids of his clients' big days: the newly married couple's euphoria as they stride up the aisle, or a tender moment on the dance floor. But lately, that's been a little more difficult.

"You have more of the young people coming up to you to have their picture made," said Krause. "Whereas back (20 years ago), you may be looking for them, trying to capture some good candid moments."

"The bride's friends seem to get in front of the camera and do the 'sorority squat,' " he added amusedly.

As recently as 10 years ago, having one's picture taken was not an everyday occurrence. Camera-phones were still a novelty that captured grainy, low-res images, and digital cameras didn't fit in jeans pockets. Facebook, Flickr and Instagram had yet to be invented.

Today, 79% of American households own digital cameras, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. The Pew Internet and American Life Project says 85% use cell phones, most of which have a camera feature included. And about half of American adults have a presence on social media, according to Pew. As with anything, this ubiquity breeds familiarity, and familiarity leads to comfort.

"I don't really run across too many people now that seem uncomfortable (with the camera.) That's become less and less, because somebody's always taking a picture, you know?" says Krause. "You can't hide from the camera."

As Krause says, now we document everything. Meeting friends for dinner? Amusing incident at work? Whip out the camera. So for the potentially camera-shy, the message is clear: Get over it, and quickly, 'cause it's not official 'til it's on Facebook.

As Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites spread across the world, people had to adjust to the newfound reality that everything they did would be photographed, and that those photos would be online for everyone they knew to see. The "photo face" -- a consciously cultivated expression and/or pose that looks good on camera, formerly only important to models and celebrities -- became a well-known phenomenon on Facebook.

The increased comfort with cameras in our lives dates to before Facebook, to the dawn of the digital camera. The availability and affordability of digital cameras fundamentally changed the way we shoot pictures -- and the way we react to them.

With film cameras, there are a limited number of shots on a roll, and thus only a certain number of chances to make the photo look good (without racking up some pretty serious film costs). And there's no way to see the result until the film has been processed. But with a digital camera, you can see your photo immediately. So if it doesn't turn out to your liking, you can just delete it and take another one. And you can take nearly unlimited pictures -- thousands at a time, if you have the right memory card -- so you can keep shooting until you get it right. The digital camera is a forgiving device for the insecure.

And then there's the psychological aspect of this comfort with cameras. We are, after all, talking about an era dominated by millennials, described as the most narcissistic generation in modern history. As a group raised with an unprecedented instilling of self-confidence and self-worth, is it any wonder that millennials are comfortable in the spotlight -- or the flash?

"Much of GenMe expects to be famous," writes Jean Twenge, Associate Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University, in her book, Generation Me. "...We've been told all of our lives that we are special."

And if you're special, why should you be self-conscious about being on-camera? Krause has noticed a recent trend in wedding photography that illustrates the point:

"You're seeing slide shows now, where a photographer will put up a slide show at the wedding reception with photos that were taken at the ceremony," he says. "Why would you stop the event to look at what the photographer did? But I guess it's the brides. They want to be up on the big screen for everybody to see."

"We are a generation with few shrinking violets," concludes Twenge.

 
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