FEA­TURE: THE FU­TURE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

New Zealand D-Photo - - CONTENTS -

Chris van Ryn ex­am­ines the lat­est tech­no­log­i­cal trends, and how they will shape the pho­to­graphic arts and in­dus­try into the fu­ture

You don’t have to ex­am­ine the tea leaves too closely to get the feel­ing photography is on the precipice of unique change — Chris van Ryan ex­am­ines the most re­cent up­heavals in the in­dus­try, and projects the ram­i­fi­ca­tions into the fu­ture

The pace of devel­op­ment in cam­eras over the last decade has been so re­lent­less that ev­ery few months they un­dergo an up­grade, and ev­ery few years an inspiring new piece of equip­ment ap­pears, such as full-frame sen­sors and mirrorless cam­eras. The point-and-shoot com­pact cam­era mar­ket has floun­dered in the wake of mo­bile phone cam­eras de­spite the fact that their per­for­mance is su­pe­rior. The phone’s flat lens is prone to flare, and its fin­ger­nail-sized sen­sor has clear dis­ad­van­tages. De­spite such de­fi­cien­cies, the mo­bile phone has one over­whelm­ing ad­van­tage: it is al­ways close at hand. And the best cam­era, as we know, is the one in your hand. Hold that thought.

Out­side the pro­fes­sional stu­dio, mo­bile phones more than any other de­vice have pop­u­lar­ized photography. They’ve cre­ated a whole new cam­era cul­ture and even ush­ered in a new pho­to­graphic term, the selfie. We may look back 50 years from now and see a pic­to­rial au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal cul­ture where or­di­nary in­di­vid­u­als, fa­cil­i­tated by so­cial me­dia, as­sumed pseudo-celebrity sta­tus and have added a new di­men­sion to the term nar­cis­sism.

And be­cause the mo­bile cam­era is al­ways in your pocket, ev­ery­one has the po­ten­tial to be a street pho­tog­ra­pher, cap­tur­ing Cartier-Bres­son’s De­ci­sive Mo­ment. Artists such as Ai Weiwei in China have taken many thou­sands of pho­to­graphs of life in their coun­try, and re­vealed them to the world. Where once we re­lied on pho­tog­ra­phers like Walker Evans to pro­vide us with images of life in Amer­ica in his time, now we can all con­trib­ute to such his­tor­i­cal gal­leries.

To­day many pho­to­jour­nal­ists reach for a mo­bile phone in pref­er­ence to a point-and-shoot, or even a DSLR. And don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the qual­ity of the images from a phone cam­era — some have even fea­tured on the cover of Time mag­a­zine, such as Ben Lowy’s im­age here shown here.

There is a fre­netic rush to en­hance the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the mo­bile phone cam­era (no longer seen as merely a bonus fea­ture of a de­vice that makes phone calls), from clip-on lenses to lenses with their own sen­sors that can be ac­ti­vated re­motely. In lens devel­op­ment there are small pieces of glass that pur­port­edly come close to a Canon L-se­ries lens (look up Mo­ment lenses for good ex­am­ples). Mo­bile sen­sor size is in­creas­ing too: the iPhone 5’s sen­sor, for ex­am­ple, is 15 per cent larger than its pre­de­ces­sor.

Dig­i­tal cam­eras with auto-ev­ery­thing have en­abled those with lit­tle knowl­edge of cam­era science to take ‘good qual­ity’ images: in fo­cus and ‘cor­rectly’ ex­posed. Should am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­phers wish to ad­vance their knowl­edge, there is a plethora of free teach­ing videos avail­able on YouTube. This can close the gap be­tween the am­a­teur and the pro­fes­sional. Photography is no longer ex­clu­sively in the hands of an ex­pert. It is within reach of ev­ery­one.

A roll of celluloid used to amount to 24 shots. Ev­ery im­age was the cost of the roll di­vided by 24. Dig­i­tal has freed us from this con­straint. We can now take hun­dreds, even thou­sands of pho­tos with­out any ef­fect on the wal­let. There are likely mil­lions of forgotten images freefalling through cy­berspace. The ease of tak­ing an im­age has en­cour­aged photo ex­per­i­men­ta­tion, and en­hanced our cre­ative po­ten­tial. Hold that thought too.

Cam­era mak­ers have pushed the bound­aries of pix­els and res­o­lu­tion. File sizes have be­come so large that pho­tog­ra­phers have de­vel­oped whole work­flow method­olo­gies and fee struc­tures around the man­age­ment and stor­age of whop­ping JPEG and RAW images. The abil­ity to take more is tem­pered by the need to process. This is why file pro­cess­ing will play an im­por­tant role in de­ter­min­ing the way photography un­folds in the fu­ture.

Stor­age cards have also un­der­gone evo­lu­tion — smaller, faster, and with greater ca­pac­ity. A mi­croSD card the size of my lit­tle fin­ger­nail can store 64GB of data. In­dus­try ex­perts con­firm that stor­age de­vices can and will be­come much, much smaller in the near fu­ture.

This re­duc­tion in stor­age size hints at the di­rec­tion of new cam­eras. In re­sponse to the cam­era phone’s porta­bil­ity, cam­eras will move to­wards an over­all re­duc­tion in bulk, a trend al­ready ap­par­ent with mirrorless cam­eras, and one which threat­ens to un­hinge the DSLR dom­i­nance.

Pre­dic­tions

Our love af­fair with through-the-lens (TTL) viewfind­ing will be re­placed with Elec­tronic Viewfind­ers (EVFs), which are quickly grow­ing in so­phis­ti­ca­tion. Out­side the realm of the pro­fes­sional stu­dio, porta­bil­ity will dom­i­nate de­sign cri­te­ria. But even in the stu­dio, pro­vid­ing that im­age qual­ity is not re­duced, small will en­tice.

Cam­era soft­ware is mov­ing to­wards a closer al­liance with mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tems such as An­droid in or­der to ben­e­fit more di­rectly from cross-pol­li­nat­ing soft­ware. In­ter­net- or Wi-Fi–ca­pa­ble cam­eras will come to full ma­tu­rity when band­width im­proves, along­side new com­pres­sion al­go­rithms for JPEG and RAW files. Then: en­ter cloud stor­age.

Fu­ture pho­tog­ra­phers will be­come post-pro­duc­tion ex­perts. An im­age that has cap­tured all the de­tail be­tween 000 000 000 and 255 255 255 can to­day be post-edited to achieve al­most any de­sired im­age, when we once had to ad­just set­tings for the ‘de­ci­sive mo­ment’. Want bokeh? No prob­lem, use af­ter-fo­cus edit­ing soft­ware.

Post-pro­duc­tion has al­ready be­gun to usher in ex­cit­ing new be­gin­nings and re­de­fine the con­cept of a ‘pho­to­graph’, and this will only ac­cel­er­ate. Take an im­age and, us­ing Adobe Af­ter Ef­fects edit­ing soft­ware,

sep­a­rate im­age com­po­nents into lay­ers, then add mo­tion. Voila: a hy­brid mov­ing/still im­age, set to take ad­van­tage of mag­a­zines’ in­ex­orable move to a dig­i­tal plat­form.

The mo­bile plat­form (phones and tablets) has also seen an in­crease in post-pro­duc­tion soft­ware. Its rise has been gen­er­ated by global de­vel­op­ers rush­ing for com­mer­cial gain on the app mar­ket. We have moved from desk­tops to lap­tops for edit­ing. Now tablets will chal­lenge the domain of lap­tops. Fa­cil­i­tated by a host of in­te­grated soft­ware, the mo­bile plat­form, through sim­ple con­ve­nience, will be­come the plat­form where per­haps 70 per cent of our post pro­duc­tion takes place.

On­line is the dom­i­nant for­mat for view­ing images. The reper­cus­sions for pho­tog­ra­phers are be­com­ing ap­par­ent. On­line view­ing has meant a pho­tog­ra­pher has limited con­trol over how their im­age will be viewed by oth­ers. Con­trast, sat­u­ra­tion, and ex­po­sure, for ex­am­ple, are at the mercy of screen man­u­fac­tur­ers. And a uni­ver­sal screen cal­i­bra­tion seems un­likely.

Add to this the mock­ery the in­ter­net and dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy have made of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty (IP). Once an im­age en­ters the cloud, IP has for most prac­ti­cal pur­poses been re­lin­quished. This has been en­cour­aged by many providers of so­cial-view­ing plat­forms. Be­cause of this, en­ter­pris­ing pho­tog­ra­phers will em­bark on new in­come-earn­ing mod­els such as ‘pay per click’.

Fur­ther­more, the dig­i­tal dark­room has oblit­er­ated the no­tion of a one-off print and the con­cept of a limit­ededi­tion run. This, how­ever, has not in­hib­ited the growth of the fine-art photography mar­ket. In-vogue images amass con­sid­er­able sums of money at art auc­tions. A Cindy Sher­man pho­to­graph sold for US$2.7 mil­lion in 2010. A 1999 im­age by An­dreas Gursky with post-pro­duc­tion edit­ing to re­move ex­tra­ne­ous de­tails, such as peo­ple walk­ing, sold for US$4.3 mil­lion. David Hock­ney, af­ter all, cre­ates iPad ‘paint­ings’ and sells the im­age com­plete with the de­vice.

To­day we have an ob­ses­sion with im­age sharp­ness. Cam­era man­u­fac­tur­ers at­tempt to trump each other on fo­cus tech­nol­ogy. The Olym­pus OMD has a five­point fo­cus sys­tem. Canon has ap­plied for patents over tech­nol­ogy which al­lows you to fo­cus your im­age af­ter it has been taken. Adobe Pho­to­shop has re­cently re­leased cam­era-shake-re­duc­tion soft­ware.

Is the fu­ture def­i­ni­tion of a ‘good’ im­age one that is ra­zor sharp? Go­ing back 50 years, our tol­er­ance for sharp­ness was cer­tainly much more re­laxed. Fo­cus ac­cu­racy was determined by the dex­ter­ity of our fin­gers to man­u­ally fo­cus. Richard Ave­don’s leg­endary photo book Noth­ing Per­sonal, for ex­am­ple, fea­tures sev­eral out-of-fo­cus images.

So, what is the fu­ture of photography? It’s the same as it al­ways has been and likely al­ways will be. No mat­ter the ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy, how you see will al­ways mat­ter more than the equip­ment you use to cap­ture an im­age. For over 50 years Daido Moriyama used the same Ri­coh com­pact cam­eras — to­day he is widely con­sid­ered a leg­end in street photography.

The fu­ture of photography will place ever more em­pha­sis on de­vel­op­ing your own voice. More than any other time in the his­tory of photography, the dig­i­tal arena gives us ac­ces­si­ble, pow­er­ful and cre­ative tools for self dis­cov­ery and ex­pres­sion. A pho­tog­ra­pher’s in­tent is more im­por­tant than the medium. De­vel­op­ing how we see must tran­scend the de­vice we see it with and the soft­ware we pro­duce it with, lest we be­come slaves to equip­ment and pro­cesses.

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